Showing posts with label mobile tier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mobile tier. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cloud-Powered Services Deliver New Revenue and Core Business Agility for SMB Travel Insurance Provider Seven Corners

Transcript of a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast on the benefits achieved from a private cloud infrastructure, and how that makes makes IT into a new revenue center for the business.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.

Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how small-to-medium sized business (SMB) Seven Corners, a travel insurance provider in Indiana, has created and implemented an agile and revenue-generating approach to cloud services.

We'll see how Seven Corners went beyond the typical efficiency and cost conservation benefits of cloud to build innovative business services that generate whole new revenue streams. Stay with us to learn more about how a VMware-enabled cloud infrastructure allowed Seven Corners to rapidly reengineer its IT capabilities and spawn a new vision for its agility and future growth. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here to share their story on an SMB's journey to cloud-based business development is George Reed, CIO of Seven Corners Inc., based in Carmel, Indiana. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, George.

George Reed: Thanks, Dana, glad to be here.

Gardner: When you began this journey to transform how Seven Corners does IT, did you have a guiding principle or vision? Was there a stake in the ground that you could steer toward?

Reed: I did. I was brought in specifically to be an innovative change agent to take them from where they were to where they wanted to get as a business. They just weren’t there at the time. My vision was to come in, stop the bleeding, pick off the low hanging fruit to step up to the next level, and then build a strategic road map that would not only meet -- but exceed -- the needs of the business, and reach out 5-10 years beyond.

Gardner: How long ago did you join Seven Corners?

Reed: I joined Seven Corners in June of 2010.

Gardner: So a fairly short amount of time.

Reed: Correct, but you're going to find, as we have this discussion, that a lot of things have occurred in a remarkably short amount of time.

Gardner: Is there anything specifically about an SMB that you think enabled such agility? I know it’s very difficult in large companies to make such a change in short order. Do you have a certain advantage being smaller?

Authority to move

Reed: You do. If you're in a privately held SMB, your goal is to identify a problem or an opportunity, categorize what it would cost to resolve it or achieve it, and show the return on investment (ROI). If you communicate that in a passionate, effective way with the ownership and the executive group, you come out of the room with authority to move forward. That’s exactly what I did.

Gardner: Before we learn more about that approach and process, perhaps you could explain for our listener’s benefit what Seven Corners is, how large you are, what you do, and just describe what you are doing as a business.

Reed: Seven Corners started in 1993 as Specialty Risk International, and as we began to grow around the globe with customers in every time zone there is, the company changed its name to Seven Corners.

It started out providing specialty travel insurance, trip cancellation insurance, then began providing third-party administrator, general insurance services, and emergency assistance services around the globe. We have about 800 programs in five major product lines to span hundreds of thousands of members.

The company itself is about 170-175 people. We've been enjoying double-digit growth every year. As a matter of fact, I believe that at the end of February they hit the double-digit growth goal for 2012. So we're going to exceed that as the year goes on. You are going to see the technology has driven some of that growth.

Gardner: Who do you consider your primary customers? Is it travel agencies, or do you go direct to the travelers themselves, or a mixture?

If you communicate that in a passionate, effective way with the ownership and the executive group, you come out of the room with authority to move forward.

Reed: About 50 percent of the business is online. You go to the website to fill out a form to figure out what you need. You buy it right then and there, collect your virtual ID card, and you're on your way.

We have customers that are high-tech companies who are sending their people all over the world. They'll buy, at the corporate level, trip cancellation, trip assistance, and trip major medical insurance.

Then, there are universities and other affinity groups. They have students traveling abroad. We have companies sending people to work in the United States. Then, we are doing benefit management and travel assistance for numerous government agencies, US Department of State, Bureau of Prisons, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps as well.

Gardner: And on one side of your business equation, of course, you have these consumers and customers, but you also must have quite a variety of partners, other insurance carriers, for example, medical insurance providers, and so forth. So you need to match and broker services among and between all these?

Multiple carriers

Reed: Correct. We have multiple carriers and do some of the advances around Seven Corners. We’ve got about four more carriers starting to move business our way. So you have to meet all of their needs, reporting needs, timeliness of service, and support their customers. At the same time, we've got all the individuals and groups that we're doing business with and we are doing it across five different revenue-producing lines of business.

Gardner: Let's move back to what it is that you've done, maybe at a high level, an architecture level. As you had that vision about what you needed, and as you gathered requirements in order to satisfy these business needs, what did you look for and what did you start to put in place?

Reed: The first thing I did is assess what was going on in the server room. On my first day, walking in there and looking around, I saw a bunch of oversized Dell desktops that were buffed up to be servers. There were about 140 of those in there.

I was thinking, "This is 2000-2003 technology. I'm here in 2010. This isn't going to work." It was an archaic system that was headed to failure, and that was one of the reasons they knew they had to change. They could no longer sustain either the applications or the hardware itself.

What I wanted to do was put in an infrastructure that would completely replace what was there. The company had grown to the point where there was so much transactional volume, so many thousands of people hitting the member portals. The cloud started to speak to me. I needed to be serving member portals out on a private cloud. I needed to be reaching out to the 15,000 medical providers around the world that we're talking with to get their claims without them sending paper or emails.

It was an archaic system that was headed to failure, and that was one of the reasons they knew they had to change.

I looked at an integrating partner locally in the Midwest. It's called Netech. I said, "Here is my problem. I know that within four months my major servers that are backing up or providing our insurance applications are going to fail. You can't even get parts on eBay for them anymore. I need you to come back to me in a week with a recommendation on how you understand my problem, what you recommend I do about it, and what it's going to cost, wheels-on, out the door."

Gardner: Just to be clear, did you have a certain level of virtualization already in place at this point?

Reed: No, there was nothing virtual in the building. It was all physical. Netech went away and came back a week later, after looking at the needs and asking a ton of questions, as any good partner would do. They said, "Here's what we think you need to do. You need something that's expandable easily for your compute side. We recommend Cisco UCS. Here is a plan for that.

"You need storage that can provide secure multitenancy, because you've got a lot of different carriers that don't want their information shared. They want to know that it's very secured. We recommend NetApp’s FlexPod solution for that.

"And for your virtualization, hub and going to the cloud, we're seeing the best results with VMware's product."

Then, we started with VMware Enterprise, and when it became available, upgraded to vSphere 5.0.

Up and running

They came in with a price, so I knew exactly what it would cost to implement, and they said, they could do it in three months. I went to the owners and said, "You're losing $100,000 revenue a month because of this situation in your server room. You'll pay for this entire project in six months." They said, "Well, get it done." And so we launched. In about two and a half months we were up and running. Our partnership with Netech has had a dramatic impact on speed-to-production for each phase of our virtualization.

Gardner: When you looked at creating a private-cloud fabric to support your application, were these including your internal back-office types of apps? Did you have ERP and communications infrastructure and apps that you needed to support? Clearly, you talked about portals and being able to create Web services and integrate across the business processes, all the above. Did you want to put everything in this cloud or did you segment?

Reed: I wanted to get off the old analog phone system that was there and go to a Cisco Unified Communications Manager, which is a perfect thing to drop into a virtual environment. I wanted to get everybody on the voice-over-IP (VOIP) phones. I wanted to get my call center truly managing 24×7×365, no matter where they were sitting.

I wanted to get users, both customer users, partner users and then the people from Seven Corners to get to where it didn't matter what they were connecting to the Internet with. They could connect to my system and see their data and it would never leave my server, which is one of the beauties of a private cloud, because the data never leaves a secure environment.

Gardner: Did you get a vision to bring all of your apps into this or did you want to segment, sort of was this a crawl-walk-run approach to bringing your apps into this cloud or was this more of a transformation, even shock therapy, to kind of do it all at once to get it done?

That got everybody thinking, "Hey, IT can deliver."

Reed: The server virtualization was a shock therapy, because the infrastructure was very outdated, and any piece of it failing is a failure. It doesn’t matter which one it was.

So we took a 144 servers virtual and took all the storage into the NetApp controller, achieving an immediate 50 percent de-duplication rate. And the efficiency in spinning up servers for a development group to support them, was such that we were cutting a ton of manpower that was required to spin those up. Instead of 4-5 days to set up a server for them to work on a new application, it's now 4-5 minutes.

Gardner: So you were fairly smart in thinking, "I’ve got to find success stories and implement those and that's going to then feed the goodwill and the investment to move across the board."

Reed: Exactly. In the first three days here, inside IT and out in the business, I said, "I need a list by Friday, please, of the top five things we need to keep doing, stop doing, or start doing."

