Universal Apps – a perspective

During Build Microsoft clearly demonstrated that they are dedicated to bring cross platform and cross device development to the Windows 10 platform. The most applauds came from the IOS and Android ports and the Windows 10 “universal” app platform was well received by the community. With this investment, Microsoft takes what the likes of Xamarin and PhoneGap have been doing, incorporate it as a native part of Windows and makes a leap forward.

But does this mean that we now have solved the riddle of cross platform and device development? That we now, mostly, will have one code base to manage and develop?

It depends on what you think the challenge is. As I see it the challenge is not the lack of frameworks or technical possibilities. It’s politics, platform differences and application purposes.

The politics
Even in the logical world of IT, not everything is a 1 or a 0, not everything is logical. You can have the best intention in the world. The best technology, and yet no one will use your stuff. In the world of apps and os platforms, this truth is cast in stone. In the back waters of Xamarin, PhoneGap and Sencha there have still not been a significant shift to truly universal apps. Some apps are just available for certain platforms or devices. Not on all of them. This is the politics of the shop that made them (or tech-religious beliefs in some cases), people are people and are not prone to change.

Platform differences
The differences in platform and device capabilities means that any app that wants to be truly universal needs to be created with the least common denominator as a basis. A fact that the java community have struggled with the last decade or two. To really shine on a certain platform, there will have to be differences in the app. An example of this is the Windows 10 “continuum”. An awesome feature not available on other platforms. So while a core can be shared, the app can’t truly be universal if it also wants to be truly awesome.

Application purpose
The last hurdle for truly universal apps is the purpose for it coming to life. While you can argue that doing universal apps for IOS, Android and Windows Phone have great potential, it does not mean that I use the apps in the same way, or even the same apps, on my desktop, laptop or XBOX. The purpose of the device is different and thus the purpose of the apps I use on them are different. With my laptop, desktop and XBOX, most of what I do is seated (well except a Kinect game or two). With my phone or tablet, most of what I do is mobile. It matters for my choice of device for a certain activity.

In addition to that, the form factor is different. 3,7,12, 50 – in this case every inch matters. A great experience on 3” will not automatically be a great experience on 50”.

So do I not believe in frameworks like Xamarin, “Project Astoria” or Windows “universal” apps?

On the contrary; I absolutely do.

These technologies bring a lot of value to the development community; for the cases where cross platform and cross device development is feasible and desirable.

I am however very cautious in declaring that this is always, or even most commonly, the case.

Three things to watch and one to ignore during 2015

Big Data, IoT, Digital, Wearables, Drones. 2014 had a lot of really cool tech emerging and evolving. I have found myself trying out a lot more new stuff this year then previous years. While being cool though, most of it is really hype. Very little of it has been tangible or shown value beyond it’s hype-factor.

2015 will be the year of de-hyping some of the recent hypes. It will also bring a shift in focus on details in the hypes when we gain more insights in what the hype’s actually are and where the value lies. Overall, 2015 will be the year of showing value and making things real.

Digital will show it’s true face

Everybody are prefixing everything with “Digital” these days. Much like social in the latest hype and dotcom before that; Digital has become synonym to “current IT evolvement”.

At Avanade we are as guilty as the next guy. We talk about Digital Customer (which is the always on consumer), Digital Workplace (which is the always on employee) and Digital Innovation (which is innovation to transform any organization to a digital business).

During 2015 the conversation will be about figuring out what digital actually is and what it isn’t. To put it in the words of Gartner: 2015 will push “Digital” to “Trough of Disillusionment”

Less Big Data more Insights

In the data and analytics community, Big has been the word on everybody’s tongue. Much like Digital it has been everywhere where data has been mentioned, and much like Digital nobody really has a clear distinction of what Big really means. During 2015 this won’t matter. This is the year we’ll talk more about how to gain insights in current and future events, no matter the size of the data.

With Microsoft, among others, commoditizing machine learning and event processing (“event stream reporting”), the tools to gain insights in small, big and complex data is available for any organization.

2015 will be the year we’ll see others following NetFlix’s footsteps to utilize data as a the key driver for future business development.

Internet of Things will be less things and internet

Internet of Things, Connected Everything, Internet of Everything – No matter what you call it, the discussions around IoT has primarily been around one, maybe two, of the three “C’s” in what makes up IoT: Connect, Compute, Communicate.

We’ve seen and heard a lot about sensors and machine to machine communication. Kickstarter have numerous projects like the Thingsee One that Connect and Communicate. There are less communications on the actual intelligence, the compute, of IoT. Making things communicate over the internet is not a new paradigm shift, neither are sensors that can connect to it’s surroundings.

