Just over a year ago

birthday cakeJust over a year ago I posted the last article on this blog. It was also just before I launched a product that I nurtured from idea into realisation. I was (and I still am) very proud that the product was well received and that people are spending money and become customers.

This is not about Bitcare, this is about how busy year it has been. From product idea to launch was actually easy compared to dealing with growing up. Customers provide you with lots of feedback and feature requests, the market is constantly changing and required adoption and with a cutting edge vision on mobile, it's hard to imagine how much has changed in the last two years. It's a balance act between fulfilling a vision, getting the deals in and continues innovation and dealing with the overly fast technical evolutions. It required to make choices, manage the scarce resources and above work very long days and many weekends.

The long days, the lost weekends are all quickly forgotten when working with passion and knowing that you do something you truly believe in. It's freedom to make your own choices and decisions, to make your own mistakes and follow your dreams. My girlfriend describes it best: You work even more than before, but our quality of life has gone up.

What the next year is going to bring I don't know. What I do know is that I still have pipeline of ideas and innovations that I day, sooner or later, might turn into realisations. Stay tuned to find out and in the mean time hope I will write a bit more often.

One More Week!

The Endeavor Lifts OffA little more then 10 months ago was the last time I published an article on this blog. That has also been about the period I've been busy by bringing an idea to live and turn it into reality. People have been asking what I've been up to and why I wasn't as visible as usually. Well I've been busy!

One more week and I'm ready to share with you and the rest of the world. Just be patient, I still have some last things to do.

I always had many ideas, I shared them, I discussed them with others and most of the time they ended in the bin. Until the day there was something that sticked. I and others believed in the idea and... well lets just give it a shot to bring it to live... and turn it into reality.

The idea involved around bringing mobile/tablet computing into a market that hasn't been automated yet, because they don't have access to a computer. Some call this a blue collar worker, I call them the people that spend their day doing valuable work with their ankles in the mud. They have no desk, they have no computer and most of the time, no interest in a computer (for work).

Software, the cloud, web and mobile apps and a lot more stuff are were well within my comfort zone. It was the easy part, creating a product is really simple, a few engineers with a bit of hacking can do a lot in a short time. The result, a fantastic web and mobile product. However before the hacking could start there was lot more and harder work to do, It was about getting market insights:

  • What is a good market segment to address?
  • What are their real challenges? 
  • How can innovation help them?
  • How to pitch change?
  • How to approach and find pilots to collaborate?
  • How to distribute and sell?
  • What is a sales price that matches the perceived value offered?
  • ... and a lot more

Home work done and ready to roll! Well what about?
  • Financing?
  • Office and infrastructure?
  • Finding the right people to build a wining team?
  • Contracts, Terms and Conditions?

There were, and still are, days that I just have to do 5 jobs at the same time. It's been exciting, valuable and extremely educational. Now just the last seven days to launch, dealing with the business cards, phone numbers, web site, practicing pitches, preparing presentations, and heaps of other stuff on the site... 

We are almost ready for lift off... meet you on the moon... or at least the cloud I will be on for, I guess, just a day...

Image credit: Stuck in Customs

Xbox launches the Xphone and Xtv

In a surprise move this morning the news broke that Xbox extended their product portfolio beyond the gaming console with two phones and a two television models. The reasoning for Xbox to make this move is too further deepen the penetration into the living room and consumer electronics.

The two Xphones are both beautifully designed and engineered and share the same impressive technical specifications, outperforming most of the competitors. The two Xphones each have a different design, attracting different audiences. Both Xphones have a carbon fiber casing with an illuminated silver and green X logo we know so well from the Xbox. The logo is touch sensitive and is used to wake the phones from sleep, putting the touch interface to a new level. The difference between the Xphones is clearly visible in the front. The first more stylish model features a chrome frame around the slightly curved screen that is decorated with Swarovsky crystals, clearly a design element to attract a younger female audience. The other Xphone uses a titanium frame with leather inlays, to give it a rougher, tougher and more male oriented appearance. Both designs could easily have into a cheap looking direction, but the Italian design company outperformed and created two very stylish fashion icons. The effort that has been put into the design clearly pays of, it absolutely outclasses the phones currently on the market. Just the design alone will make the Xphones the hottest want to have items for this holiday season.