I got great input and then I picked the pain points. That's what I call the low-hanging fruit. We knocked those out the first month, just general technology support. That got everybody thinking, "Hey, IT can deliver." Originally they had a nickname for the department --"The Island of Dr. No." ... No, we can't do this, no, we can't do that.

Getting champions

We said, "Let's find a way to say, "Yes," or at least offer a different solution." When we killed some of those early problems, we ended up getting champions out of opposition. It became very easy to get the company to do business differently, and to put up with the testing, user acceptance process, and training to use different technology services.

Gardner: Sometimes, I hear that culture will trump strategy. It sounds as if in your organization -- maybe because you're an SMB and you can get the full buy-in of your leadership -- you actually were able to make culture into the strategy?

Reed: Absolutely. By changing the culture and getting the departments out there to ask, "Is this stuff you're doing going to help me with this problem?" "Well, yes it will," and then you deliver on that promise.

When you make a promise and you deliver on it, on or ahead of schedule and under budget people begin to believe, they're willing to participate and actively suggest other possible uses with technology that maybe you didn't think of. So you end up with a great technology-business relationship, which had the immediate result for the owners who were out looking to buy an insurance services application or rent one.

They said, "We're a very entrepreneurial company with so many different lines of business that there is nothing out there that would really work for us. We believe in you IT. Build us one." This year we rolled out an application called Access that is so configurable you could run any kind of insurance services through it, whether you're insuring parrots, cars, people, trucks, or whatever.

When you make a promise and you deliver on it, on or ahead of schedule and under budget people begin to believe.

Gardner: Let's learn some more about that. One of the nice things about early successes is that you get that buy-in and the cultural adoption, but you've also set expectations for ongoing success. I suppose it's important to keep the ball rolling and to show more demonstrable benefits.

So when it came to not only repaving those cow paths, making them more efficient, cutting cost, delivering that six-month return on investment, what did you enable? What did you then move forward to to actually create new business development and therefore new revenue?

Reed: By continuing to lower IT cost, when we virtualized the desktops using VMware's View, and then VMware's Horizon which makes it device-independent, it’s easier for everybody to work. That had appreciable productivity improvements out in the departments.

At the same time, my apps development group began designing and building an application called AXIS. What this came out of was that when we went to insurance conventions, talked to carriers and asked, "What are the top 10 reasons you want to fire your third-party administrator today?"

Technology was always part of those top 10 answers. So we devised and developed an application that would eliminate those as problems. The result is that this year, since February, we have four insurance carriers that were working with either their own stuff or third-party administrator, big COBOL mainframe monsters that are just so spaghetti-coded and heavy you can never really get out of it.

Already implemented

They see what our tool is doing and they ask these questions. "What are the specs for me to be able to connect to it?" "Well, you have to have an Internet connection and something smarter than a coffee cup." "That’s it?" "Yeah, that’s it." "Well, what’s the price for us to implement your solution?" "None. "It’s already implemented. You just import your business."

The jaws drop around the table. "How will I be able to see my data?" "You’ll all get in and look at it." "You mean I don’t ask for a report?" "You can, but it’s easier if you just log and look at your report."

They're flocking in. The biggest challenge is keeping up with the pace of the growing business and that goes back to planning for the future. I planned a storage solution and a compute solution. I can just keep adding blades and adding trays of storage without any outage at all.

Gardner: Pay as you go?

Reed: Yes, and the neat thing is that that the process of closing transactions will run about $7 million in revenue a year. It will cost about $1.5 million to service that revenue. Not a bad profit base for an SMB. And it’s because we're going to come in at 45 percent less than their existing service provider, and we're going to provide services that are 100 times better.

Gardner: So if I understand correctly, George, you're saying that you went from being a broker of services, finding insurance carrier services, and then packaging and delivering them to end users, to now actually packaging insurance as a service. You're packaging the ability to conduct business online and packaging that, in addition, to the value-added services for insurance. Does that capture what’s happened?

With a solid, virtual, private-cloud solution, the cost of delivering technology services is just very low per-member serviced.

Reed: It does, and providing immediate access to what any stakeholder in that insurance lifecycle needs improves the quality of the end product. It lowers the cost of the healthcare.

We're starting to get into the state Medicaid benefits management as well. We're saying, "You're spending too much." The first slide in the proposal is always, "You're spending too much on Medicaid healthcare. We're going to help you cut it down and we are going to do it right now." You get attention, when you just walk in bold as brass and say that.

With a solid, virtual, private-cloud solution, the cost of delivering technology services is just very low per member service. In insurance, there are only so many ways to improve profit. One is to grow business. We all know that. But, two is to reduce the time and price of processing a claim, reduce the time and price to implement new business and collect the premium.

We’ve built an infrastructure and now an application platform that does those things. In the old system, the time to process a claim around here was about 30 minutes going through a complex travel medical claim with tons of lines. Now it’s about 15 seconds.

Gardner: This is really fascinating. It strikes me that you’ve sort of defined the future of business. Being an early adopter of technologies that make you agile and efficient means that you're not only passing along the ability to be productive in your traditional business, but you’ve moved into an adjacency that allows you to then take away from your partners and customers the processes that they can’t do as well and embed those into the services that you provide.

When, of course, you can charge back to them at a rate that was lower for them in the first place. You can really grow your definition of being a business within your market.

Think big

Reed: That’s correct, and you can do this in any industry. There is a talk that I’ve given a couple of times at Butler University about how you can never stop being small, until you think big. You have to say, "What would it take for me to do that? Everything is on the table. What would it take?"

My boss does that to me and my direct reports as well. "What would it take for us to accomplish this thing by this time? Don’t worry about what it is. Just tell me what it would take. Let’s see, if we can’t do it." That’s the philosophy that this company was built on.

By the end of the year, we're not only going to be doing all that kind of service for carriers, but we are going to stand up an instance of AXIS to be software as a service and every small third-party administrator (TPA) in the country is going to have an opportunity to buy seats at this servicing application that is easily configurable to whatever their business rules are.

Gardner: I think what distinguishes you, or characterizes you, is being able to do this because you’ve been bold in your IT investments and adoption of modernization. Yet also as an SMB, you can be agile and fleet, get the buy-in, and make the decision.

Then, you're also in a brokering role. You're between a group of businesses, the carriers, and customers, so that you're in a hub role within your business and that gives you this opportunity. Those are some interesting takeaways, but let’s focus a little bit on the technology, George.

You can never stop being small, until you think big.

What’s the platform that you put in place? What are the actual VMware products that you're using? And is there a developing virtuous pattern of benefits? That is to say, is there a whole greater than the sum of the parts at some point in this?

Reed: There definitely is. We're running on vSphere 5.0 and have put in a vCenter Configuration Manager and Operations Manager. We're doing our virtual desktops using the power of ThinApp and VMware Horizon.

Of course, we're a beta user for VMware View. We were just doing a pilot project on that, but the speed was so much better than their actual desktops that the whole company said. "To heck with the pilot. Roll it out." So we ended up rolling it out fairly quickly and aggressively.

Then to make the cloud come to being we got the vCloud Director and vShield in. We're doing a lot of business with the government, and with government agencies we have to be Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliant which makes HIPAA compliance look kind of easy.

We’ve got SAS 70 compliance we have to do. By putting in these kinds of technology platforms, we configure it from day one and we're compliant with all the controls that are supposed to be in place.

The other technology that the VMware is living on is the Cisco UCS, and it’s all being stored on NetApp FlexPod with data replication. In a few months, it will be live mirror for both compute and the data.

Disaster recovery

Gardner: How about disaster recovery (DR)? Have you been able to develop some more automated approaches to that as a result of this cloud activity? Is there a sense of reduced risk which, of course, for insurance broker and services provider would be very important?

Reed: Absolutely. It's the first question I get asked every time a due diligence comes in. This year, I’ve had to get pretty good at due diligences from carriers and big healthcare networks. That’s another area we’ve started branching and taking over.

Site Recovery Manager (SRM) is your friend, because it makes it so easy to say, "We went down at the Carmel location. Well, we’ve got a live mirror and duplicate compute sitting down at the lifeline. Pull that SRM, direct production to there, rebuild the Carmel site and then SRM will turn it back on in no time at all."

The most time down we could possibly have right now is about a minute-and-a-half, and it’s going to be down to seconds, once the live mirror is there.

Gardner: So these folks come to you and say, "You're showing us a price and performance level that you can do these services better than we can." But it also sounds like you can be compliant, face all the various regulations, and develop a sense of no risk.