The shift is in the complete CCC and the technology that makes all three cheap and available. During 2015, this will be the theme; how do we actually makes sense of what the things are saying and how do we realize value from that.

Wearing Wearable’s
Microsoft Band, Samsung and Apple watches, Google glass, intelligent clothing – the list of wearable’s launched in 2014 can be made long. But yet we see very little traction outside of the geeky “must have” feelings. We are still waiting for the breakthrough of usability and value add. The Apple watch created a lot of ooooh and aaaaah among the already Apple saved, but I have yet to see someone actually wear it or even find an useful application. I believe wearable’s will leave us waiting passed next new years as well. They are cool – but not particular useful at this point.

2015 – year of value

So, 2015 will be the year where we see more focus on value creation on the current hypes. In the words of Gartner; we’ll move a lot of hypes to Trough of Disillusionment and even some to slope of enlightenment. If you work with Digital, Big data or IoT this is good news; this will move these things from the whiteboard to actual projects creating not only cool appliances but actual value paying your bills.

Technical debts are not really debts – they are risks

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A large part of what I do is quality assurance for our clients. I help them understand where their solutions are in the *-ability spectra and I help them lay out roadmaps on how to move from where they are to somewhere new.

Technical debts can be horrific

The hardest situation with technical debt I’ve been in was a solution one of our client was building with another vendor. They had spent a lot of resources in terms of time and money to replace an old system, built 2001, with only one 70-year old man alive that understood it. The reason I and my team was brought in was because of failure to deliver and my client wanted to understand if they should bring the solution into their own care and finish it themselves.

Doing the investigation we discovered something very unsettling;

The core solution was built in Visual Basic 6.

So to replace an old dead technology the vendor introduced another old dead technology. My client had correctly identified their old platform as a risk to the business, their vendor hadn’t identified theirs as such. Or as I was told:

“There hasn’t been a reason”.

This happens everywhere. This is not a unique situation.

Technical debts are really business risks and issues.

Managing technical debt is hard. Knowing what to do when is a huge challenge. Especially in the face of the two speed IT where business demand IT to respond quickly to new requirements. What do you prioritize? How do you argue for your prioritizations?

To help me with this I use a simple model for technical debt where I call manage it as risks and issues. The model is quite easy to use and the real trick here is to use the vocabulary of issue and risk management; for the business this is what it boils down to.

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It is a simple model and the important thing for the business are “Business impact” and Impact”. If you can quantify this you will have a much better conversation with the stakeholders.

There is a lot of organizations that have great models for this. It all boils down to how risk savvy the company is. How far into the future they try to look and what importance they put into their IT-systems.

This model is really simplistic. It won’t stand up to the risk management requirements in a fortune 500 company. But if you don’t have a model in place, this can be a great place to start.

Manage your technical debts as risk

The main point to take away is that technical debts are not debts, they are risks and should be managed as such. When you do, you will have a lot easier arguing for what you know is the right decision. Even in the face of two-speed it.

From Software as a product to Software as a service

This is a reflection I’ve done as an assignment for a class I am taking at Karlstad University on Service Innovation.

How does the shift to service dominant logic affect the software industry? Is it possible for the software giants to provide value in use instead of value in exchange? How can they bring innovation to their customers and how do they work with networks to do so?

This text examines how service dominant logic is changing how software vendors are approaching their business, their partners and their customers.

The force in SalesForce.com

In 1999 SalesForce.Com declared “The end of software”. What they really meant was “The end of software as a product”. Since then the software industry has increasingly moved towards providing their software as a service and customers are applauding this shift.

This makes business push software companies to deliver a higher value faster. They expect new features, new services and new value without the requirement of running IT-projects.

All the major software vendors have had to adapt and are now focusing on providing the function, not the binary bits. Which gives their customers value in use.

Enter software as a service

SalesForce.Com is a pioneer in providing software as a service. In the late 90’s they had, correctly, identified that the real value to their customers where not the product but the functionality, the use. They also identified that CRM is moving at a high pace, innovation is happening all the time and it is hard for companies to keep up. The CEO Mark Benioff’s vision is to help their customers to transform into, what he calls, “a customer company”. Clearly using their software as just the platform, a piece in the service chain, to help their customers achieve their end goals.

There are several examples of this today. Companies like Adobe with Creative Cloud – Creativity as a Service, Amazon with infrastructure as a service – Hardware as a service, and Microsoft who has set out to deliver the complete IT as a Service experience to their customers.