The Xtv is as stylisch as the Xphones and also comes with a slightly curved screen and the choice of a chrome or titanium frame around the screen and a simular carbon fiber casing as the Xphones. The illuminated X logo is put on the front and also serves as the on/off switch and lights up when you wake the Xtv with the remote or your Xphone serving as the remote. The Xtv supports an integrated Kinect module to control the Xtv, but of course also to make it a compelling upgrade for your existing Xbox.

The launch of these two new products are quite a change for Microsoft, the company beyond the Xbox:
  1. Microsoft finally decided that Xbox will be the consumer brand in the living room, the Microsoft name is hardly visible on any of the new Xproducts. 
  2. Microsoft is now a hardware company that put design at the highest level and makes their current hardware partners looking bleak. This absolutely will cause a stirr in their partner channel, but I have to agree it will be the only way to survive in a highly competitive consumer business.
  3. Microsoft clearly shows they are able to innovate and break down existing barriers, meaning nobody in the Microsoft eco-system is safe!
  4. Microsoft under the name Xbox is entering a new phase in their already impressive history.

It will be very hard to ignore these gorgeous products because they are the ultimate combination and integration of hard- and software. The attention for detail that has gone into these products is beyond imagination.

Disclaimer: This story is of course NOT true and completely MADE UP based on a dream I was having a few nights ago. I like Windows Phone, but I don't see myself buying one unless it comes combined with break through hardware designs that makes Apple products feel dated and ugly.

Improve your User Experience - Hire a Professional

Will Code 4 FoodBesides setting up my own business, more on that later, I freelance an make my experience available for others. This mainly is with software companies that are seeking the next phase in their product development, this might be technology oriented, but quite often is also user oriented. For the technology oriented assignments I'm often the outside expert, while for the User Experience focussed assignments I'm the evangelist. I'm not a User Experience professional, but I can help you building a User Experience team and the first advice I usually give is: Hire User Experience professionals.

Unfortunately this advice is often received with a lot of skepticism, the key reasons are:
  • A user experience specialist doesn't understand our business or product
  • We have product managers that exactly know what the customer wants
  • We already have user groups that provide deep customer insights
  • Having additional people involved will only slowdown the product development process
  • We outsource the design and artwork

My reply is always: These are exactly the reasons you need to hire User Experience professionals, because they:
  • Are trained in and have skills to objectively qualify and quantify the needs and wishes of your customers.
  • Lack the tunnel vision of being years in the business and help you with the right priorities
  • Can facilitate and moderate your user groups and use methods to dive even deeper into the needs of your customers
  • The overall process might slowdown, but you get improved priorities and thus your create more customer value.
  • User Experiences is much more about user insights, interaction design as it is graphical design and artwork.

Putting my deeds where my mouths is: The first hire on the payroll of my new business is a User Experience designer! I'm not only giving the advice, I'm actually following it up!

Image: Zach Dill

Why the best phone in the world is useless.

For more than 10 years I happily used Nokia mobile phones, but this all changed with the introduction of the first iPhone. Apple changed the way we think about mobile phones and showed the increasing importance of software. Unfortunately Nokia saw this change too late and started too loose many loyal customers. I was one of then, but I always regretted this and hoped that may be one day Nokia would see a turn around.

My love for Nokia made me buy a Nokia N9, as Nokia claims themselves the last Nokia smart phone. The phone is great, a nice form factor, differentiating colors and running an impressively simple and easy to use operating system. Since a few weeks I use the phone as my primary device and I love it, all the basic functions work like a charm. My iPhone 4 now feel clunky and cumbersome to use, I constantly double tab the screen to wake it up and swipe it in an attempt to switch apps. I've just forgotten to use the home button, it feels old and dated.

However as much as I love the phone, it's absolutely useless. The phone is a one of a kind and runs, a dead before born, operating system Meego that lacks a developer eco-system. The selection of apps is extremely limited and even if you only use a hand full of apps, you will be missing a few important once. The iPhone has become a byPhone, just to make sure I can track my fitness while running, follow the train schedule and help me in a few more situation when the Nokia N9 doesn't have proper app support. This of course is completely missing it's purpose, making the Nokia N9 absolutely useless.

The future of Nokia now lays in the hand of the partnership with Microsoft and as much as I like Windows Phone I will not get a Nokia Phone with Windows Phone. It just doesn't fit with my emotional state of being, Windows Phone is something I associate with HTC, Samsung, LG and more of the same black plastic boxes and someday I might pick up one of those as a secondary byPhone. This said, I do hope the partnership between Nokia and Microsoft does turn out to be successful, because I would regret to see Nokia disappear as a brand.