We looked at a lot of the huge cloud service providers. If you read the fine print of the licensing agreements, they don’t actually take full responsibility for the security of their infrastructure and/or your data.

Reed: Correct. I designed the approach based on the things that always made me raise my eyebrow and say, "Yeah, cloud computing." We looked at a lot of the huge cloud service providers. If you read the fine print of the licensing agreements, they don’t actually take full responsibility for the security of their infrastructure and/or your data.

Some of them don’t even agree that they have to give your data back if you stop working with them. That makes big companies that aren’t tech savvy really leery. "Do I really want all of my patients or all of my insured information sitting out there?" We also see things about information breaches everyday in the news.

That’s why I went after something that I could put in the US Department of Defense facility and not have a problem. I know there's no chance that I'm going to have a challenge, a data breach, or a data loss. That is the first question on every due diligence questionnaire, data recovery and continuity of operations.

Gardner: Now, you’ve mentioned the use of View, is that the View 5, the latest version?

Reed: It is. It is.

Gardner: What percentage of your desktops, your users are virtualized on a full desktop experience?

Reed: We’ve got 99.9 percent. We have one user, a remote user out in Arizona, and we just haven’t gotten to her yet, but we’re just about to lose her desktop.

Mobile devices

Gardner: And how does that now set you up for perhaps moving toward the use of mobile devices? Clearly, you've got some of those interface issues resolved by going fully virtual. Is there a path to allowing choice, even bring your own device (BYOD) types of choice by your users going to new classes of devices?

Reed: We’re working on the BYOD program now. A lot of the department heads have been issued devices through our secure wireless in the building. A couple of them have iPads and a couple of them have Android OSes. Several of us with the new Cisco phone systems have the Cisco tablet that's your actual VoIP phone station and your thin client.

To get ready to go to a meeting, I get off the phone, pull the tablet out of the docking station, and into the meeting. I have my desktop right there. I've never logged off. When I need to go home for the night, I take it home, and log in through my wireless. I have my Voice over IP handset, and I'm calling from my desk phone from anywhere in the world.

So we're already doing what I would call a pilot program to prove it out to everybody and get them used to it. Right now, our sales guys love the fact that they just pull that thing out of the docking station and go off to show a client what our software and services really are.

Gardner: It really shows how the technology enables the business and then the business agility enables the business development. It becomes quite an impressive adoption pattern that's really going to a virtuous adoption pattern, I suppose.

A lot of the department heads have been issued devices through our secure wireless in the building.

Reed: The key is that with the BYOD setup, we put a Cisco IronPort secure wireless in the building. Once you’re in our network, that's very secured and controlled. Then, we tell anybody who brings in their own device, "Here’s what you have to do. These are the steps and encryption levels that you have to do to use your own device on our system."

People in the pilot program are going through that and their device is being signed off on. It comes all the way up to my desk to approve it at this point. I'm sure that down the road, it’ll be just the company security officer signing off on it.

But those people are now connecting from wherever with their own device and they have a responsibility to support the device. If their device goes down, they can still log in to their virtual desktop from anywhere through View 5.

Gardner: We all know how empowering it is when you can have it your way, remain within compliance and security parameters, and also delivering on the business processes and requirements that your company sets out for you. It’s a really nice combination.

Reed: For people with smartphones and tablets, when they’re connecting through VMware Horizon, they get other benefits. If you have to get a new phone, all you do is let Seven Corners know.

Virtual ID cards

They withdraw Horizon and everything attendant to it from the smart device remotely without impacting anything else on it. You take your smartphone down to Verizon, get a new phone, have the stuff that belongs to you transferred over to the new phone come, and that will reinstall.

We're going to be writing Android and iPad applications for our AXIS solution, which will then mean is a traveler doing a backpack tour on the Great Wall of China falls off, breaks his leg, and gets carried off to the medical provider that’s in our network -- after he calls our 24×7 assistance center -- we’ll use virtual ID cards that could be scanned by the tablet computers.

We're going to send those out to every one of our providers, and they can confirm eligibility right there, give the treatment, submit the claim, watch it auto-adjudicate in our system, and see the payment launched. This makes providers want to work with us, because they know that they are going to get paid and they watch it happen.

Gardner: That's a really impressive story, George, and you've been able to do this in just a couple of years. It’s really astonishing. Before we close out, could you provide some advice to other SMBs that have heard your story and can see the light bulbs for their own benefits going off in their heads? Do you have any advice in hindsight from your experience that you would share with them in terms of getting started?

Reed: The key is that you can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t set the vision of what you want to be able to do. To do that, you have to assess where you’re at and what the problems are.

You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t set the vision of what you want to be able to do.

Phase your solutions that you’re going to recommend to solve big problems early and get buy-in. And when you’ve got executive buy-in, you have department heads and users buying in, it’s easy to get a lot of stuff done very quickly, because people aren’t resisting the change.

Gardner: We’ve been talking about how travel insurance provider Seven Corners has created and implemented an agile and revenue-generating approach to cloud services. We’ve seen how as an SMB, Seven Corners has used a VMware-centric infrastructure to rapidly reengineer its IT capabilities and build innovative business services that are generating whole new revenues.

So thanks to our guest, George Reed, CIO of Seven Corners. Thanks so much, George.

Reed: Thanks for having me on.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks to you also, our audience, for joining, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware

Transcript of a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast on the benefits achieved from a private cloud infrastructure, and how that makes makes IT into a new revenue center for the business.

Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.

You may also be interested in:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rise of WebKit Advances Mobile Web's Role, Opens Huge Opportunity for Enterprise Developers on Devices

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on new technologies and approaches that leverage the mobile Web for designing Web applications for hand-held and other mobile devices.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Learn more. Sponsor: Genuitec.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on bringing enterprise applications effectively out to mobile devices.

This complex subject has required some harsh trade-offs from developers in the past -- trade-offs between rich, native applications targeted at specific devices, versus standardized mobile application approaches that have simply failed to impress users.

Such trade-offs have also limited the ability of Web developers to take their full PC browser applications out to the mobile tier without losing powerful features, or finding that the transition to smaller form factors just doesn't hold up. Yet, a new day might be dawning on the ability for enterprise developers to make the mobile leap.

Thanks to the sizable impact that the Apple iPhone and its WebKit browser have had in the market, the mobile device competition is responding. It's sniffing out new business opportunities around application stores, selling application by application, and the mobile commerce implications of that as well.

We're also seeing advertising creep into the mobile tier. All of these trends and effects are mounting now for development to increase and for more applications to find their way out to these devices. Also, such developments as HTML 5, Android, and advances in scripting and open source tools have made the mobile Web suddenly more attractive and attainable for mainstream development and developers.

So, we're going to look at how the development field for mobile Web applications is shaping up and how targeting the modern mobile Web browser may be removing some of the harshness from the trade-offs of the past over form, function and unsatisfactory standards.

To help us unpack the mobile Web, we're joined by our panel. First, I'd like to introduce Stephen O'Grady, founder and analyst at RedMonk. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen O'Grady: Hey, Dana.

Gardner: We're also joined by Wayne Parrott, vice president for product development at Genuitec. Hi, Wayne.

Wayne Parrott: Hi, there. Great to be here.

Gardner: And also, David Beers, a senior wireless developer at MapQuest. Welcome, David.

David Beers: Thanks. Good to be on, Dana.

Gardner: Let's start first with Stephen at Redmonk. You've been following these issues for quite some time. Why have the mobile Web and mobile applications become so important now?

O'Grady: It's really for a number of different reasons. We have better wireless options than we've had in the past. Wireless pricing is more conducive to adoption. In addition, we've seen, just within the past 12-18 months, a real revolution in terms of the adoption of applications, largely due to the success of the iPhone platform, which just recently sold its billionth application.

The success there is again due to the environmental and contextual factors, but also the success in the design of the device itself, in which we finally have a real Web browser. In your introduction, you mentioned WebKit, which is the foundation for the browser. Obviously that's on the iPhone platform.

For the first time, users have a real Web experience, as opposed to a stripped-down, bare-bones site in terms of what they can experience via the mobile Web. We need to pair the environmental and contextual factors with the advances that we've seen in the devices themselves. They've all come together to give us a rich and deep experience that will allow us to do things that we haven't been able to do before with the devices.

