Posts tagged productivity

Jun 5

The Consumerization Of Office

Today, Google announced the acquisition of Quickoffice. For those who don’t know, Quickoffice is arguably one of the better office productivity suites currently available for mobile platforms (also check out OfficeSuite 6 by MobiSystems). Quickoffice allows users to view, create, and edit Microsoft Office compatible Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Quickoffice is available cross-platform on Android, iOS, and Symbian.

In the void created by the absence of a mobile version of Microsoft Office, Quickoffice has taken a strong leadership position. However, until yesterday this was done so (not to detract from the product) by an upstart company that could be competitively explained away; my how the stakes have changed. With the acquisition, it has moved from an interesting gap filling measure to a strategic threat from a competitor who doesn’t lack in cash, competition, or cause. Make no bones about it; Google has its competitive sights on Microsoft Office via the mobile platform. (They also bought DocVerse a few months back ) If there wasn’t already immense pressure in Redmond to get a cross-platform mobile version of their popular Office suite out, it just doubled.

First, from a competition perspective, all mobile enterprise office productivity discussions will be framed through the lens of a Google/Microsoft battle. The temptation to turn this into a clash of the titans is just too great for tech writers to avoid doing so. Second, the functionality Microsoft offers will have to be, at a minimum, at least what Quickoffice offers. Based on Microsoft’s ability to deliver mobile capabilities of other Microsoft products I have some real reservations. OneNote for Android is barebones, as is the Lync client. Microsoft doesn’t yet have the track record to deliver fantasist mobile apps outside of the Windows Phone platform. Microsoft seems to be perpetually behind on the mobile front.

However, the biggest challenge Microsoft faces isn’t Google, but rather the consumer. Consumers have come to expect in the mobile arena that they call the shots. I would even go so far as to say they feel entitled to call the shots (not that it is always a good thing). This is expressed in the enterprise as the Consumerization of IT. The Consumerization of IT denotes the idea that technology shouldn’t be overly complex. It should be something that the average consumer can understand. When you combine the sense of entitlement with the Consumerization of IT, the end result is often manifested with end users doing an end-run around the IT department to use the apps and devices they like best. My good friend, Philippe Winthrop, Managing Director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, calls it the IT-ization of the Consumer. This attitude, coupled with a product from a viable competitor, should set off major alarm bells in Redmond.

Microsoft is in danger of having consumers do an end-run around Office – call it the Consumerization of Office. With a solid enterprise office suite alternative (provided Quickoffice can deliver the Track Changes functionality) Microsoft will quickly lose one of their greatest strongholds in the enterprise. Without a similar product offering by Microsoft, the acquisition of Quickoffice by Google only hastens this loosening of the grip of Microsoft Office dominance in the enterprise. While Microsoft continues to develop their offering on the sidelines, Google has a staggering advantage to secure market share.

Mobile consumers have demonstrated time and again they will abandon the dominant paradigm en masse in favor of functionally that is available now rather than wait for the old guard to catch up. Users want/need/must perform office productivity tasks on their mobile devices and they are finding workarounds wherever they can. The greater the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise, the more of a requirement it will be to consume office documents from those devices. Savvy consumers are not going to sit around and wait for Microsoft to provide the solution when an alternative is in front of them. The question that remains is - How will Microsoft respond and will it be substantial enough and in-time to satiate the empowered consumer?

Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.


Apr 25

FINALLY - A Visio Alternative on Android!

As many of you know I am on a Mobile-Only adventure. Yet, one of the biggest reasons I still have to access a PC via RDP is because I need to use Microsoft Visio. Well, that may be coming to an end. This past week I stumbled across DroidDia. DroidDia is a diagramming app for Android that allow users to create flowcharts, org charts, venn diagrams, network diagrams, etc – many of the same functions that are available in Microsoft Visio. This is fantastic news for mobile productivity.

As in Visio, shapes are key to being able to represent your information. DroidDia comes stock with many of the essential shapes – flowchart, computers, people, places, etc. If you don’t like the ones provided, or have custom ones that you want to use, it is possible to select them from images on the phone. Here are a few screenshots of the shapes:

Computer Shapes   People Shapes Flowchart Shapes

To add a shape to the page you just long-hold on a square on the sheet, then select the type of shape you need.You can quickly add and move shapes around on the page. To take additional actions on the shape, you only need to long-hold on the shape which will bring up the shape context menu. You can then perform functions such as copy, resize, change properties, etc.