Still I'm happy and proud to use the last Nokia smart phone as my primary device. It clearly shows that Apple is not the only company that can create great usable devices.

The business software user experience challenge

A couple of days ago I was having a discussion on the user experience of business applications. We all agreed that in many situations the user experience wasn't very good, but there was no clear solution either. During the conversation I mentioned: If RunKeeper can motivate people to go for a run (as they do with me) it must also be possible to motivate and encourage people to use business software.

The whole discussion got me thinking again, actually during one of the RunKeeper motivated runs, and I found a new perspective on the matter that I want to share with you. It clearly differentiates from earlier arguments on conservative customers and user versus vendor debates. Lets first list some pretty complex products with heaps of features that are very commonly used and actually make many people very happy:

  • Photoshop and other photo editing tools
  • Various video editing tools
  • Microsoft Office
  • AutoCAD
These products are day in day out used in many workplaces and in general have a high satisfaction rating of their users. So what do these products in common that might be applicable to business software too? 

The users of these products all have a common goal and that is to tell a story! They use images, video, text, presentation, drawings, etc. all to support the goal of telling a great story! They are using their creativity to create something and they constantly see the progress of creation shaping up. The photo, video, text, presentation, drawing, etc. is always the center of the attention, as it should be when you try to achieve a goal. This is the reason why these product have such a high satisfaction rating.

Now if you look at business software it's immediately a different story. As a starting point the goals are very divers and probably not aligned between the decision makers and the work force in the organization. I still have to meet a sales guy that loves their CRM system and a consultant that enjoys the daily hour registration and that is absolutely understandable. The goals between the decision makers and the sales guy and consultants are very different. The decision makers have a goal to drive efficiency, while the sales guys goal is to make more commission and the consultant is looking for a promotion. The challenge for business applications is to define the various goals and provide visibility and emotional feedback on the progress of reaching the goals.

The other day I was catching up on my business administration with a clear goal. I wanted to get my quarterly tax declaration out of the door. Last quarter I was late with the payment and this quarter I set myself as a goal to be on time. The used software nicely puts an alert and link on my dashboard: Do Q3 Tax declaration and clicking brings me to a screen where I can take some action and fill in some information. All very nice, but it the execution of the tax declaration and it's not guiding me to the goal of doing a tax declaration. I first have to make sure all my purchases, expenses, sales, bank etc. are processed and up to date. This is usually much more work than doing the actual tax declaration and it would be nice if the software would guide me towards the goal and on the way gives me a feeling of accomplishments, because that is what motivates people. The software just allows me to register heaps of transactions and run a zillion different reports and overviews, but they are not the center of attention for reaching my goal.

I recently got a little bit of funding and started a business. Money is tight and stuff is expensive so I'm actively monitoring my spending related to the set budget. Various tools help me doing this, but neither of them understands my goal, all they can do it present the numbers with ice cold + or - percentages associated with them. Never the software manages to give me a pad on the shoulder and tells me well done. I understand this, because even with the thousands of features it doesn't know my goals.

Fortunately there are also business software examples where my goals are made the center of attention and immediately they are more pleasant to use. When I've successfully completed a consultancy job I want to quickly invoice the customer to create some cashflow and make new investments. Invoicing is an important goal and I love the fact that creating the invoice looks like the actual invoice the customer receives so I can clearly see how the personal message I leave for the customer looks like in the printed or digital invoice they receive. Pressing the big green button: Print the invoice gives a great level of satisfaction and it motivates to get at that point again. 

Business software can solve their user experience challenges to dive deeper into the goals of their users and make the goals the center of attention, give emotional signals of achievement and leave the users with a feeling of a job well done and great achievement. 

I'm available for short term consultancy jobs to see what this could mean for your business solution.

I have been living in the future

I never realized that I was living in the future until the future became the present and the present became the past. People like you and me are living in the present and our thoughts and ideas are based on the present and at best based on visions on the future. I'm not any different, but I suddenly realized that in the past I've been working on stuff that actually hyped years later. I must have been living in the future.

12 Years ago I worked on enterprise collaboration software. The goal was to enhance the collaboration between people by allowing people to share documents in a common working environment. It was heavily inspired by the web and universal access, independent of location. In those days the openness and transparency was unheard of, today document collaboration is a commodity. Remember this was long before we knew about SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Docs and many other document collaboration products

8 Years ago I worked on an XML interface to open enterprise software and allow external accessibility. The idea was that a uniform self describing data format would ease the integration of systems. Today the an open API and integration of systems is a must and are widely supported by standards as Web Services and REST style APIs.