Gardner: We're also seeing some economic factors, given the tough economy. When you see the success that a little game application can have and how engaging it can be, I think the enterprise bean counters

When you're an enterprise vendor or a consumer vendor looking to target a volume audience, the fact is that, there are a lot more mobile devices than there are desktops and laptops.

say, "Wow, why can't we bring some of our applications down to that same tier, but at a much lower price point and perhaps out to a much wider user base -- either employees or partners, or even end-customers?"

O'Grady: The user base is one of the important factors. Certainly, the pricing in the applications is very conducive to adoption. In other words, if it's a couple of dollars an application, as Apple has proven with its iTunes store and BlackBerry has attempted to duplicate, we're seeing real low barrier to entry price points. This will spur adoption of the individual applications themselves.

When you're an enterprise vendor or a consumer vendor looking to target a volume audience, the fact is that, there are a lot more mobile devices than there are desktops and laptops. There are mobile devices all over the planet.

You were mentioning economics. The economics are an excellent indication of one trend that we're seeing recently, with handhelds and the so-called netbook category of subnotebooks or ultra-light machines. We're seeing these devices repurposed, utilized, and leveraged in areas that we haven't seen them before.

For example, a lot of folks who might have traveled in the past and had applications like Siebel built into their laptops are now very often using those in a handheld or, in some cases, a netbook. So, economics, in terms of the application price and the volume audience that can be targeted is a big factor.

Gardner: I suppose that Metcalfe's Law kicks in to some degree. The more people on the network, the more people that can be involved in a business process, particularly in real time, the more powerful the process, and the more powerful the network.

O'Grady: You've got it.

Gardner: Let's move on to this issue about fragmentation. As Stephen pointed out, we still have many, many devices. This is by no means 1982 with MS-DOS as the single platform to be concerned with. We still need to work out a great deal of fragmentation on the mobile tier.

Let's go to David. You're a developer in the mobile tier. How does an organization like MapQuest handle this whole issue of so many choices on that endpoint?

Beers: It's both a problem and an opportunity. From a developer's standpoint, and I am a developer, it's obviously difficult, because the amount of energy that you put in is divided across all of these different platforms. You have to make difficult decisions about developing the features you want with the resources you've got and perhaps limiting the targets that you're able to reach, as far as devices are concerned. Or, you may be faced with, partly because of resource constraints and partly because of the need to try to fit across the lowest common denominator, releasing apps that aren't as powerful or as functional as you'd like them to be in order to get that reach. That's a difficult thing.

On the positive side, fragmentation is a pejorative term that we use for differentiation. It's painful for developers, but we can't pretend that it's all a bad thing, because it's really driven by rapid innovation. A lot of the fragmentation that we see out there is because we've got these capabilities now on handsets.

So many of them have GPS, for example, which is a huge opportunity for MapQuest. We would definitely want to be able to leverage those capabilities. As Stephen was saying, part of this uptake in application usage is because the technology is getting better. So, you've got to go to where that improvement is.

Gardner: So, we have choices and trade-offs, but we also seem to have some coalescing around a better path. Why don't we go to Wayne? Tell us how you see the improvement, now that we've identified the problematic past. How do you see things improving?

Parrott: Looking back, things have been a pretty big mess on mobile for the whole. You kicked off by talking about some of the improvements in the smarter phones and the capabilities they bring in, both higher-end horsepower on the smartphones and a much better browsing experience or engine now showing up on the iPhone-class machines. The programming model that is now available enables a whole new class of Web-type applications, which, in the past, has been reserved for native applications.

Going back to talking about native, again, the fragmentation issue pops up. As you start to move forward with the WebKit-type browsers now more prevalent on these smarter phones, it's starting to represent a more common platform that we have a choice to target our application functionality toward.

Gardner: So, perhaps this goal of being able to "write once, run once" doesn't really work, given the variety of devices. "Write once, run anywhere" doesn't work, because of the differences in the native approaches. So, we're stuck with "write many times, and run many places."

It's got to be better than that, though! How do we manage and make that a bit more amenable from a technology and a business perspective? Again, I'll take that to Wayne.

Parrott: Obviously, recognizing the advances in the platform itself and being able to take advantage of the mobile Web capability of the newer iPhone class machines is something that has caught a lot of enterprises' attention. Before, they were scared off by the prospect of the cost of going native and the fragmentation issues around that.

Going back to focusing toward mobile Web and the WebKit browsers gives them the opportunity to start to look at their existing resources and their know-how, in terms of what they've been doing in the past as far as Web. They can ask, "What's the gap that I have to close, in order to repurpose and retarget my resources, my content, services toward reaching people where they are now?" More and more people are living mobile. So, what is it you have to do?

They're quickly starting to realize that the new smartphones are giving them a great new capability, and it's not that big a gap that they have to cross over in order to be able to reach users in a much more cost-effective level by focusing on the capabilities that the mobile Web gives them.

Gardner: Stephen, where do you fall on this? Do you see that the developers are going to be making the choices that winnow down these variables, or are the market, the technologies, and some elephants in the room, like Apple, going to make these standards for them?

Target the largest market

O'Grady: In large part, developers will be making the choice, and they'll be making the choice largely based on volume. In other words, whether you're a third-party application developer or an individual developer just putting out an application on your own, you want to target the largest market.

Now, there are exceptions to that. For example, even if the BlackBerry store is much smaller, in terms of the number of users, than the Apple Store, it will have a guaranteed, built-in audience simply because of BlackBerry's strength within the enterprise. Enterprise application developers might target that at the expenses of the Apple's iTunes store, but, ultimately, much of it will be determined by volume.

It's kind of a chicken and egg situation, because application volume is a function of the platform success and vice versa, but ultimately, the platforms that are successful will be determined by volume.

The difficult part here is that whether we're talking native or Web apps for the phone, it's still a fragmented market. The native clients, whether it's an Apple, a BlackBerry, or a Nokia device, are not going to be the same application. It's certainly not "write once, run anywhere," even for the Web. We have different versions of WebKit being employed for the different platforms. If the Mozilla folks are successful in making Fennec a real presence alongside of WebKit in one or more of these platforms, then we'll have fragmentation even at the Web space level.

So, fragmentation is going to be the status quo. That will carry into the future, but success will be determined largely by platform volume.

Gardner: Okay. So, volume is one major force in the market, but we are seeing some innovation technically,

It's kind of a chicken and egg situation, because application volume is a function of the platform success and vice versa, but ultimately, the platforms that are successful will be determined by volume.

and often the best approach for productivity that feeds that volume beast ends up winning. Let's go to David. We've seen developments around HTML advances, scripting language, and open source. From your perspective as a developer, what is getting you out of bed early Monday morning to get into work, when it comes to some of these new technologies?

Beers: I can tell this from the context of how things have evolved at MapQuest. We're a company that grew up on the Web, one of the first Web applications to hit the Internet back in 1996. It wasn't too surprising that we started on the mobile web with WAP technology, the early version of the mobile web. We've been pretty successful with that project within certain limits, but it's definitely been a least common denominator type platform, and it's been difficult to move that.

Gardner: WAP is Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), right?

Beers: Thank you, yes, and it's been a little bit of a silo for us. In other words, you can't really take a WAP website and evolve that very easily into an iPhone-class device, as Wayne is talking about.

Gardner: How long have you been grappling with this? As you say, you were early to the Web. How early have you been to mobile? It seems that when someone is traveling, they're not stuck at a desk, and the more value you can add to them. Right?

Beers: Mobile has been something that's been part of MapQuest right along. It comes in the nature of our business, which is getting people from A to B. So, it's intrinsically mobile oriented.

A lot of what we've been doing in the last couple of years has been developing what we've been calling native applications here. We've talked a little bit about some of the pain of that.

As to the question of HTML 5 and how this changes the picture for companies like MapQuest, we're beginning to see that these capabilities make it so that we can take technology that powers the website that people use on their desktop and repurpose that very quickly to provide a beautiful and powerful Ajax Web experience on modern smartphones.

An easy migration

We found that, considering the amount of development and energy that's gone into making our native applications, and has gone into the mobile website that we have out there right now, what it took to get a great application on the iPhone was minimal. It was very impressive.

A lot of what has made it so intriguing for us is the fact that we're doing real Ajax here on the devices. So, for the problems that have been around with Web apps, which are compounded when you're talking about a mobile network with a huge latency and everything, you really have tools to be able to handle those situations and provide a lot better user experience. It's finally starting to make sense as a Web application.

Gardner: Clearly if you peruse the Apple's App Store, as I like to do, we're seeing quite a shift. The games being promenaded first, but all of a sudden, we're seeing content providers, Web-service providers, and portal providers all coming out with their iPhone version. It doesn't seem like it was that difficult for them. Maybe it's not quite the same full set of features, but it's pretty darn compelling.

