Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A quick look at Microsoft's Surface

There are lots of articles and reviews on Microsoft's recently launched Surface and Tablet devices so it is hard to have a "new" viewpoint.  However, here is my initial reaction to MS Surface model I have been playing with:
  • Sweet spot: A neat tablet for office workers. Familiar Windows look-and-feel retained in the “desktop” mode. Caveat: will require user-training re-learning (pinch, toggle apps etc) to run apps in the metro/tablet mode
  • Should have a seamless windows experience once we dock and use a bigger screen, mouse and regular keyboard
  • Assuming windows authentication, security, single-signon etc apply, easy to enforce current IS management policies
  • Big plus: comes with USB port: for users to transfer data and files without the need to be on the cloud/network. I could easily connect a mouse, keyboard etc to the Surface and work in a desktop mode.
Where it Surface may get challenged by other BYOD alternatives:

  • Corporations are already moving user/business applications to VDI mode. This will make other alternatives (iPADs) equally attractive in the workplace
  • Cool factor: If MS/Market positions Surface as a tablet for “grown ups.” Road-warriors may be hesitant to bring it to sales/client meetings on the road, a fate BB is suffering (ref: recent #NYT article - The BlackBerry as Black Sheep and my blog post on the topic)
  • Practical challenge: Cold boot time is over 45 seconds. iPad and Android tablets take much less time to boot up. Not cool.
  • Backward compatibility: ARM version running Windows RT is not backward compatible. Users will be unable to install oder Windows apps.  Cost benefit of x86-powered device will have to be factored in
Note : What I meant by “official alternative to BYOD” is around the thinking: if a good percentage of mobile users go for BYOD, corporate IT may rethink their llaptop upgrades and replacements (would be at a smaller scale). This is assuming iPAD/BYOD users who can access business applications using VDI wouldn’t really want a work-laptop replacement. Corporate IT will then offer an “official alternative to BYOD” (laptop replacement) only for the smaller subset of users. 

Bottomline Yes, Microsoft Surface can be "the official"  (Corporate IT) alternative to BYOD and will get the job done nicely!

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and a bow to Mother Nature!

It is rare for the US Stock markets and federal government to declare a holiday, especially on a Monday.

With hurricane Sandy all but shutting the North Eastern United States, the stock markets and governments had to follow suite. The storm and its impact is taking over headlines, even pushing the hotly contested US presidential elections down a notch.

With all the technological advances at our disposal including mass transit and ability to telecommute, we still live in a physical world. And the world is controlled by vagaries of nature, some of which humans can predict, but not control.

The only thought comes to mind: We bow to you mother nature!

ps: Even with the mother of all storms here, American Chutzpah knows no bounds : Hurricane Sandy halts surfing in the US Atlantic coast : "Surfing and water sports will not be possible in the US mid-Atlantic coast, as Hurricane Sandy reaches the coastline. Remember …that tsunami waves and storm waves should not be surfed. " #ohreally

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cheap cars and tablets : What if those at the bottom of pyramid don’t want to be cheap?

Sometime ago, the late business guru, Prof. CK Prahlad caught the imagination of marketers by coining the term bottom of the pyramid with his seminal article in Harvard Business review, followed by the book. The idea caught on and scores of case studies were published on the topic. The technologist in me, watching the innovations in marketplace, finds it fascinating that few have cracked the holy grail of technology-BOP. A few recent examples:
  • Just last week, Ratan Tata who had captured global imagination with a two-thousand dollar (one lakh rupee) car reflected on how it was time to look beyond that vision (ref:  Ratan Tata admits to making mistakes with Nano)
  • And now the $40 tablet tries to compete in the crowded tech marketplace.
One can logically argue how marketing "cheaper" products to those who can’t afford pricier brand makes sense. However, the logic doesn’t seem to fly in the marketplace where end consumers – folks who can’t afford anything more than cheapest brands – still aspire for products perceived to be branded.

Bottomline: What if those at the bottom of pyramid don’t want to be "cheap"? I guess there is a niche for cheaper cars and tablets in developing (read “third world”) markets, but the consumers there are as savvy as those in the developed markets. It will be interesting to see how Tata’s Nano and Datawind’s Ubislate 7Ci continue to innovate in the marketplace.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shaming us away from Blackberry? Not cool!

My employer, like just about every global 2000/fortune 500 multinational is in the process of evaluating and rolling out a BYOD strategy. Nothing new here, especially in the context of the ongoing Bring your Own Device push in the marketplace.  However, what is interesting is the fact that besides technical capabilities, usability and other functional requirements, Enterprise Architects now have to contend with another subtle push in the marketplace: shaming individuals away from Blackberry.