6 Years ago I worked on and truly believed in bringing ERP to the cloud. This was before the existence of commoditized cloud platforms, but it was based on the same principles that sharing resources among customers and continues upgrades could dramatically bring down the operational costs for both the vendors as well as for the customers. Today ERP in the cloud is one of the fastest growing areas of interest.

4 Years ago I evangelized and worked on social enterprise software. After replacing paper forms with computers and optimizing the routing and monitoring of processes the next logical step was to add a social and emotional dimension to the solutions. The period of treating people using computers as robots was over and the person machine interaction had to become more human and social again. Interestingly enough not many have pick up on this, except for Salesforce making it the main topic of Dreamforce a couple of weeks ago

2 Years ago I implemented and evangelized User Experience as a strategic discipline at a business software vendor. The war on features is over and it's not about adding more functionality, it's about making people more effective. The person machine interaction does not only have to be social, it has to be effective and emotion positive too. User Experience is going to be the main differentiator of the future as we today can see on the efforts and attention that Google suddenly is putting in their user interfaces and Microsoft telling use the Metrofy our existing solutions.

Today I'm available for helping companies that really want to make their solutions more social and really, really want to invest in the user experience of their solutions. If you need help check out my contact page. However I only do those consultancy jobs if you show commitment to make real changes.

Do I still have ideas that in a few years might be classified as a look into the future? Of course, but I'm not yet ready to disclose those. I've decide to build a business and first try to exploit the ideas myself.

Renewed interest in Microsoft Windows

Like many of you I do follow the news dripping out of Microsoft BUILD in Anaheim. It's more interesting Microsoft news than it has been in a long time. Let me explain.

Microsoft is in my view a company that delivers great enterprise solutions and since I left my corporate job my interests shifted away from enterprise solutions into other directions and thus had less attention to what Microsoft is doing. My focus is on the users, the small business and consumer web, the overall consumerization of IT and mobility. These are not the areas where I see Microsoft being very innovative and successful even when they try very hard and have solutions in all these areas, but they often are complex in all aspects, from usasability, deployment and even accessibility of the Miscrosoft organization. This is all very understanding, because Microsoft's DNA is tightly coupled to enterprise solutions that require more complexity than more consumer focused solutions.

Microsoft is the company that gave us a PC on every desk and that has been a great achievement. Together with their hardware partners they completely changed the computer industry to supply cheap commodoty computers that gave the software partners a great desktop platform for building their solutions. However in recent years the desktop platform becomes less important due to the shift towards Software as a Servives solutions consumed from the browser and the extensive growth in moblity and various mobile devices. Microsoft adjusted their business, but haven't been able to show the same dominance and leadership as in the early Personal Computer years.

This weeks preview of Windows 8 is interesting, because it can potentially lead to a new wave of Microsoft dominance and that opportunity is what keeps me following the BUILD news with more interest than usually. I've no interest in Windows 8 on a desktop/laptop, because it will be just more of the same and it's not the platform of the future. Desktop automation is complete and there is no gain in trying to squeeze more productivity out of people that sit at a desk behind a computer. The real opportunity is automating those people that have NO access to a computer and this is where the real opportunity for software vendors currently is. With the emerge of the tablet form factor, 12+ hours of battery life and less weight than a sketchbook there is a way to reach those people that are not behind desks but still deal with procedures and processes. Up until today they are primarily managed on paper, but can easily be replaced by a tablet for every single person.

For this to happen the price needs to get down to say less than 200 € to support business models that charge 10 € a month for using the device over a 2 year period. All Microsoft needs to do to make this a success, is to deliver a tablet operating system that is cheap, energy efficient and supports a wide variety of solutions that we are currently not aware of. In other words, the restrictions on what and how to build those solutions should be minimal. Further they need to encourage their huge hardware eco-system, that is dying for a new growth driver now the PC market is declining, to innovate and do better than ever before. It's not about competing with the iPad, it's about doing things differently that drive new solutions. When there is an abundance of cheap commodity tablets the software eco-system will capture the huge software opportunity of automating those people that are standing with their ankles in the mud each and everyday.

When successful Microsoft does have a chance to dominiate again for another decade. Unfortunately only the future can tell if this really will happen.

What do you think? You agree and give Microsoft still a change or do you consider it already a lost opportunity for Microsoft?