Beers: I think so. You asked me what really gets me up in the morning. The other piece of this is, looking at that difficult trade-off we have right now, HTML 5 seems to bring another possible answer to that trade-off.

It's not just a mobile Web story. We see companies like Palm coming out with essentially native application environments that use those

One way you can look at this, as far as where things will go, is you're starting to see phones that essentially will have two tiers on them.

tools for the presentation layer. That brings up all kinds of very interesting and productive new models for releasing essentially a native application that has really rich access to the underlying features on the device -- things like GPS and the accelerometer. That's also a very exciting application model for companies like MapQuest to look at.

Gardner: So, as a developer, it seems that, while it could be quite difficult, the best of these worlds would be to be able to take advantage of a certain set of native functions and specifics to a handset or even a carrier, but, at the same time, leverage what you can across the Web, in terms of Web services and the ability to mash up and take advantage of some of the rich Internet application features. How do you see that hybrid possibility evolving?

Beers: It's going to be very interesting. We're starting to see, with the Palm Pre and webOS, the first signs that this is going to be a new way that applications will be released.

You see another example with the Sprint's Titan platform, which hasn't had a lot of attention in the media. WebKit may actually be a piece of that story that's going to make you hear a little bit more about that.

One way you can look at this, as far as where things will go, is you're starting to see phones that essentially will have two tiers on them. You're going to see developers having a choice to say, "Do I want to be operating completely in JavaScript and exercise my skills there in the WebKit environment, or do I want to have some of the application logic below that, perhaps in a Java environment, where it's essentially being a local server on the device for the presentation layer on top?"

You start to combine those things, and it allows all kinds of different components that are out there and that have been driving the innovation in the Internet to come into play on mobiles in ways that we haven't seen before.

Gardner: Stephen, do you concur with that? Do you think we're going to see the equivalent of a distributed, multi-tier capability at this mobile-device endpoint?

Taking a different approach

O'Grady: Ultimately, we'll get there, and the Palm Pre is a great example, because Palm is taking a different approach to application generation. Undoubtedly, we'll see the hybridization of both Web and native features.

To some extent, we can see some signs of where this will head. Think of the iPhone and the ability of WebKit to automatically reformat due to the gyroscopic functions that are contained in the handset. A Web page can automatically resize itself if the handset is tilted one way or another. We'll see a lot more development like that, which combine the present Web applications with native abilities of the handset, and GPS probably is the most obvious example.

At present, however, the development story is still, generally speaking, one or the other. I don't think that we're there yet.

Gardner: It certainly sounds like an opportunity for the tools people. Let's take this over to Wayne at Genuitec. Coming from a Java, Enterprise, and Eclipse heritage, you're used to complexity. You're used to dealing with difficult integration problems, where developers are accessing assets and resources from a variety of different background technology sources. What do you have in mind for the tools aspect of what we've been discussing in the evolution of these mobile apps?

Parrott: Let me just echo what Stephen was talking about. We were talking about what will come in the future in terms of the hybridized,

One of the forces driving us has been enterprise organizations that want to move to the Web. They're being driven by their own workforce.

blended Web device-type programming model. Where we're at right now is that it's a binary decision. It's native or Web, for the most part, and the Web model is the lowest barrier to clear in order to go native.

Before we jump in and say, "Hey, mobile Web is it," I like to take the approach that, you can pick the right tool for the right problem or the right technology for the right problem. For anybody interested in mobile web, the first thing they should do is educate themselves and learn about what's out there.

If you're interested in mobile Web, Genuitec provides educational resources and a lot of good references. Again, the Web is replete with a lot of emerging information about mobile Web strategy, and we tie that together with our own experience.

Gardner: Let me be sure I understand. So are you talking about how to take an existing Web developer and train them to transition to the mobile Web, or are we talking about getting people native-ready for the mobile Web, almost from a starting blocks position?

Parrott: Obviously, one of the forces driving us has been enterprise organizations that want to move to the Web. They're being driven by their own workforce, sales staff, etc. I'm not thinking so much blue-collar, but white-collar staff that's very mobile, and wants to have a high connectedness, basically they want to run their businesses through their smartphones.

What they're pushing us for is, "How do we get there from here?" They already have a lot of their own infrastructure and resources in place, but moving that to the mobile Web has been a challenge for them.

First step: education

First, they need to be educated about what it takes to get there, looking it through, and evaluating their own resources. David mentioned the Ajax model, HTML 5, and the mobile Web model. It's not a static content type model. So, your traditional static Web developer needs to have some skills and awareness that it's much more functional. It's not just static data, but it's functional.

You have what we call the mobile Web programming model so that you can now build some very sophisticated functionality that you run directly in the browser. You have to be educated about what you want to run local. Do you want to serve static content or do you want to push functionalities directly to the particular smartphone device?

We're servicing both -- helping educate and provide tooling and educational services for both Web developers and traditional enterprise developers -- Java developers who are moving over, bringing their programming know-how and experience, and applying that to dynamic Web applications.

Gardner: It sounds like some path we've already been on. If you have a set of Java developers and you have a set of Web developers, how do they come together to form some sort of an alignment for the delivery

You have to be educated about what you want to run local. Do you want to serve static content or do you want to push functionalities directly to the particular smartphone device?

of these modern applications? That shouldn't be too different when you take them out to the mobile tier. Right?

Parrott: Definitely not, but at a higher level, an organization just needs to understand, how much and what kind of functionality they actually want to push out to the mobile Web. It's really our overall strategy.

Gardner: Right! There are architectural and network considerations that are unique.

Parrott: Correct. You have to remember that you're running on wireless networks. It's not running at Wi-Fi speed necessarily. There are things you have to take into account, as you work through the total end-user experience that you're targeting and then focus on what kind of developers have the experience to build and create that type of experience and delivery for your customers.

Gardner: What about Eclipse? What are some things going on there, some projects, interesting developments and innovation? We've certainly seen a lot of interest in OSGi over the previous year or two. What is the bearing that some of those activities have on moving out to mobile development?

Parrott: I can talk very specifically to one of the projects that Genuitec is heading up. It's called Blinky. The focus with the Blinky Project is to create a mobile-Web development platform. The concentration has been in two areas, both to provide frameworks for building tools that developers could then use for creating really compelling Web applications and also user interface (UI) frameworks or rendering frameworks.

You can think of these as themes. If you want to build a Web application and have it have an iPhone type look and feel, it's easily possible with the HTML 5 technologies. But, your starting point is to work with an existing UI framework that can help you create that kind of end-user native experience.

So, we're working on those two aspects. That's all of part of the open source. If anybody is not aware, Eclipse is a platform for building both tools and run times, and we're focusing mainly on tooling and the UI development in terms of the Blinky Project.

Gardner: Let's go over to the developer. Dave, this open-source development, I assume, is something you've been involved with, as a user, or perhaps a contributor as well. Tell me a little bit about the role that open source has in your mobile development, and then, if you're familiar with OSGi, does that hold any interest for you?

The benefits of open source

Beers: First of all, open source is very important to us from many different directions. We're using a lot of open-source tools. In my time as a developer, I've also had a chance to contribute to a lot of open-source projects, including Eclipse, and then kind of eat my own dog food. It's hard to be a developer these days and not be enjoying a lot of the benefits and productivity that come from the existence of open source.

OSGi is a particularly interesting area for me, and I think it may be becoming more important now with Oracle's acquisition of Sun, because it's really bringing about a new component model for Java, in particular. Part of this problem of fragmentation that we're talking about has to do with the fact that we deal so often, at least in Java applications, with these static stacks. We've got these configurations. We've got profiles. We've got all these optional packages in mobile Java.

OSGi presents the possibility of being able to have just the right stack for what you need and not to worry so much about whether the capabilities are there natively in the phone, because you can add them as a developer.

The idea of OSGi being a component model that's underneath, something like that WebKit layer, is an extremely powerful combination. There you've got standards at both of those layers that I was talking about. I'm very hopeful about seeing that evolve. I agree with Stephen, it's not going to happen this month, but I think we're headed that way.

Gardner: Stephen, any thoughts about it. With OSGi, of course, its heritage was in embedded. So, it's almost designed for this sort of a problem set?

O'Grady: I was about to say exactly the same thing. OSGi is eminently applicable, simply because it does offer you the componentization, to some degree, of the stack, as was just discussed. We've seen this before. Some of the mobile carriers have explored OSGi in varying degrees. We'll certainly see more of that.