Shape Context Menu    

To draw a line from one shape to the next you click the line button and then long-hold the desired connecting shape. Once the line is drawn you can bring up the properties screen of the line to change end-points, size, color, etc.

You can easily add text to the page as well:

 

Diagrams can even be exported as a PNG for sharing with others. DroidDia looks fantasic when my smartphone is connected to a monitor. DroidDia is currently in alpha but it already shows some great promise as an alternative for Visio on Android. This has the potential to be a fantastic productivity app – allowing users of mobile devices to create content and not just consume it. Be sure to check it out!


Mar 28

LiveCirrus - Mobile-Enabling Your Legacy Apps and Content

LiveCirrusAre you in a hurry to get an existing Java application mobile-enabled without a complete re-write of the code? Do you have content that have been developed in Flash that you want delivered via iOS or Android? LiveCirrus, an innovative mobile company, has a way for you to leverage your existing investment of legacy systems and content. LiveCirrus offers a service that allows companies to deploy proprietary software and content to a virtualized system that is accessible via popular mobile platforms. Speaking via phone, Mark Schinkel, head of marketing for LiveCirrus stated, “We create a native shell-app for your content.” This shell wraps your existing app or content, thus allowing it to operate in a non-native scenario. “We can deliver content and apps to mobile devices that would be cost prohibitive to rebuild as an HTML 5 solution,” he continued. This is a huge win for organizations that have made a significant investment in content or apps who want to continue to leverage them but in a mobile context.

The enterprise offering of LiveCirrus is built on top of their consumer application, named Cloud Browse. Cloud Browse, which has been downloaded over 1 million times, allows users the ability to view and interact with websites containing content that is incompatible with iOS and Android. Cloud Browse opens a desktop FireFox browser session on LiveCirrus’ secure, remote cloud servers to provide the native experience. Both the consumer and enterprise services are hosted on Amazon E3 servers.

Besides delivering the experience in a SSL browser, LiveCirrus’ enterprise offering can secure content in several ways depending on needs. The shell-app can require a username and password upon launch or require authentication on the server side before granting access to the content or application. LiveCirrus offers the flexibility of serving content from their datacenter or yours. Currently the container that the content or app runs under is Linux based. Windows support is offered through emulation at the moment, but native Windows support is on the near-term roadmap.

Getting set-up is an easy process that can take a few days to a couple of weeks depending upon the amount of content and complexities of deployment. LiveCirrus’ enterprise offering is a conversion process right now, but an SDK will soon be available so that companies can integrate their services directly into their mobile strategy. Pricing is typically done on a per user basis. LiveCirrus’ offering is a great option for companies needing to bridge the gap between existing line-of-business investments and the advantages of mobility. Check them out today at http://www.livecirrus.com


Mar 4

Mobile Productivity - Access Your PC/Mac Files From Your Phone with Pocket Cloud Explore

(March 1, 2012) Ever been out and about and suddenly realize you need a file on your Mac or PC. Pocket Cloud Explore from Wyse can help you out. I got a chance to speak with Rick Cook and Evren Bingol, some of the lead engineers of the product, in the Google booth (I’m not sure you can call it just a ‘booth’ with its slide and smoothie bar) at Mobile World Congress. Pocket Cloud Explore allow users to interact with the file system between their SmartPhone (iPhone and Android) and their desktop or servers (PC or Mac). You install an agent on the machine(s) and and download the app and you are off and running. You can also send a link to share files with others. There is also a Cloud Bin feature that allows you to store and access files in the cloud. A very cool feature that will be available in an upcoming release is the ability to stream audio and video directly from the PC or Mac to your Phone. There is no release date yet on that feature but in the meantime download the free version and give it a try. Thanks Rick and Evren for the tour!

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TouchPal Improves Typing Speed and Productivity - MWC12

(Feb 28, 2012) I caught up with the folks from TouchPal at Mobile World Congress. This free keyboard app for iPhone and Android has a pretty slick predictive engine that improves upon standard typing and Swype style typing. For example with Swype you have to complete the entire pattern for the word to show up. This is a pain for long words. With TouchPal it will predict the word a few characters in. Another example of improved speed is TouchPal also predicts the most common words that follow the one you just typed. Give it a try and let me know if you see productivity gains.

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Mobile Productivity from MWC12 with the Samsung Galaxy Beam

(Feb 27, 2012) Got a chance to test out the new Samsung Galaxy Beam this AM. Not only is it a phone, but it also has a built-in 15 lumens projector. This device is slick. Not to mention that it is totally in-line with my penchant for mobile-only.

