Gaming meets Business Software

Every month I present to all new employees in the company what Exact Research is doing. I spend time on the current, trends and inspiration sources. Often I mention that we get inspired by the Gaming industry.

Just a few examples why this is so interesting.
1. Every 6 year old understand the game immediately, probably even better than their dads. In a non English speaking country this is even more noticeable, because most games are in English only.
2. Games don't come with extensive manuals, at best there is a leaflet describing the controls to use and nothing else. This is extraordinary because most games are pretty complex.
3. Learning is build into the product. Often before you can access a new lever or use new devices you have  to complete a 'training' program as part of the game. This makes learning more fun and you will learn on the fly.
4. Games often start to give subtle hints and directions when the player gets stuck. You can just start and depending on your skills and expertise you get help on the way. This reduces the entry level.
5. As a last point from my personal experience and I'm actually not really sure if this is real or just my perception... but it doesn't matter. For the game industry it's important that I've enjoyed the game (so I will buy the sequel) and that I reach near completion. Often I do get stuck, just because it's too difficult, but the game will sense this.. and it will use lots of Artificial Intelligence to determine when I'm going to give up... Just before reaching that level I suddenly pass the level and continue... This is extremely smart, because I feel good... I made the next step...

Today I saw a Tweet from @jowang with a nice futuristic impression on the marriage between games and cinema. Worst case: 2017 first marriage between Avatar and Human... I guess by that time the Avatar can also deal with my administration, check and process my workflow.

The evolution of my bookmarking

We probably all recognize the following: I've seen something on the internet, but can't remember where!

My browser bookmarks always got into a mess quickly. I use different computers, I'm not very organized and they don't have any timeline embedded. I wanted bookmarks in the cloud, accessible from everywhere. Google bookmarks do a reasonable job, if you don't have more than say 20 of them. Useful for sites you visit regularly, but not for storing bookmarks 'on the go'. They are just too difficult to maintain, especially if you don't want to install an additional toolbar.

About 2 years ago I started with Digg and was pretty happy. The main purpose was too keep track of what inspired me. So I got a timeline of pages I dugg. After a while I also started to use Digg to search for information and Dugg them to remember. It was pretty useful, but I also noticed that my use reduced and I found other ways to keep track of information.

For a very short time I tried Delicious , but I never liked it. It appeared to be far to complex, I only liked the 'bookmarklet' what made bookmarking a lot easier as in Digg.

StumbleUpon was the next thing, but the toolbar is a too big barrier for me. I appreciate screen real estate and I dont' want to clutter the screen with additional toolbars. I do sometimes use it, but not very frequently.

In the meantime I learned that aggregating information into 1 list became a very useful way of sharing information. Also since the number of RSS feeds that I started to read increased significantly and I like to share inspiring documents. First aggregator I worked with was Plaxo , primarily because I already used the service to keep track and synchronize contacts. However soon there after I started to use FriendFeed and I'm still a very happy user. I like the vibrant users and 'likes'. For any new bookmarking services for me to try, I first look if they are supported by FriendFeed. That is how far it goes now.

In the meantime I also have been playing with Mixx, mainly because I've the feeling that Digg isn't moving forward. Digg really should add a simple to use browser 'bookmarklet'. Recently I also started to use Diigo and I have to say, the 'highlight' feature really adds something extra.

So when do I use which service? Since I aggregate all into FriendFeed it doesn't really matter anymore. I use the service that is most convenient. I always hope to find an obvious Digg, Mixx, Stumble, etc.. button.. and if that is not there I will most likely use Diigo. It's all about ease of use.

Let me know, what do you use?

Ziggo Sucks

I'm well aware that this is not the place to flame a business, but there is a limit to lack of customer service and respect for your customers.

In May 2008 3 TV/Internet cable companies merged into Ziggo . The merger effected in a new name, new email addresses, but most importantly unreliable internet connections. Customer complains rose and customer services couldn't handle the increased volume. I was having problems too, about every hour I had to reset my modem. Complaints by email and phone (after waiting an hour) only resulted in remarks that it was probably my internal installation.

In June/July it became too much and I decided to switch. I moved to Alice , half of the price and hasn't been down ever since. I canceled my Ziggo account, they send me a confirmation and I returned my modem. In the months September and October I was invoiced only the amount for my TV, but in November they started to invoice again for Internet. Ziggo does not answer my email complaints and they can not be reached by phone. I'm now at the point to have my bank block the payments.