The other Eclipse-related mobile story that's probably worth at least a mention is some of the Android work that's going on. There's a plug-in for Eclipse that will allow you to develop in Eclipse and toward the Android platform.

So, both on the server side with OSGi, as well as the tooling side, the client development side, with things like the Android SDK and some of the work that the folks at MyEclipse are doing, Eclipse will really have roles to play on both sides of that equation.

Gardner: Wayne, given that we've identified the mobile Web and its latest incarnations and innovations as an interesting way for the enterprise developers to move quickly to mobile, and the fact that they're getting the push for doing this from their own users, those mobile warriors, how do you get started?

If you're in this mode of training, experimenting, and getting up to speed, where do you even start on that process of going from traditional Web development to mobile Web development?

Parrott: I am going to go ahead and toot our own horn here, but at Genuitec, this is what we're specializing in. We provide a number of online resources and enterprise tools to help users target toward both their enterprise applications and also toward mobile. So, I would say, visit our site at

The other would be to educate yourself. As I mentioned earlier, there is just a wealth of resources on the Web. Genuitec will provide a book list

We've also learned how these approaches are going to make it easier for the enterprise to get these processes that they've of course invested many, many years and probably millions of dollars in, and bring them out to more users with more payback and return on that investment.

or a bunch of book lists that you can access, read up on, and kind of educate yourself, just to understand whether you really even want to get into this field or not.

Finally, one of the things that I am really proud of is that I believe what really gets you connected is seeing and believing. When I talk to some people, not everybody has access to a smartphone. They may have seen other people with them, but they don't necessarily understand or grok it. One thing that we provide is a very simple micro WebKit browser that you can install and it can run off your desktop. You can explore and experiment with the mobile Web in a way that gives you a first-hand type of experience.

Once you're beyond that, then you have additional roadmaps, depending on the type of complexity that you want to adopt and the type of applications you're going to build, and provide tooling and expertise around that.

Gardner: Okay, I'm afraid we're about out of time. We've been learning about how Web developers can better take their full PC browser applications out to a mobile tier, perhaps without losing the features. We're also looking at how those native capabilities on these handheld devices can be utilized as well, and bringing them together over time is something that I'm pretty excited about.

We've also learned how these approaches are going to make it easier for the enterprise to get these processes that they've of course invested many, many years and probably millions of dollars in, and bring them out to more users with more payback and return on that investment.

So join me in thanking our panel. We've been joined by Stephen O'Grady, founder and analyst at RedMonk. Thank you Stephen.

O'Grady: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: We've also enjoyed the input from Wayne Parrott, vice president for product development at Genuitec. Thank you, Wayne.

Parrott: Thanks, everyone.

Gardner: And David Beers, senior wireless developer at MapQuest. Thank you, David.

Beers: Thanks all. I enjoyed it.

Gardner: I also want to thank the sponsor of this discussion, Genuitec, for underwriting its production. This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Learn more. Sponsor: Genuitec.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on new technologies and approaches that leverage the mobile Web for designing Web applications for hand-held and other mobile devices. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2000. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Enterprises Seek New Ways to Package and Deliver Applications and Data to Mobile Devices

Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on new ways to deliver data and applications to mobile workers using Kapow Technologies solutions.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Learn more. Listen to related webinar. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions and you're listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on bringing more data to the mobile tier. We'll look at innovative ways to extract and make enterprise data ready to be accessed and consumed by mobile device users.

This has been a thorny problem for many years now, and the approach of Kapow Technologies in focusing on the Web browser on the mobile device has some really neat benefits. Kapow's goal is to allow data to be much more efficiently used beyond the limited range and confines of traditional enterprise applications and interfaces, when delivered out through mobile networks.

As enterprises seek to cut cost, while boosting real world productivity, using ubiquitous mobile devices and networks to deliver actionable and real-time data to business workers in their environment has never been more economical and never has made more sense.

Here to provide an in-depth look at how more enterprises and their data can be packaged and delivered effectively to more mobile users, is JP Finnell, CEO of Mobility Partners, a wireless mobility consulting firm. Welcome to the show, JP.

JP Finnell: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: We're also joined by Stefan Andreasen, founder and chief technology officer at Kapow Technologies. Welcome back to the show, Stefan.

Stefan Andreasen: Thank you very much, Dana.

Gardner: We're also joined by Ron Yu, head of marketing at Kapow. Thanks for coming on the show, Ron.

Ron Yu: Thanks for having us, Dana.

Gardner: I want to take a look at the state of mobile applications and the need now to get fresh data out to the field. Why is this a time when the imperative economically and in terms of business agility has perhaps never been as acute or as important?

Let's take this to JP Finnell. You're in the field and you work with a lot of folks who are dealing with these issues. Why is this such an important time?

Finnell: I used to head up professional services for Nokia worldwide. Before that, I was with the Deloitte Consulting, Xerox, and Cambridge Technology Partners for Novell. So, in the past, I've really seen these cycles and adoptions of technologies a number of times, and mobility is different.

Unlike conventional applications, mobile applications have a huge number of choices to juggle. There are choices about input and output, touch-screen versus QWERTY. For example, we've seen that with RIM recently, where there is a lot of controversy with the Storm device versus the touch-screen versus the Bold. So you don't really see that dimension in the traditional adoption.

You also have the choice of the device platform. That's also quite different from your traditional choice of development options. A lot of choices have been holding things back, and companies like Kapow are making it much easier for developers to get on board. Hopefully, later on during this podcast, we'll touch on some of the other factors that are coming in place to make 2009 a year when we're going to see some [large scale] adoption of mobility.

Gardner: Now, this complexity has been going on for a long time, and there are many choices. Aside from what we can bring to the solution on the technical side, from your perspective, JP, what is pulling people to find the solution because of the real benefits of moving to the mobile tier and leaving the PC back in the office?

Finnell: There are a number of elements of suitability. When I was at Nokia, we wrote a book called Work Goes Mobile: Nokia's Lessons from the Leading Edge. According to Wiley Publishing, it's one of the top best-selling books on business mobility. We're seeing that need to be more responsive.

Business processes that really either are business to employee (B2E) or business to business (B2B) is where responsiveness and timeliness is really an issue. I'll talk more later about the application we did in the field for a major bank where we were able to take substantial cycle time out of the process. So, being able to be more responsive and doing more with less is the motto in 2009.

Gardner: Let's go to Ron Yu. What is it about data in particular that, at this time, can start to help these organizations be more agile and responsive?

Complex Legacy Systems

Yu: What we see within the enterprise is that the IT organization is really buried in the complexity of legacy systems. First and foremost, how do they get real-time access to information that's locked in 20- or 30-year-old systems.

On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of data that's locked in homegrown applications through Internet portals and applications that have been adopted and developed through the years, either by the IT organization itself or through mergers and acquisitions. When you're trying to integrate all these heterogeneous data sources and applications, it's almost impossible to conceive how you would develop a mobile application. What we see IT focused on today is solving that data problem.

Gardner: And, what is it about being able to get to the data presentation beyond a full-fledged application that is attracting people nowadays?

Yu: The interesting thing is that Kapow is not a mobile company. The reason we're having this discussion today is because Kapow customers have actually brought us into this market. Because of how we have innovatively solved these real-time, heterogeneous, unstructured data challenges, customers have come up with their own ideas of how they can develop mobile apps in real time. That's what Kapow solves for them.

Gardner: Let's go to Stefan. Stefan, what is it exactly that Kapow is doing that these users have innovatively applied to the mobile problem?

Andreasen: Let's just go back to the foundation here -- why is the need for mobile application growing? It all started with the Internet and the easy access to applications through the Web browser. Then, we got laptops and we can actually access this application when we are on the road. The problem is the form factor of the laptop, opening it up at the airport, and getting on the 'Net is quite cumbersome.

So, to improve agility for mobile workers, they're better off taking their mobile out of their pocket and seeing it right there. That's what's creating the need. The data that people want to look at is really what they're already looking at on their laptop. They just want to move it to a new medium that's more agile, handier, and they can get access to wherever they are, rather than only in the airport or in the lobby of the hotel.

Gardner: JP, what's wrong with the way some of the other vendors and combination of hardware and vendor and service provider have tried to tackle this problem? Have they been using the wrong tools? Have they had the wrong philosophy? Why has this been so long in coming, and what's the alternative that Kapow and folks like you are putting together as solutions?