Microsoft has changed their business strategy and today their mantra is “lead with cloud” which is an IT synonym for delivering as a service. For them it started delivering infrastructure for web sites as a service in 2008 and today they are offering their complete office suite and Microsoft Dynamics CRM as online services on top of a complete stack of infrastructure services. This strategy is transforming the company not only in how they deliver the software, but also how they recognize value for their customers.

Microsoft is transforming their value metrics from value in exchange to value in use. During their fiscal 2015, sales will no longer be measured in sold licenses but in the extent their customers uses their software.

To achieve this, they are reaching out to their network of partners to find innovative solutions for their customers on top of their service offerings. Avanade is an example of a partner that is doing this together with Microsoft and their customers. Partnerships that has created business innovations like the connected fitting room and predictive health analytics using Microsoft’s software.

The new norm.

Some critics claim that this is just a different packaging. That the software companies are still thinking in terms of products and that the addition of value in use is limited.

Microsoft’s shift to metrics based on usage and the vision of SalesForce.Com CEO Marc Benioff clearly shows that this is much more than just a shift in packaging.

This is a shift in business models for software companies to adapt a service dominant logic over a goods dominant logic.

It is quite clear that software companies are thinking more in terms of service then products. There are several reasons why we are seeing this shift but the common theme for them all is that business wants to see value in use of their IT investments and have no interest in running costly IT projects without predictive results.

It is also quite clear that they will not be able to deliver on this shift by themselves. To understand what services to deliver and to understand what value can be realized, they need to partner with others.

This shift has been more rapid the last few years and in a few more we will have seen a large portion of the software industry transformed to a truly service dominant industry.

Read more:
Digital Innovation and the Bear Experience (blog post)

Digital Innovation and the Bear Experience

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Everyone is talking about innovation and digital. The words are getting washed up completely and it’s fair to ask if this is a hype that will pass. I’d argue that it won’t. I’d argue that this is the new norm and it will be commoditized just like having a “home page” or an “app” have.

The driver behind this is our expectation of experiences. We do not want to exchange money for things anymore, we expect that for what we pay, companies should give us an experience.

Build a Bear

Build a bear is a prime example where a simple product becomes an experience. They have turned the cuddly bear from a toy you buy and play with to a toy and a service.

As a customer you start by going to their store and build your bear. You go through the experience of selecting body, head and accessories. You pay more for fancy stuff of course.

Image from careers.buildabear.com

What is unique is that the bear then get’s a virtual persona where you can play with your bear online, send it to the north pole and you will receive post cards from it’s trip.

Build a bear has been innovative around the cuddly bear. They’ve turned a toy product into a service they can charge a premium for.

Moving from products and services to experiences.

We expect experiences with what we buy. No matter if it is a product or a service. This can range from your café experience to buying a car.

A business that wants to stay relevant and not get into a price war needs to start building these experiences for their customers. They need to shift from product innovation to service innovation.

Build a bear does this beautifully. They are not throwing themselves into a price war where the only increase in margin can come from lowering their cost of manufacturing. They create experiences that are unique. Experiences they can charge a premium for. By adding more services to the experience they make it hard for a competitor to copy their service chain without a huge investment up front.

At Avanade we see this shift in most of our consumer goods clients. They are all trying to figure out how add to the experience and turn their products into services. In our services clients we see a push to chaining services together to make their unique experience hard to copy. Banks are investing heavily in this now. Moving deeper into your household economy with apps and online services.

This is only logical. We as consumers, or buyers, are lazy. We want our experiences to be easy. If my travel agency takes care of everything for me, I’ll pay for that service. If my coffee machine maker calls me when I need to cleanse my machine, I’ll pay a premium for the machine. If my phone gives me all the services I need. I’ll never switch.

Same old, same old?

We have of course always loved it when the customer service is great. We gladly tip our waiter if we had good service. In that sense, turning products into services and chaining them together is nothing new. What is new is that companies that aren’t pure service companies are investing into this. They are switching from gaining value in the exchange of goods to gaining value in creating experiences.

There is an opportunity for you here.

One of the most important enablers of this is technology. As developers, architects and technology leaders we play a huge role in creating these services. Build a bear wouldn’t be successful without the technology component, nor would the banks.

The shift from product dominance to service dominance is a huge opportunity for us as technologists to truly disrupt and create unique values. Most businesses do not understand technology as well as you and have a hard time to turn technical advancements into innovation for their market.

There is a huge amount of cool work to be done. Go fetch.