Today, the most remarkable thing happened. A lady from Ziggo on my doorstep, she had a great proposal. Since I was already having TV and Internet she could sell me additional services at a special rate. She just didn't believe me that I canceled internet 4 months ago, you are on my list...

Well this proves that not only the connectivity is a mess.. also their administration is a mess... and right now at this moment also the secure personal part of the website is down. Ziggo sucks big time

Ziggo, please fix the mess.....

Call me stupid, Why doesn't Apple buy Yahoo?

For a few months I've been thinking about this: Why doesn't Apple buy Yahoo.
Jerry finally stepped down and this fuels the discussion on MircoHoo again, but nobody every mentions my alternative. Apple seems to be working on a search engine and they could use some help on MobileMe.  An Apple - Yahoo combination to me looks a lot more more logical than MircoHoo, the creative culture, the location, the californian spirit and the extensive use of open source. There is less overlap an Yahoo would be a nice online Apple brand.

I probably miss something, so I would like to hear from you, why this doesn't make sense at all.

btw. An Apple also needs the Sun to grow.. ;-)

What do others say about the generation shifts

Since I wrote about the behavioral changes between different generations in my 'Unified Communications, bridging generations' post I found several others posts on the same interesting topic:
The last post referring to an article in the WSJ, A Perfect Match? It's about Small businesses and what a great place they are for Generation Y. At Exact Software we develop business solutions for Small and Medium Businesses and we are proud of our Entrepreneurial spirit and want to reflect this into our business solutions.


Yesterday in my Unified Communications, bridging generations post I explained some of the generation differences in communication preferences. Today I found at Mediasnackers a video explaining it a lot better than I can.

Unified Communications, bridging generations

Is Unified Communications the magic that will bridge the communication gap between the 2 main generations in a business environment?

For those who are not very familiar with Unified Communication, at the bottom there is a video of a  short Microsoft Demo, not to endorse the Microsoft Solution, but to show capabilities.

I noticed Irwin Lazar and Steve Wylie talking about Unified Communications improving efficiency by reduction of human latency. Well to me this is a typical IT argument, make up a reason to create a business case. I do believe that Unified Communication will increase efficiency, but the reason needs to be found in social aspects of a business

Today's businesses are primarily run by late baby boomers like myself. My generation loves email, still thinks it's magic and can't imagine a world without. Microsoft recognizes this and overloads Outlook with more and more functionality, including CRM, because the target group sees it as the desktop replacement. This is also the group of people makes the decisions and invents arguments on human latency.

Young ambitious people, generation Y, the digital natives, entering the workforce have a different view on communication. They communicate with text messages, IM, video chat, their social networks and consider email for 'old' people. If they email, it's probably to their mom, dad or grand parents.

Microsoft explains Unified communications based on the communication divide between telephony and the computer, well that is almost the same as the above generation difference, the phone/email versus Text messages, IM, Video chat and Twitter . The unification of the different communication methods will create a platform where both generation can stay in their communication comfort zones.

Generation Y is the future of our businesses, we want them to join, to be happy and productive. Embrace and accept their communication preferences. Give them IM, with heaps of emoticons , Video Chat , their Micro blogging, etc..  And don't forget, a communication zone does not stop at the companies firewall.... and I'm more than aware that this is the generation challenge for our IT managers.

Cloud Computing, the new Facebook?

The above remark was made by one of my team members. I really like the speed in which the team can embrace new trends and technologies. In the last few years we quickly moved from Server Oriented Architectures, Communities, Social Computing, Software as a Service and now towards Cloud Computing.

However, the adoption of these trends in Business Software solutions goes in reality a lot slower.  Of course we see implementations, in some functional areas quicker than in others, but the above trends are definitely not mainstream. They will, but it can still be years a head of us. We need to be on top of the trends, but we also need to balance on the fine line between 'hot' trends and customer implementation 'reality'.

Cloud computing is a good example. It first requires trust before a customer will trust us with their data in a Software as a Service environment. Us putting the customers data in someone else cloud is currently a step too far. It takes patience and time!

For those who want to learn some more about cloud computing... nice video explaining..

Elderly People and Technology - The iPhone rocks!

Last weekend I visited my mother in law for her 70th birthday. Since it far and remote and takes a day to get there it was a 4 day weekend. Besides being far, it was also very disconnected. Since a few years there is GSM coverage, but no 3G and no DSL on fixed line. So no possibility to write this post really in the weekend.