Finnell: Before addressing that question, Dana, I'd like to back up and to what Stefan was talking about use cases in airports, for example. We saw that in a use case for a major bank. This was a unique problem where it was a process that automated the capture of credit card data or credit card applications in particular.

You see these kiosks in airports, stadiums, and shopping malls. It's like in the airport, where there is really no power, and no connectivity. There's more of that today, but in football stadiums and shopping malls, it's still very hard to find a laptop solution that has power for eight hours and will have broadband connectivity. That was another unique use case, where there is a need for visibility and automation.

Gardner: I'd like to add to that too. It seems that there's a behavioral shift as well. The more people use smart phones, the more they're used to doing their email through a hand-held device. They cross this barrier into an always-on mentality, and they can't take time to boot up, set up, and charge the battery for a full-fledged PC experience. The expectation among people who start doing this always-on activity is that they want their data instantly wherever they are, whenever they are.

Consumers Driving the Need

Yu: Dana, that's a great point. Consumerization is an interesting market dynamic that is really driving more need for mobile apps. We, as consumers, are being wowed by the iPhone applications, the Facebook applications, and things that we can do in our private lives and in the social networking context.

When we come into the business world, we demand the same type of tools, the same type of access, and the same type of communication -- and we just don't have that today. What we see is the line-of-business knowledge worker putting a lot of pressure on IT. IT tries to respond to this, but dealing with the old traditional methods of technical requirements, business cases and things like that, just doesn't lend itself to quick, agile, iterative, perpetual-beta types of mobile application development.

Gardner: So, we have this growing dissonance between the expectations of the individual, the ubiquity of the mobile device and people's comfort level with it, and then the older approach and some of the solutions that have been attempted for mobile delivery which seem to be extremely expensive and cumbersome. JP, again, what has been wrong with the standards of the old methods?

Finnell: I wouldn't say it's wrong. I'd say it's incomplete. The approaches of these large platform vendors, and I am strategic partner in several of them, aren't strong, when it comes to agility, prototyping, and being able to accommodate this real-time iterative application development approach. That's really where Kapow shines.

Gardner: I've spoken to a number of developers over the years and they've likened this mobile issue to an onion where with every layer that you peel back, you think you're getting closer to the solution, but you just keep digging down, and there are more variables and more hurdles. Eventually, the cost and the delays have dissuaded people from pursuing these types of activities.

Stefan, what is it about Kapow that should help people become more engaged and actually look forward to developing in the mobile tier?

Andreasen: The answer is very simple. It's because we work in the world that they already know. If you want a mobile application, if you want agility, you want it in the world of applications that you're already working with.

If you're already opening your laptop and working with data, we give you that exact same experience on the mobile phone. So, it's not that you have to think, "What can I use this for?" It's about taking what you're already doing and doing it in a more agile and mobile way. That's what's very appealing. Business workers get their data and their applications their way on the mobile phone, and basically, it's making them more effective in what they're already doing.

Yu: Dana, the metaphor that comes to mind for me is not an onion, but it's really on a baseball diamond. When you look at Sybase and other independent software vendors (ISVs) that are selling platform and infrastructure, there are huge investments that you have to make.

To me, it's almost as if you are looking for that home run hitter, that Mark McGwire. I won't say Barry Bonds anymore. But there's a place to go for the home run, and to go for that large global enterprise deployment. With mobile apps, what we're seeing with our customers is that they want to hit singles.

They want to be able to meet the demands of a line-of-business department and to get that in their hands -- the 80/20 rule applies -- and get some experience and develop best practices and learning lessons about how they can iterate and roll out the next one.

I think Stefan is going to elaborate, when we talk about Audi, but Audi literally rolled out four mobile apps within the first week of implementing Kapow.

Gardner: Let's get into the actual solution. We want to solve these mobile data access problems. We're writing directly to XHTML. You refer to this as extract, transform and load (ETL) and then extension of data for Web data services. Help me understand technically what it is that Kapow is providing here.

From Laptop to Mobile

Andreasen: The best way to describe it is with an example. This is actually a real use case. Let's say I am the CEO of a big network equipment manufacturer. I go to the airport and I open up my laptop to see what are the latest sales figures. I have these applications where I can see sales data, performance, market changes, etc.

What's unique with Kapow is that you can go then to the developers and say, “Hey, look at this. This is what I want on my mobile app -- on my mobile phone.” And, they can get the data from the world of the browser, turn it into standard application programming interfaces (APIs), and get it through any mobile devices.

Just to give you an example of what we did there. With three hours work, we developed a mobile XHTML application for Blackberry that gave the dashboard that the CEO needed. That shows the power of Kapow right there. The alternative approach would be three months of development and probably $150,000 of cost.

Gardner: What's required in the handsets to be able to access what you're describing?

Andreasen: Handsets today are getting more and more browser enabled. So, of course, if you have a browser-enabled phone, it's very easy to do this. You can write just in XHTML as you've mentioned. But, a lot of companies already have like a mobile infrastructure platform.

Because our product turns the applications into standard APIs, standard feeds, it works with any mobile platform and can work in the devices that they support. You basically get the best of both worlds.

Gardner: How do we get over the hurdle of applications that are developed for a browser on a full-blown PC, where there's quite a bit of visual graphics and images, but we want to boil that down into really text and numerics. What is it that you bring to the table to solve that problem?

Andreasen: We recently had a webinar, and we asked what are the biggest challenges that people have. The number one challenge that came out of it was standard access to data, and that's exactly the problem we solve. We allow you to very, very quickly -- almost as quickly as it would take to browse an application once -- turn an application to standard API. Then, you can take it from there to your mobile phone or your mobile applications.

Gardner: People, of course, can deploy with virtual private networks (VPNs) and use a variety of secure socket layer (SSL) or other authentication, so that this data and this delivery to the mobility tier remains secure, and access privileges are maintained.

Andreasen: Exactly. We basically leverage the security mechanisms already in place. The benefit with Kapow is that you don't have to re-write anything or get any new infrastructure. You just use what you already have, because you aren't working with the data. You just do it in the mobile way you want to work with, and we allow you to do that.

Yu: What's powerful about Kapow is that we have an integrated development environment (IDE) that basically allows the IT architects to service enable anything with a Web interface, whether it's a homepage or an application. The power of that really is to bring the knowledge worker or line of business manager together with the IT person to actually develop the business and technical requirements in real-time.

This helps perpetuate the beta development of mobile applications where you don't have to go through months and months of planning cycles, because we know that in a mobile world, once you've gone one or two or three months past, the business has changed. So, as Stefan was saying, the ability to develop data applications for mobile in a matter of hours is powerful.

Gardner: Let's go to JP again. Give us a sense of what types of content and data have been the first to be deployed and delivered in such a fashion. What sorts of developers are the most ready to start exploiting these capabilities?

Funding Requires Business Case

Finnell: Dana, we're not seeing most projects get funded. Where the traction is today is where the projects are getting funded. Projects don't get funded unless there is a business case. The best business cases are those where there's a business process that's already been defined and that needs to be automated. Typically, those are field-based types of processes that we are seeing.

So, I'd say, the field-force automation projects, utilities or direct sales agents, are the areas where I'm seeing the most investment today on a departmental level.

Also, to echo what Ron was saying, you need to go through that prototyping or iterative phase. For example, we had these utility technicians in the field, several hundred of them. Initially, we designed the screens to be scroll down. An alternative user interface (UI) for that was actually to have a screen for each question. Once they answer the question, they hit the next screen.

Unlike a pure Web application, where you want to have a scroll bar and you scroll down and answer every one of 10 questions on a page, the technicians much preferred to have one question per page, because of the form factor. That only was discovered as a result of the prototyping. So, that's another example.

Andreasen: And it's a good example of exactly what Kapow can do. If you have an existing Web-based application with 10 questions on one page, you take our product, pull it into our visual IDE, and turn it into an API service-oriented interface. Then, you can put a new UI on that, which basically asks one question at a time and solves exactly the problem that JP is referring to.

Gardner: This strikes me something that's going to be even more important, as organizations adopt more software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and as we see more of SaaS providers deliver their applications for both a PC browser experience as well as a stripped-down mobile one.

We're already started to see that on the social networking and consumer site for users of iPhones or iPod Touches. It's going to be interesting to see if a field mobile warrior is going to be accessing this information through the SaaS provider, while they wouldn't be able to in the on-premises applications that are delivered through the enterprise.

It's almost as if the SaaS world is going to drive the need for more of these types of interfaces in the enterprise environment. Does that make sense, Ron?

