Context Aware: Are You Building for the Future of Mobile?
In The past, present and future of enterprise mobility, SAP CEO Bill McDermott made the case that the key to simplicity through mobile is moving beyond just getting information first to getting the precise information in just the right format on the right screen at the precise moment that you need it. In other words knowing the context of the user and situation is the key to getting to the future of mobile. Smartphones are key to context, because they are the devices most commonly at your side. Any readers out there who feel uneasy unless their smartphone is on the nightstand at bedtime? And the critical mass of smartphones is reaching a tipping point, considering that adoption of smartphones in many markets worldwide is reaching over half the subscribers. So, context will be king, and smartphones are key to bring better experiences to end users – just consider mobile apps from the financial services industry that ratchet up security questions when detecting a user on a new device or browser.
These forces translate a CIO or application developer perspective to deliver new context-aware opportunities, and this isn’t exactly new, as portals and ecommerce sites depend upon context to improve their UIs over the last 10 years. Everyday we use smartphones, tablets and a near infinite number of connected devices like appliances, cars, field service workers, glasses and even now watches. Connectivity is literally everywhere at home, at work and all places in between. But now the heat is on CIOs and application developers, as connected applications don’t live on just one device anymore, they’re in sync across multiple devices.
So as the mobile bar is reset to where multichannel, multidevice support is the norm, does this mean that developers can just keep coding (& recoding) mobile apps every time a new device or capability arises? This is where Cloud Computing comes in with its scale and flexibility; developers can make some key bets. The effectiveness of bringing as much context as possible to bear through cloud has been a key determinant in the success of Apple and Google in disrupting the mobile industry. So to build for the future, mobile development must embrace the cloud (as at SAP, where we are investing in HANA Cloud Platform Mobile Services).
Today’s “mobile first” mindset is just table-stakes from a computing point of view, and wearables lead to the Internet of things, and again, the most daunting challenge will be complexity. Web application development approaches will get us part-way there, but networks get busy, batteries drain, hardware/software glitches interrupt, users leave devices in taxis, and developers must build context aware experiences to help humans navigate their imperfect world. SAP has led the development of the enterprise mobility, and before embarking on building for the future of mobile, it’s important to have a clear strategy and strong foundation, as Rick Costanzo points out in The Truth about Mobile Today. My belief is that the enterprises, software, and content providers that will gain advantage with context will be the ones who take a long-term disciplined approach to mobile.
So can we the foundation context awareness with such discipline? Following is my checklist to help get you started:
- Create an awareness of context and the kinds of context engines your organization will need. Build your mindset at the individual level, taking for example, the use case of setting a home thermostat and integrating the smartphone app with The Weather Channel app to automatically fluctuate your home heating or cooling. This will help you identify the set(s) of information that you need. Prioritize the users and scenarios that matter most (more on that in a future blog), and start with consumer or work processes, location and/or search. Leverage context to minimize and simplify the steps needed for end users and IT administrators to keep devices, applications, and content secure. Mobile provides all kinds of new discovery points for your customers, business partners and employees – so one thing you can do is just observe when a certain piece of information would make a major change in the actions or decisions and then back-track to how to deliver it. This may be less complicated than you think, especially if the mobile platforms you are using already provide services to synthesize the kind of information. That’s why the next step is so important – without it, your developers will be working in silos from project to project or within organizational boundaries. An example of this kind of siloed investment are retailers whose customers have better information on their mobile apps then the sales people in their own stores. In fact, context awareness is key to success in all three of the strategies outlined in Top Three Things Retailers Need to Do to Thrive in the Networked Economy .
- Invest in end-to-end in mobile platforms that automatically curate how end-users discover apps related to their business (e.g. field service techs and augmented reality apps), how IT Administrators push out and update applications, and how developers pull together all the contextual clues to bring the right stuff in the right format to the right user at the right time. These platforms will allow you to get the details right, like providing the appropriate level of richness to the user, working when networks are overloaded or unavailable, pushing information proactively, making it easy for users to securely sign in.
- Link your investments in end-to-end mobility with Big Data projects – think about the kind of cloud services you will need to feed the context engines, understand the real-time requirements your new mobile applications will bring.
- Refine step 1 and then repeat the whole cycle, adding greater scope of Internet of Things, wearables, etc at each pass. This is a long-term strategy – so be sure to set the right expectations.
At SAP, many of our 261,000 customers are already well on their way to building their mobile future using SAP Mobile Platform, HANA Cloud Platform Mobile Services, SAP Mobile Secure, and our wide range of mobile industry solutions. We have brought mobile apps, security and usability to customers with regards to contextual awareness. How? Our process-optimized mobile apps combine SAP’s deep industry expertise with SAP Mobile Platform to give users the precise information they need. SAP Mobile Platform is based on open standards and supports browser-based, native, and hybrid experiences on any kind of device, ranging from smartphones to tablets to ruggedized devices and now to wearables, making sure that the information is in the right format on the right screen. And our HANA and analytics capability gives developers the insight and speed to anticipate the need for information, give mobile users so that it can be delivered at the precise moment needed. These platforms have been recognized as the worldwide industry leaders according to a number of industry analyst groups including Gartner, Forrester, Ovum, Yankee/451 and IDC. Find out more about creating your own context aware mobile strategy at your unique pace by visiting SAP’s new Mobile Strategy map here.