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First, it was the Scandinavian-style Smorgasbord. Later, it was Old Country Buffet.

My parents were immigrants who grew up in a time and place where starvation was a reality. Naturally, all-you-can-eat restaurants seemed like one of America’s Greatest Wonders.

When I was in elementary school, we would drive into the Big City (Minneapolis) and chow down at Valhalla or Asgard or whatever it was called. The horned Viking helmets and swords mounted on the wall provided the authenticity that the food lacked. After that closed down, we’d amble over to the

Old Country Buffet in my suburb, where we’d partake of its endless hot dishes and gluey pies and puddings.

The thing was, even as a skinny teenager who could pack away five squares of lasagna after two hours of tennis, I can’t remember ever really enjoying buffets. It wasn’t because the food was mediocre – it was, though it seemed like a major upgrade to me compared to my school cafeteria and its recycled meat dishes (Turketti or Sloppy Joes, anyone?).

Rather, we always seemed to go to buffets when it was my parents who were hungry, not me. And the indifferent presentation of overwhelming amounts of unrelated food – egg rolls next to prime rib next to jello – did nothing to jumpstart my appetite even back then. Maybe my parents were right – I was an ungrateful wretch who took things for granted.

Not feeling it at ALL.

This is the same risk for enterprises and workers going mobile today. Mobile devices are giving us access to information anytime, anywhere. Just like buffet restaurants, that is an economic and technological miracle. We shouldn’t dismiss or take that for granted.

Except that very soon, we will. You know how human nature is – we’re easily spoiled. It’s not just that. When data is over-abundant, it becomes like e-mail spam, an irritation that interferes with – rather than helps – our thinking or productivity.

And data IS over-abundant, has been for years. Did you know they coined the term Information Overload 42 years ago?


Here’s the book to prove it.

Credit: Wikipedia

Turns out that data, just like food, is less valuable to the consumer when presented as an overwhelming buffet. It is MORE valuable when it’s presented:

– in manageable, high-quality portions;

– in the right context;

– using the right interface;

– at the right-time.

That’s where mobile and Big Data can combine to become a powerful duo and provide subtle Right-Time Experiences instead of crude Real-Time ones.

This is something independent analyst Maribel Lopez has been arguing consistently this year, and it was the thesis of her illuminating keynote at a seminar last week hosted by SAP in Palo Alto. Other speakers included Sanjay Poonen, SAP President and Corporate Officer, Swen Carlson, senior director on the SAP Hana team, Vishy Gopalakrishnan, vice-president for SAP’s Mobility Center of Excellence and others.

(Check out the Twitter conversation here).

Some examples of Right-Time Experiences include:

– Tesco is testing a virtual grocery store at Gatwick Airport in London. Passengers stuck in an airport terminal with dead time can buy items that will be delivered right when they get back from vacation. Using their smartphones and tablets, passengers simply take pictures of the item’s barcode to fill their grocery cart that will be delivered up to 3 weeks away.

Credit: ZDNet

– General Electric uses tiny sensors to collect data about vibrations, weather, breakdowns, etc. on its gas turbines in the field. That data – 50 terabytes in just 3 minutes! – is analyzed for patterns to help anticipate when repairs might be needed, so as to prepare field technicians. Those techs are then armed with the relevant build and maintenance records, along with access to an up-to-date spare parts inventory.

– BigPoint is a German provider of online games, including its most popular, BattleStar Galactica Online, with 9 million registered players. The game is mostly free to play. BigPoint tries to make money by offering digital goods to players. Using SAP Hana to analyze where players are in the game, BigPoint is delivering better offers to the right players at the Right Time. It hopes to boost its topline revenue 10-30% as a result.

– Don’t you hate it when you’re roaming the aisles of a Big Box retailer and either can’t find an employee or can’t find one who can actually help? Lowe’s is trying to fix that by arming its 42,000 employees with iPhones and apps to help check on inventory status as well as let you pay for your purchases right there and avoid the cash register lineups.

If you want to learn more about your company can accomplish things in Right-Time, register for the October 4th Webinar presented by two of the same experts from last week’s event, Lopez and Gopalakrishnan.

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  1. Henrique Pinto

    Of course you won’t want to enable real-time for 100% of the data available in your ERP to your decision making executives. But for that small set of data that is really relevant for their decisions, the right time is indeed as soon as possible. Any second spent running on a non-optimal operation means dollars you’re actively loosing. And in this sense, the corporate mobile use case is completely different from the marketing consumer-reaching use case, where you might (and probably will) want to wait until your information becomes relevant to your customers.

    Corporate wise, right time = real time, if your application is really relevant for the corporation. If the right time is not real time, the app might look good, it might make users’ lives easier and you might even convince the CIO to implement it, but it will never really have a strong business case that justifies it.

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    1. Eric Lai Post author

      Hi Henrique – I think you make some very good points here, especially the – broadly speaking – difference between the internal user and external customers. But even within internal users, I don’t think there’s always uniformity. A business analyst may want a given report in real-time, but the CEO who might be cc:ed on it probably won’t read it right away, even if he/she is part of the approval chain. It might be even more effective if that report appeared at the end of the day or week, when the CEO has more time to read and make a thoughtful decision, rather than be lost in the shuffle.

      In the ideal world, all decisions would be made as soon as the data/information allows us to, but that’s not reality.

      I don’t want to speak for Maribel Lopez, who is the real champion of this concept, but it seems that by Right-time experiences, she also means to inject the ideas of curating and presenting content in the right way, as well as the right time.

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