One App to Rule Them All (Why Messaging Matters)

 

Strategic Brief:

Are you processing credit card transactions on a website or mobile application? Maybe you offer a hosting service, or build business websites. Get ready, the nature of the web business transaction is changing. You should already have a strategy for accepting transactions from players like Apple’s Messages, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. When supporting Instant Messenger transactions, you will need more than purchase buttons. Sourcing AI-bot technology will be a requirement to support the presale and purchase conversations via these messenger applications.

 

U! S! A! Number One!!

We have heard the chant at ball games, olympics, and in convention centers. It seems an irrevocable truth (to Americans). Even knowing that it was not true in every circumstance, information technology is one sector where that leadership has remained for decades.

From the IBM mainframes of the 50’s, through distributed systems, PC’s, the internet, smart phones, and wearables, the US has commonly led the invention and adoption of technology for consumer usage. Competition drove this leadership.

US mobile applications began with potpourri approach.

Currently, the US mobile application economy relies on a flurry of different apps each eyeing a small piece of the pie from our needs and services. Need a car, try Uber or Lyft. Need to park a car, try Luxe. Need food, try Seamless. Need accomodation, try Airbnb. Want to update your friends, try Facebook. Catching up with friends on video, try Skype. Want to buy a cup of coffee, try Starbucks. Looking for a camera, try BandH. Want to listen to music, Spotify. Want to shop online, try Amazon. Want to know if a restaurant is good, try Yelp. Want to pay for something with someone you do not know, try PayPal. (Hmm, just realized I have 190 applications on my smartphone. Need help managing credentials for all these applications, try 1Password.)

This is competition at its best, right? Players competing in the specific field until one comes out as the consumer default. Sometimes though, don’t you get tired of entering credit card details in each, and creating a new login and thinking of a new password?

China disrupts with a unified model.

WeChat is the ultimate ‘platform’ player, offering all the services described above and more embedded within a single application. In China, fixed price items, like a croissant, come with a QR code; just scan it from WeChat and you have paid. One login for shopping, food, travel advice, accomodation, and staying in touch with friends. To give you an idea of scale, by offering a ‘lottery’ approach to gifting friends WeChat Wallet grew 100 million users in a single month (1) – over three million per day – from what started as a messaging application.

US leadership in mobile applications initially defined the market. For WeChat, entering the field later let them observe existing players on the US playing field and gather together the approaches into a single platform for the Chinese market they understood well.

So far, WeChat is limited to a Chinese artifact, with only 10% of active users outside of China. I first learned of the application from Chinese students when a panel judge for an NYU Master course. For now, it does not need to worry about competition from US players in the Chinese market. The diversity of applications needed to match WeChat makes the existing user base a tough mountain for any intruder to climb.

The challenge for WeChat will be to find a footing in other countries against incumbents. If your family is already on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat, what will motivate you to switch to WeChat? (Hint: Consultants with strong in-country connections for regions with distinct cultural and business idioms like the EU, should be pounding on owner Tencent Holdings door).

US mobile application companies now seen responding.

Facebook Messenger introduced the ability to transfer money inside the application. They did not see 100 million new users resulting from their approach, so expect further attempts.

While most coverage of Apple’s WWDC conference highlighted the planned additions of ‘stickers’ into Apple’s Messages application – the feature with subtle impact is the support of API’s. This will permit application developers to connect into Messages for communicaiton, and also allow them to connect into Apple Pay for business transactions. Want to participate in a paid treasure hunt in New York CIty? Imagine registering on Messages and receiving a calendar reminder and map location in reply giving you instant directions to a starting point and an invitation to a Messages group. When you meet up there, the guide shows a QR code for you to scan. Once your payment is approved, you receive a PDF in iBooks that gives you the directions, clues and treasures to find. Everything happening on the Messages platform.

WeChat has a stronger feature set today. It is in front of US leaders like Facebook and Apple. The US does not like to be number two. The next two years are going to be very interesting in global mobile platforms.

  1. Acknowledging http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-09/life-in-the-people-s-republic-of-wechat as the source of the 100 million new user number.

Is DevOps Enough in a SaaS World?

 

Strategic Brief:

The devops approach was meant to give us agile development AND more manageable applications – reducing cost of operations and making apps more reliable. Being close to ops helps, but it is not the full story. It works well for individual applications, but can miss the complex interactions between applications, and between applications and the users or consumers who operate them. The Sprint approach that grew up within Google is good as a starting point, but a more continuous relationship needs to grow out of it.

 

 

When I was a system programmer, I worked on a project setting up a HL7 (1) communication network for a group of hospitals. In early configurations, different applications processed HL7 transactions at different rates, so you needed a queuing mechanism to allow backlogs to be solved without losing data. So far, so good. Except, each laboratory application and queuing application was developed separately and often came from different vendors. Even within the same application, each component might have its own commands to collect information on transactions. Developers gave no thought to the operational need for measuring and managing the overall queues once in production. (Developers over here, operations over there).