The recent #NYT article - The BlackBerry as Black Sheep – would have us believe we should be "ashamed" to carry a blackberry in public. The article starts off quoting Rachel Crosby who "speaks about her BlackBerry phone the way someone might speak of an embarrassing relative. … “I’m ashamed of it,” said Ms. Crosby, a Los Angeles sales representative who said she had stopped pulling out her BlackBerry at cocktail parties and conferences."

Reading the article made me reflect on how our lives seem to be shifting to that of meaningless technology-for-technology-sake race for coolness:
  • I see people at restaurants or even movie halls whisk out their coolest new gadgets and begin texting, chatting and whatever while their guest/partner sits on the other side of the table doing the same. What’s more important here, impressing people in the restaurant or your guest with a cool gadget or having a cool conversation? 
  • Rachel Crosby-ies  who come to cocktail parties and conferences probably have enough jewelry, clothing and shoes etc etc on them to make sure they look “cool.” And yet they have an urge to whisk out a smartphone to text, or update their facebook page or whatever… what about being in the moment and learning at the conference or having a conversation with others?
It is interesting that the article doesn’t even talk of the real cool-factor: showing off the most expensive phones 

Cool or not, stmartphones are just tools. For a generation of business users and road-warriors, blackberries were the defacto tool of choice for basic connectivity – email, calendar and voice. Blackberries are reliable and more importantly secure, and come with a QWERTY keyboard to boot. Adding to "basic" requirements for smartphone are a few more like surfing the internet and running some office applications. Newer blackberries, like their cooler smartphone cousins support these requirements too.

And as the old adage goes, a fool with a cool tool is still a (cool?) fool.

Tags: #NYT, RIMM, #Blackberry

Monday, October 8, 2012

Architecturally significant Use Case behind a haircut

Enterprise Architects, self included, train themselves to look for "Architecturally significant use cases" that demonstrate the core functionality targeted at key users. Most of the focus of such discussions is on the design and engineering of information systems. Schools of thinking on Enterprise Architecture, notably TOGAF, attempt to bring requirements at the center of any architecture or design activity. Rightly so. While focusing on key requirements requires working closely business stakeholders, it is more important to zero in how requirements impact the end users.

Case in point, I was at a hairdresser this weekend for a periodic cut-and-trim. After being greeted and seated on the barber chair, I began musing on how far and how close information technology has come and how a simple focus on architecturally significant use cases can lead to better customer interactions.

I am sure you are going to be wondering what a visit to a hairdresser has to do with enterprise architecture and architecturally significant use cases. So here is the context. I started frequenting Great-Clips during my road-warrior days when the no-frills haircut chain with outlets all over the country gave me a sense of known “brand” while traveling to Anytown USA. Most Great Clips' outlets have a familiar "standard operating procedure"
a) A hairdresser standing closest to the front desk breaks away from a customer s/he is working and greet every new patron stepping in.
b) After a ‘welcome to great clips,” s/he asks for their phone number.
c) After the number is found on the computer, s/he will give an estimated wait time to the patron and return back to work
d) When the next available hairdresser gets free s/he will look at the computer screen and call out for customer, in this case Mohan.
e) During my visit, the hairdresser, a new girl who had never cut my hair before asked me if I wanted the “usual”: trim in the sides, above the ears and behind over the collar. With a scissors and no machine? I replied “yes” and let her go about her job.
f) The visit ended with a consistent, predictable experience for this customer
In case you are wondering what’s the big deal? Chains like Great-Clips, unlike the small-town barber shops are staffed by hair-dressers who don’t make much. This in turn leads to a high turnover of staff. Customers like me who return back to the chain expect a consistent no-nonsense service without having to explain our “usual” preferences every time.

This is the perfect use-case for a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Though I suspect behind the scenes the  Great-Clips’ CRM  is much more complicated, to me the simple act of storing my haircut preferences and the ability for any hairdresser working on my haircut to access information on my “usual” preference is a significant use case. Yet another way in which a faceless chain with transient workforce is able to leverage the wonders of databases, networks and user interfaces to provide a hometown-barber-shop-like experience to customers.

ps: the above blog post is not by any means an endorsement of Great-Clips; and I am not any closer to the design of their systems than the average Joe-customer. The Enterprise Architect in me, however spent time on the barber chair musing on the possibilities of us exploring similar use-cases that touch customers without them even having to think there is a lot more behind the scenes.