Read more:
Service Dominant Logic (wikipedia)
Service Innovation – A Service – Dominant Logic Perspective (research paper)
Competing in a service economy (eBook)
From Software as product to Software as a Service (blog post)

EU Commissioner states he will ignore the democratic process for ACTA–Open letter to Karel

EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht just stated that he will ignore what the democratic elected parliament vote on the ACTA treaty,

If you decide for a negative vote before the European Court rules, let me tell you that the Commission will nonetheless continue to pursue the current procedure before the Court, as we are entitled to do. A negative vote will not stop the proceedings before the Court of Justice

Source: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120625/12333619468/eu-commissioner-reveals-he-will-simply-ignore-any-rejection-acta-european-parliament-next-week.shtml

It seems that Karel need to be reminded who put him in office and who pays his salary, I just sent this to him and I suggest you send something similar:

His email address is: karel.de-gucht@ec.europa.eu

Dear Karel,

I understand that you are very keen on pushing through the ACTA
treaty, even if the parliament says no. It seems that you are
really passionate about the copy right laws and infringements upon
them and I appreciate all the work you have put into the treaty.

I just want to remind you that the parliament is the voice of the
citizens of EU and not all of us share your undisputable conviction of
the democratic value of the ACTA treaty in its current form. We do, after all, live in
a democracy and as such you are employed at your current position at
the discretion of us, the people.

Not listening to the parliament is an act of dictatorship and not
in the spirit of democracy so I would ask you to reconsider.

Thanks for your service to us, the citizens of EU.


Patrik Löwendahl, Stockholm, Sweden

Microsoft buying Yammer – A smart move or a move away from being smart?

In the wake of Facebook’s plummeting stock introduction Microsoft just announced that they are buying the Enterprise equaliant to Facebook, Yammer, for $1.2 Billion. Putting social networks still in the billion dollar industry segments. Is it relevant though? Is this a smart move by Microsoft?

I have yet to meet a communication strategist or HR representative at a large enterprise that isn’t talking about getting an “internal Facebook” for their employees. The reasoning behind this is a long discussion of its own and one could argue if they really need an “internal Facebook” or if it something else.

But the key point is that influential decision makers see strengths in social media for internal communications. There is a strong market and Microsoft just grew stronger in the possibility to meet that market.

Combining the Enterprise products already from Microsoft, Lync and SharePoint, with Yammer (that already integrate with SharePoint) is a very compelling combination. Think of the possibility to have a really good network and with the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with your peers at your fingertips (Literally using smartphone clients). I know that my workdays are much easier with those tools.

Social collaboration is having a lot of traction with Twitter starting to have the prospect of big earnings from advertisement, new services like Pinterest and smartphones really extending the social networks to everywhere, anytime; all this makes social networking a commodity. Social is getting in everywhere, even into enterprise processes. Yammer is strong here. It is very strong even.

Social Media could be a hype, Facebook’s introduction to the stock market hasn’t been flawless. And yet there are several big projects running that show real Return of Investement. So even if social networking for consumers seems to struggle, social networking for the enterprise isn’t.

Is this a smart move for Microsoft? I believe so. I know that combining Yammer and SharePoint already today gives my clients some of the functionality they are asking for. Buying Yammer and bring it closer to their other products, can only make Microsoft stronger on the Enterprise market.

The annoncement

Yammer Inc

Swedish Commentary

Windows 8 just got more context – Surface for Windows the blend between tablet and pc

So, the big mystery announcement event is over. The rumors before the event was really spot on, it was a tablet. But not any tablet. They have really gone all out in trying to re-invent what a tablet is. My first impression, without actually touching a device yet, is that they have succeeded. By bringing in Steven Bathiche from Microsoft research, one of the engineers behind the original Surface table, they put one of their brightest minds to work and re-invented the cover. Blending the tablet with the PC, exactly what they have been aiming for with their software in Windows 8. So the next version of Windows got some more context.

For me this announcement really was about that, taking the tablet one step closer to a full fledge PC. Using the cover as a keyboard is a brilliant idea and the heavy investment in the kickstand to go along with it. Add to that some small design details like making sure it had the feeling of a book and the investment in making digital ink feeling natural. They’ve really tried to push the boundaries a little bit further on the market totally dominated by IPad.

 

I like it. I’m enough of a geek to want one and play around with, just about NOW. I want to feel the keyboard, play around with the accelerometer they built into it (the keyboard knows where it is in relevance to the tablet), want to see if it is as light and thin as it looks.

But the market is bigger than us geeks. Just last week I was in a meeting with the head of a large Swedish enterprise that said something in the lines of “If I just had a keyboard and access to my windows apps, I wouldn’t need a laptop. Actually most of my employees wouldn’t need one, I could really do with a tablet”. So that’s at least one customer that will be happy to hear about this piece of technology and I’ve already emailed him the link to the official Surface website.