This hot mess went live.

The phone calls began. Hospitals complaining about laboratory results not getting back to the wards in time. It turned out that some format errors caused transactions to get stuck in the queues (the application code definitely under-delivered in dealing with variances in field content). Operations needed a way to see what was going on between the applications.

An in-house developer created a complex PERL script triggered the various commands, cleaned up the results, and reported on the queues. The first attempt revealed all the details of the queues. Yippee, development solved the problem.

DevOps will only solve part of the problem.

Now operations had ALL the details, but without any meaningful way to interpret and act on it. Operations did not know what to identify as an impending problem. How long a delay was acceptable in a hospital? (Developers over here, operations over there, customers further out.)

Finally, the developers met with some nurses (customers!) to understand the ‘time’ requirement. The goal was that a transaction from labs to bedside should always be faster than the time for a human (generally a nurse) to physically run there.

A rewrite of a script highlighted queues approaching thresholds. Now meaningful thresholds could be set and recommended actions be added in. The stuck transactions were flagged for development to sort out. If queues got too long, the relevant hospital could be informed to switch over to manual delivery of results to wards. The angry phone calls stopped.

  1. A little background. HL7 is a standard for transfer of clinical information between various healthcare applications.

The ‘I’ in CIO is for Information



The Strategic Brief:

For the last sixty years, the title for the person in charge of IT should really have been the Chief Digitization Officer rather than Chief Information Officer (CIO). Today’s technology enables the CIO to focus on information as well as technology. As CIO, you must own the connection of your customers to your business – the customer experience (CX). Personalizing this experience will require collecting more information about your customers. There are multiple information collection approaches, and you must select those that will give you sufficient details, and more importantly match the type of relationship desired with your customers.



For decades, the purpose of information technology was to capture and store information about the business. The 1957 Hepburn/Tracy classic “Desk Set” tells the story of “two extremely strong personalities clashing over the digitization of a TV network’s research department.” (1) In the film, the news research department was humans, books, papers and all of that knowledge was being digitized. Digitizing existing information was all the rage.

google-ngram-frequency-of-cio-1920-2000

Chief Information Officers (CIO) have existed since World War II, yet for the first seventy years it may have been more accurate to call them Chief Digitization Officers. They were responsible for taking processes and information from analog to digital. Now, with mobile applications and the internet of things (IoT), the job is changing enough that they are finally earning the ‘I’ in the title.

For decades, CIO’s spent most of their time on acquiring real estate to house computers; operating the computers, networks and storage; developing or buying needed software; connecting devices to the centralized systems; and managing the people needed to make all this happen. IT was really digitizing existing processes – instead of bank tellers handwriting deposits in giant tomes with manually totaled results, they entered the deposit into a computer. Companies did not learn that much more about their customers, they were merely digitizing existing information. In simple terms, that early CIO focused on the ‘technology’ part of information technology, not on the information part.

Leap forward sixty years to 2016’s omnipresent mobile applications and accompanying personalization. IT now moves well beyond the role of digitizing processes into owning the connection of the business to the customer. The new CIO will now own the frontline customer experience (CX). Customer experience personalization is a crucial survival tenet for 2016.

In addition to all the technical responsibilities above, the CIO must now focus on the ‘information’ part of IT. To support customer experience, and in particular personalization, a business must collect and understand significantly more information about the customer. A critical component of customer trust will be clearly explaining why you are collecting and using the information and how you are protecting the customer during and after collection. (This is so important, it will get a separate article with deeper analysis soon).

With each generation in society, the relationship between a customer and a business becomes more digital than IRL (2). Take the example of enterprise software vendors in a sales cycle for a new technology. Previously, the vendor team would visit the client and explain the new technology to initiate the sales process. Today enterprise IT staff use the internet and social networks to discover and research new technologies. Once the technology is identified, the IT team seek out the vendors offering the needed features. Most of the sales cycle is done before a salesperson even enters the conversation. Technology supporting self service is only the first step in IT involvement in the customer experience.

The takeaway is that while existing information must still be aggregated and connected, significantly more new information must also be attained to support improving the customer experience. This is now a key requirement for the business relationship with customers, and must be handled with finesse. Base how you will collate information on the nature of the relationship you want with your customers. We can transform our relationships with our customers by making the technology part of IT take a step back and focusing on the information part. The CIO is finally earning the ‘information’ part of their title.

  1. For fun, compare how computers are portrayed in that film versus the ‘Mr Robot’ TV series. For more fun, compare Hepburn’s job to Google.
  2. In Real Life