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Samsung also includes a slide display app that would allow you to use the device to show your PowerPoint slides in a meeting. The app allows for on screen annotations as well.

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Jan 10

Running Full-Speed Towards BYOD – Don’t trip!

Mobile devices are exponentially finding their way into businesses. IT organization are making plans on how to manage and control this onslaught through MDM. It’s great that everyone’s now got a fantastic fancy new phone that they can bring to the workplace – but what, besides email, are they going to do with them once they get there?  A single app won’t, most likely, be worth that much effort. An app or two may be a first step but it doesn’t even begin to leverage the advantages of a mobile workforce that has a constant connection to the cloud. Perhaps, you think it would be best to ease into the whole BYOD thing slowly; only start with a couple of mobile apps.  I am all for testing the waters, but don’t confuse implementing your mobile app strategy as a controlled trickle with a lukewarm approach to app planning. You need a solid plan around what capabilities will be required to have a mobile-only workforce (and you will eventually have a mobile-only workforce).  Before you get too far down the consumerization road you should define your mobile-ecosystem needs and requirements.

People use the term ecosystem as loosely as they do cloud – but what does it really mean?  For the purpose of this article I am specifically examining the enterprise mobile app ecosystem and defining it as:

                The apps that tie together data and tasks.

How many of you have actually sat down and laid out what your mobile-ecosystem capabilities will need to consist of? Are you thinking that it will just organically work itself out? Would you let that happen in the traditional desktop/server realm? Hardly! The added challenge with consumer devices is that it is all too easy for end users to go ‘rouge’ and download apps of their choosing. An organically-grown ecosystem will create major challenges down the road as the lack of planning will offer no cohesive guidance and vision to how your enterprise apps should work together.

In order to build the most productive mobile-ecosystem for your organization you must first be able to articulate:

  1.  The data your workforce interacts with regularly

This means any sort of document, contacts, quotes, emails, diagrams, photos, etc. that your organization is producing, editing, and distributing.

    2.       The actions end users take upon that data

What are the tasks, edits, additions, subtractions, etc. that your workforces takes against the above data?

These two items are the key building blocks to the design and plan of a mobile-ecosystem. They will give you a roadmap for implementation. As well, they give you a total picture of organizational workflow that can facilitate discussion and examination.

Once you have your list you can begin to identify apps that align your business needs and requirements with the capabilities of apps that are out there. There are some sites that can help you get started.  GetApp is a  great site to begin with for app reviews  and comparison. Since the enterprise app space is still maturing make sure you spend a little extra time on research to identify all the options. You’ll also want to make sure you pick apps from solidly backed companies that will still be around in a year or two.  Lastly, most apps have a free-trial period. If you have a more complete picture of what you mobile-ecosystem will need to look like you should coordinate free trials of the target app group to evaluate and understand their interaction and integration.

One final note on data; free - flowing data is key. As I have written about before, data that is in its own silo, no matter how useful the functions the app, will create limitations for any organization down the road. When evaluating an app – don’t get swooned by the sexy UI alone – make sure the data policies and capabilities allow the app to play nice. From a data perspective keep these questions in mind:

  •  Can data be uploaded?
  •  Can it be exported?
  • Can it be shared across other apps?
  • Can it be deleted?

Finding a mobile-ecosystem that meets all your capability requirements as well as that has data flexibility will give your organization the winning combination required to see some real productivity gains. The coming consumerization of IT affords businesses an opportunity to step back and evaluate what they work on and how they work. It creates the rare chance to restructure workflow and process as people make the switch from desktops to mobile. It allows organizations to start with a clean slate of opportunity that is unburdened by years of the desktop paradigm. Whether you do this in isolation or through a steering committee, now is your organization’s chance to build a best-of-class ecosystem.  Don’t blow it.

Benjamin Robbins is one of the founders of AdminBridge – providing IT Administration from mobile devices. For more information visit http://adminbridge.com


Jan 6

Ditch Your Desktop and Go Mobile!

My mobile productivity dream is nearing a reality. I don’t want to have a desktop at the office, a laptop for client presentations, and a mobile device for when I am out and about. I want a single mobile device that I take everywhere and sync with productivity peripherals (read monitors, keyboard, and mouse) when required. As well, there is more than enough processing power in our smartphones for everyday tasks such as email, web browsing, and document creation. My desire is to be able to do all of this wirelessly. That isn’t quite ready today – but MHL is.  To pull this off using MHL there is one cable involved – but there is actual a silver lining in there. But before we get into that what in the world is MHL?