Yu: Yes, absolutely. Once again, there's this whole notion of completeness that JP mentioned earlier. The SaaS vendors, the Salesforce.coms are going to be focusing on building out their applications. But, at a company level, at a departmental level, we're going to have unique requirements that Salesforce will not be able to develop and deploy in their application in real time.

Yes, they have the application, the AppExchange. And, you have access to, and you can write your own apps, but, once again, you're talking about software development. With Kapow, we completely leapfrog the need to actually write code. Because of the visual-programming IDE tool, you can actually work, as Stefan was saying, at the business logic level. You work with the interfaces that you know to service-enable your data and roll out apps in real time.

We see this is as enabling and empowering the IT organization to take control of their destiny today, as opposed to waiting for funding and cumbersome development and planning processes to be able to scope out a project and then to write code.

Gardner: Because of Kapow's heritage and the fact that it's been doing Enterprise 2.0 activities for a while now, it seems that, as the developers have become attuned to thinking for the mobile tier, they can, in a sense, develop the application once to then appear anywhere. Is that starting to happen, JP, in the market?

Juggling Mobile Choices

Finnell: One thing that's unique about mobility is the degree of fragmentation. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of choices you have to juggle, not just the device, but actually the platform. You have WIN Mobile, Symbian, UIQ -- which I understand filed for bankruptcy today -- RIM, and Palm. So, there are a number of device platforms, and then you have development options: mobile browser versus SmartClient, J2ME versus .NET.

Stefan and Ron could probably talk about some case studies that they have been seeing in terms of write once-run anywhere.

Gardner: Let's look at this same question, but through the lens of case studies. Now, you've got users like Bank of America, CNET, Audi, Visa, Intel. Tell us about some of these use cases and also if there has been a write once-run mobile, as well as through traditional interfaces.

Andreasen: Let's talk about Audi. It's one of Kapow's largest customers. It's very Web-enabled. Actually, we see that most companies are getting Web-enabled. Audi has a big intranet with a lot of applications.

One application, for example, is for the manager on the assembly line. He can monitor where cars are in production, where they are in the assembly line, and their status. He's walking up and down the assembly line and his laptop is probably in a different office. So, going back and forth to work on his application is very cumbersome.

One of the first things we did for them, as Ron said early, was build four mobile apps in the first week. We took that intranet application and mobilized it, so that the assembly line manager could actually stand right there in front of the car, pick up the phone, and access the entire application. This is an example of the same application existing both as a traditional browser application and as the mobile application.

The interesting thing here is that Kapow enables you to leverage what you already have, the Web browser application, and reuse and repurpose that into a mobile application in a very, very short time, as was just described.

You can take the equation further, if you're going to an entirely new application and you want output in both media. The key is first to get your data in a standard interface and then build on that. That's where you use Kapow. Get the data in a standard interface and then you can build it out for different media as needed.

Yu: Dana, would you like to hear about the iPhone app that we built for Gartner?

Gardner: By all means.

Andreasen: We just attended the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit (AADI) in December. They have a very neat website where you can go and check their agenda. You can also walk around with "the bible," this big book, and see what's going on.

Let's say I'm sitting in a presentation and say, “Wow. This is boring. What's going on right now that I'd rather see?” What you really would like to do is take out your phone, click a button right now, and the rooms and what things are going on now.

So, together with IBM's Rational solutions, we built a mobile version of the Gartner AADI agenda. Using Kapow, we turned the existing Gartner agenda website into a standard feed, and the Rational guys built an iPhone application on top of that. And we are promoting that.

It became a big hit at the show. All the Gartner people loved it. Virtually, you could build your own agenda. You could push a "Now" button, when you were in a boring presentation, and you could walk somewhere else. We got all the benefits of mobility with just two or three hours of total work, and for thousands of people.

Yu: Dana, the most amazing thing about this is that Stefan and I had a conversation on Thursday evening in preparation for a mobile analyst meeting that we were going to be having at the show.

We said, “Wouldn't it be great to walk into that briefing with an iPhone app?” And, Stefan said, "Great." So, in the evening, he spent an hour-and-a-half to create this service feed and he contacted our partner at IBM. In an hour-and-a-half, they used their tool and developed that application. It was just phenomenal. Stefan, why don't you talk about the interactions that you've had with the IT folks at Gartner?

Andreasen: The IT folks of Gartner, of course, were amazed that we could actually produce this and they could see how popular it became. I ended up having a meeting with them, and we're talking with them right now. Actually, if anybody want to see this application, we have it live running on our website under the Mobile Solutions page. So, please feel free to go there and check it out.

Same-Day Development

Yu: This is really a perfect example of how the enterprise in 2009 will operate -- the ability to wake up one day and to have a line-of-business or an IT person, conceive a mobile application and to be able to deploy it within the same day. It's powerful and, hopefully, we'll see more examples of what we did for Gartner within global enterprises.

Gardner: This also raises another issue, which probably is sufficient for an entirely separate podcast, and that's the juxtaposition of this sort of data with location and positioning services. Perhaps at a conference not only would you want a room number, but you might be able to get directions to it and be able to juxtapose these services.

Quickly, to anyone on the panel, what is it now that enterprises should consider, not only delivering this data out to a mobile device, but juxtaposing it with location services and what that could offer?

Andreasen: I think there's a more fundamental question. Can we leverage different sources of information into the same application. If we just go back to the Gartner thing, I could pull out the name of the room, but I didn't have a map on the Gartner side. The hotel itself, of course, has a separate website with hotel information, maps, and everything.

We could actually use our product and service-enable that as well, combine the two, and get a new mash-up mobile application, where you leverage the benefit of multiple applications that couldn't even work together before. That's one answer to that question. You can now combine and mash up several applications and get the combined efficiency.

Gardner: That strikes me as the real return-on-investment (ROI) benefit, because not only are you justifying the cost of delivering the data, but you are able to then use that data for much higher productivity, when you do these as a mash-up. That's really important in our economic climate -- basically 2+2 = 6 -- and that's what I think we're talking about here.

Andreasen: Exactly. Today, people have to look at different places on their paper and, in their mind, combine things. That's what you can automate and create a lot of efficiency.

Gardner: We're almost out of time. What does the future portend for Kapow and some of these mobile services? Is there a road map for improving the breadth and scope of the solution? Once again, I'll throw this out to anyone on the panel.

Andreasen: There is one thing that we're doing, you mentioned as earlier, with SaaS. We launched Kapow OnDemand half-a-year ago and we can see that that's driving a lot of mobile business. So, now we can use our product, not only for on-premises solution, but also in the cloud. We see that as a major driver in our road map to support that.

Yu: The other thing is that I think it's pretty clear now that, from our perspective and from JP's perspective, there are no clearly defined mobile applications. We see the ISVs and IT organizations focused on security and infrastructure.

But, really, beyond email there hasn't been one killer app. I think that tells a story that every enterprise will have their specific mobile apps that they are going to roll out. At Kapow, we will continue to mobile-enable IT organizations to be able to roll out applications as quickly as they can conceive them.

The other part of that is that we will continue to focus on partnering. At Kapow, we will not be a mobile ISV, per se, but will continue to partner with the platform providers to help drive more adoption of mobile.

Gardner: JP hit on this little earlier when he was focused on the business process. Perhaps we're not going to see mobile killer apps or killer mobile apps, but killer business processes that need to have a mobile element to them.

Finnell: That's right, and there is something that I call "strategy emerging from experience." The best way to get adoption in your enterprise is to rapidly iterate at the departmental level, gain experience that way, create centralized governance or coordinative governance that captures the lessons from those, and then become more strategic.

What I am seeing in 2009 is a good experience space. Almost every enterprise today has at least one department that's doing something around mobile. One way to get that to be more strategic is to be more iterative with your approach.

Gardner: Well, great. We've been talking about delivering more content and data out to a mobile tier, but without some of the pain, expense, and complexity that's been traditional in these activities. We've been joined by a panel of JP Finnell, CEO of Mobility Partners. Thanks so much for joining.

Finnell: Thank you.

Gardner: We also had Stefan Andreasen, founder and chief technology officer at Kapow Technologies. Thank you, Stefan.

Andreasen: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: Also Ron Yu, head of marketing for Kapow. I appreciate your input, Ron.

Yu: Thank you, Dana, I enjoyed the discussion.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. You have been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast. Thanks for listening and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Learn more. Listen to related webinar. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.

Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on new ways to deliver data and applications to mobile workers using Kapow Technologies solutions. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2009. All rights reserved.