Still no pricing and no availability though, but time frame for windows 8 seems to be Octoberish according to the news blogs so it would be safe to assume that the tablets will arrive at the same time. What markets and what SKU’s are impossible to say. Yes there will be two SKU’s, one based on ARM and one based on Intel iCore 5 Ivy Bridge (the cooling was really cool as well).

The tech will be solid and the innovation is good, but what about the principles? Microsoft building their own tablets while Nokia, their premiere device partner, is rumored to build their own? Acer and Asus is pushing Ultra books really really hard?

They’ve really succeeded with XBOX and Kinect but failed with the Zune player, is it wise to get this big and risky push into hardware as a software company?

I think it is.

 

Surface Commercial on Youtube

Some links:

Richard Hay’s observations

Youtube video of the cover

Official press release

Engadget on the two hardware specs

Offical Surface website

Netflix running on WIndows 8 Surface

Some information about the cameras

Developers: Innovate or get outsourced

“Nothing endures but change”

The phrase is accredited to the philosopher Heraclitus on of Plato’s influences. In our industry, the quote is o’ so true and there is a new change at the horizon we need to embrace.

You have probably heard that to be a successful solution developer you need to understand the business. This is true; to deliver a solution you need to understand more then just technology. However, in a very near future this will not be enough. In a very near future you will need innovate solutions not only develop them. In the same very near future you will need to understand how to innovate business using technology not only apply the technology to the business.

In that future, to stay relevant in your on-shore locations, you need to turn into a solution innovator and move away from being a solution developer. If you can’t take on this shift; you WILL be outsourced.

The outsourcing paradigm has really evolved the last couple of years. It is moving away from being “IT on tap” into strategic partnership. I only need to go as far as the company I work for, Avanade, to see how we build centers that are client specific. Centers that capture knowledge of our clients business and already today deliver the solutions and value they need with very little or no on-shore assistance.

While I am looking back at the last 12-13 years that I have been developing solutions for clients, I see a pattern. It used to be enough to be a skilled programmer, then that got moved into outsourcing factories. It used to be enough to be skilled at designing solutions, then that got moved into outsourcing factories. At the moment it might be enough to understand the business, but I am certain that will move into outsourcing factories as well. Following this path we need to take that next step to be significant.

Deploying that last bits of code into production and seeing your client silently nodding and agreeing that you delivered as promised; creates a rewarding feeling that I am sure we all have felt.

Deploying the last bits of code on a solution that delivers business innovation which you brought to the client; rewarding is not a big enough of a word to describe what you will be feeling.

Of course the difference in time zones and cultures as well as the distance between countries is making this transition a bit slower, but it will come. Services like Lync, Skype and other collaboration tools is closing the gaps and gives us unique insight in each others cultures.

After working a couple of years in a truly global company, I really feel I can understand and collaborate with people across the globe a lot easier then before and I have peers in other locations I feel as close to as the colleague sitting at the desk next to me.

The transition will come.

Understanding the business will very soon not be enough. You will need to start innovating, you will need to be proactive to your clients needs, being reactive won’t cut it. Personally I turned to “Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers wants” to start my transition and am really looking forward to reading “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” and “Democratizing Innovation” during my summer vacation.

I suggest you do too, and fast before your job has moved to another shore.

Some useful links:
TED Talks: Charles Leadbeter on Innovation
Slide Share: Thinking about innovation

Microsoft buying Skype – The vision

So Microsoft bought Skype. Interesting. Looking at the tech that Microsoft is now owning in this space, Live Messenger, Lync and Skype you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this can go.

Let’s put up a couple of stand alone facts.

  • Microsoft is addressing IP-Telephones and video conferencing using Lync for the business.
  • Skype is addressing IP-Telephones and video conferencing for the consumer space.
  • Lync could be delivered in the cloud (parts of it is already is in Office 365).
  • Skype is delivered using the cloud.
  • Microsoft announced Skype clients to your Windows Phone 7
  • Microsoft announced Skype clients to Microsoft XBox.

Now do you see what I see?

Bring up your phone, call your friend. He/She will be able to answer where ever he/she is. Sitting at the computer with a skype-lync client, the mobile phone or from the couch in front of the Kinect. Some of these options will be with video, some wont.

All of this options will run through the Microsoft IP-telephony network. Some of this will be paid for by the consumer, some won’t. All in all, Microsoft is becoming a carrier for chat, voice and video.

I think this is cool, thinking about the integration possibilities. On-premises Lync server with all the apps that can hook in, and the ability to call other networks.

What do you think?