MHL – A SILENT GAME CHANGER

Most people have never heard of it but will be really excited when they do. MHL has support from a consortium of industry leaders such as Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image; Sony, and Toshiba. Not only does MHL enjoy concerted support from manufactures but it also leverages existing hardware, namely micro USB and HDMI. This equates into a low cost solution that is ready to rock with no hardware disruption. MHL gives you full HD video and digital audio, with up to 1080p/60 picture quality, and digital audio up to 192 kHz and is capable of delivering 7.1 channel surround sound. Couple this with a Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse and you’re able to be as productive as any laptop or desktop. Watch movies, play games, use front facing cameras for video conferencing, client presentations, write emails, etc!

ONE CABLE TO GO

Alas, there is a cable – albeit small – that you plug into your phone’s micro-USB port and the HDMI port of your tv/monitor. But, I did promise you a silver lining. Since the cable is leveraging the USB port on your phone it not only transmits the audio and video signal, but also charges your phone while doing so. This provides the ability to be connected for hours and not totally drain your phone’s battery. Even better, you phone will be totally charged when you are done! One last note on cables, if your HDMI capable TV doesn’t have native support for MHL – no problem - you can purchase a dongle for $29

MOBILE SUPPORT

Is your mobile screen too small? Would your 55” TV be enough for you? Want to try it out? Here are the current mobile devices that support MHL:

  • ·         Galaxy Nexus phone
  • ·         HTC Amaze 4G phone
  • ·         HTC Evo 3D phone
  • ·         HTC Flyer tablet
  • ·         HTC Rezound phone
  • ·         HTC Sensation phone
  • ·         HTC Sensation XE phone
  • ·         HTC Vivid phone
  • ·         LG Nitro HD mobile phone
  • ·         LG Optimus LTE mobile phone
  • ·         Meizu MX mobile phone
  • ·         Samsung Galaxy Note phone/tablet
  • ·         Samsung Galaxy S II phone
  • ·         Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet
  • ·         Samsung Infuse 4G phone (bundled with an MHL to HDMI adapter)
  • ·         Samsung TXT phone

While I wait for smartphones to include WiDi and give me the productivity bump I am looking for, MHL will give me an almost there kind of experience; a dry run for a mobile-only lifestyle.

Benjamin Robbins is one of the founders of AdminBridge – providing IT Administration from mobile devices. For more information visit http://adminbridge.com


Dec 22

How Great Mobile Apps Are Like High School English Class

Think back to your high school English class (if you haven’t completely blocked those memories from your psyche). It was probably a time of drafts, red-ink, and many do-overs. For most of us it was our first encounter with the seminal classic Elements of Style by the infamous Strunk and White; William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White to be precise (Elwyn Brooks White to be more precise – and yes the same guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). I remember struggling through revision after revision trying to get my writing to align with all their recommendations. One of the bits of information that stuck in my head, perhaps because I often ran afoul with run-on sentences, was that great writing needs to be succinct and to the point. Elements of Style puts it this way:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Boy was that one a tough one for me. My sentences went on and on as I tried to make them as flowery as possible. Mostly it was because I felt I just needed to fill space. Trouble is, my reader got lost and my point got lost. There was something legitimate I was trying to communicate but since I couldn’t make it a crisp point my writing was a tangled mess.

A close cousin to writing succinctly is writing in the active voice. Writing in the active voice is where the subject of the sentence performs or causes the action expressed by the verb; in other words constructing sentences where the subject “acts”.  This is the difference between ‘I closed the deal’ versus ‘the deal was closed by me’. The former is very direct and makes immediately makes clear who is doing what.

OK, so enough English memories and lessons - how does this all relate to mobile apps? Mobile apps would do well to follow these same elements of style. Great mobile apps should be succinct to the point in their layout. They should also allow subjects (users) to quickly act and not belabor the task at hand. It should be obvious what the point is and how to execute it. Mobile apps have the added challenge of needing to perform in a very small space. Great mobile apps promote productivity through recognizing the limitations of their medium, namely the size of the screen, and work to allow the most concise experience.

Unfortunately, to some degree, we are still in the draft, red-ink, and re-do stage of mobile maturity. Many apps and app developers are still not thinking in the mobile form-factor mindset. They don’t design and code for screen and workflow minimalism.  Users should be able to connect, act, and leave. They should be able to get their task done as quickly and efficiently as possible with the least required touches to the screen. Being able to do so is the beginning step in mobile productivity. This will take time and revisions. Apps that figure this out first in their domain will have a higher probability of success. In order for business to really leverage the consumerization of IT and the BYOD phenomenon mobile apps need to reconcile their functionality to their screen size. This will allow users to find their true mobile productivity potential.

What mobile app do you find efficient and productive? Got any memories of Elements of Style? I would love to hear from you. Post a comment and let me know!


Dec 16

2 Things Every Great Mobile App Must Have

What makes a great app? To be more specific – what makes a really great mobile app?  As I have written in some of my previous posts there are unique challenges with mobility in terms of form factor (which is just a fancy way of saying device size) and what it means to be productive. These challenges are not always accounted for. Many mobile app designs suffer from poor layouts, confusing functionality, or focus more on presentation and looking good over everything else. However, if an app design misses the mark from a productivity standpoint you have nothing more than a pink bow on the fence of a feedlot.

Enterprises are quickly moving away from desktop-based apps as their sole operational interface and towards an always-connected on-the-go experience. For many application developers it will be challenging, at first, to make this transition into the mobile arena. Desktop, and to the same extent web, applications designed for large screen resolutions have been the dominant paradigm and have so much momentum that it is taking time and a lot of track to stop that train. A product’s mobile UI is often an after-thought; an ‘oh yeah - now let’s make this work for mobile’ conversation. Because of inexpensive monitors application developers have become accustomed to vast expanses of screen real-estate as their playfield for form, function, and beauty. Large screens are ubiquitous and as a result we have become as sloppy in our layout. Just as we went from really tight memory management to bloatware we have become footloose and fancy-free with taking up UI space. Great mobile apps will take this into consideration -but how?

Great mobile apps combine two simple application design/programming concepts – Use Cases and CRUD – and correctly leverage them on every screen. These are straight forward ideas that consistently get sidelined over user-interface look and feel. So for you non-developer types, here is what the concepts mean:

1.       A use case is a description of how a user performs a task.

2.       CRUD is an acronym for Create, Read, Update, Delete

Great you say – now how does that help me determine what is a great mobile app? It is simple. A great mobile app is designed in such a way that on any given screen users can only do one of two things:

1.       Select a task to do (Use Case)

2.       Create, Read, Update, or Delete data on a single task(CRUD)

Not all tasks are created equal either. Great mobile apps also take into consideration which tasks make sense for mobile and which ones don’t. The app should be designed in such a way that any given screen focuses on only one of those two areas – Use Case or CRUD.  Trying to pack anything more into a single screen will result in (pardon my colloquialism) crap. But you want Use Cases and CRUD, not crap. Apps that hold to this design can’t go wrong. Wrap it in a sexy User Interface for increased “stickiness” (as they say in the marketing world)  and you’ll probably have a home-run. However, a great mobile app must have #1 and #2. Even with a boring User Interface it would still be a great app in terms of productivity.

Here is mobile app nirvana. A great mobile app is so intuitive that it requires zero user training. This means people are productive from the moment they encounter the app. This limits initial training costs and doesn’t require much on-going user support. A great app should be so intuitive that users can’t screw up working with it – and believe me it doesn’t take much for them to do so. Think of a bank ATM as your target. If an app is more complex than an ATM then you don’t have a great app. It’s not that the app can’t do complex things it just needs to be simple to interact with. A great app also means an organization will see a much quicker ROI. As well, the less time spent on interfacing with an application will translate into more time users can focus on other more critical tasks in your organization.

Why does knowing these two must-haves matter? Chances are you are probably not a mobile app developer. If you are, use these guidelines as a starting point to help make a great app for the mobile ecosystem. For the rest of you here’s why it matters; today there are more than a million mobile apps available for download with that number increasing rapidly. Yes – many of them are just for fun and these guidelines don’t necessarily apply. But there is an ever increasing focus on business productivity. Organizations are beginning to assemble mobile strategies and are looking at the different areas where mobile apps make sense. Once you are able to narrow it down to a handful – what criteria are you going to use to select a winner? End users need to be able to sift through the noise and find those apps that will propel them forward as an organization. Educated end-users will demand better apps and drive innovation. This will help mature the market quicker and provide better returns for you.

Got an example of what you think is a great mobile app for productivity? Post a comment and let me know.


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