During the visit I made an interesting observation. My mother in law owns and uses a mobile phone, she is 'in touch' with technology. However the usage pattern is almost the same as with her previous fixed line. The phone has a permanent place in the home, next to a paper list with important phone numbers. There are a few numbers in the phone memory that she sometimes uses, but often is making a call is just typing the number and pressing the green button. It works and she is happy. Basic use works, but she needs help with more advanced features as storing phone numbers in memory.

My own mom, in her 70's also has a mobile phone, but can't use it. It frustrates her, because she does see the advantages. A few weeks back we talked about it and it really took some time before I understood. She was telling me all the time 'It goes black'. What did it mean? When the phone is locked it tried to preserve energy by blacking out the display after a few seconds of inactivity. Every time she tried to unlock the phone (Menu - * on a Nokia) she couldn't remember the button sequence and needed to read the screen for instructions. However reading the screen took longer than the inactivity period.... and the screen would go black again. Making her start over again. I'm pretty sure this never showed up in a usability lab.

As an experiment I gave her my iPhone with only 1 remark. If you don't know anymore press this (the home) button. She doesn't master the English language, but without any help managed to make a phone call.

We talk about elderly people and technology... as well as we talk about the business opportunity that lays into this group in the society... always remember the target group when you design your products!

I however doubt if Apple had a 70+ year old in their usability lab.... could someone tell me that?

Banks are Criminals

About a week ago I had a good laugh about Chris Brogan's experiences with The Bank of America . Whatever Credit Crisis, no lessons learned on customer service.

I've a similar story, I live in the Netherlands and use 2 banks, the Rabobank, for my daily banking, that offers me great service and a personal touch and the ABN-AMRO Bank just because I happen to have some stock managed by them. I've actually been too lazy to ever transfer them.

Both Banks offer Internet banking based on a little device that uses the chip in my debit card to deal with secure authentication. The system works fine, but after a while the battery on those devices run out. A few months ago this happened for my Rabobank device and with a quick phone call I learned I could pick up a new one from any of their offices. Excellent service!

Today I walked into the office of an ABN-AMRO bank to ask for a new device, because also that battery had run out. Expecting to get a new one, but the very friendly staff only answered: I can order one for you, it will be send to your home, but it will cost you 15 Euro. I was in shock, I wasn't sure if I understand well. I asked, do you mean I've to pay 15 Euro (20$) to get access to my own money? Yes, I'm sorry about that..

Of course I will not pay! I rather open a new account and let the bank go through all the additional paper work and administration and give me a new one for free. Back in the Office I filed a question, because I was actually thinking that the Bank employee wanted to rip me off! The turn around of the Internet question was reasonable, but again the message was: You can order one for 15 Euro. Some more research let me to the knowledge base of the bank told me the reason for the 15 Euro: It's a complex device with many more features... I don't want features! I want the bank to give me access to MY money!

I guess the banks get now so much government support that they start behaving like the government. Policies and Procedures, no more customer support...

Social Networking does have Business Value!

Quite often I get involved into discussion on the value of Social Networking solutions in a business. You probably will recognize arguments like: It's bad for productivity, It's a security risk, It doesn't have any business value...

Up until now my best argument for Social Networking in a business was: It's about social interaction and doing business is also a social interaction!

Today I saw a really nice presentation by VizEdu: Henk Creates Company Using LinkedIn. It clearly describes a success story on Social Networking, like a reference story... it helps the discussion.

Innovation Drivers for Business Software

While writing an internal paper I created a Mind Map with some relevant Innovation Drivers. Keep in mind that I focused on Business Software for the SMB market.

The mindmap is created with Mindmeister, an easy and simple online application. The mindmap is exported to an image instead of using a live mindmap, because the free version only allows me a limited number of maps.

You have anything to add?

Crisis fuels Innovation

I'm a great supporter for Web 2.0 development as Communities, Social Media etc... If you read historical posts back you will see I've several times referred to these developments. Internal in my organization I've done the same, most of the time with only luke warm reception.
I've also written about the economic crisis and the effect on innovation. A couple of days ago Exact Software launched a new platform for Small and Medium businesses to learn about the effects of the economic crisis on their business. It's a community to share information, discuss and ask questions.

(Click to View, Dutch only)

I'm proud and know this would not have been possible if 2008 would have been a 'business as usual' year. I'm happy I tried to educate people on sharing, and giving a way without expecting anything back.

Related posts:

Is Home Automation the New Innovation?

2 weeks ago I wrote about 'Domotica ' and in the past few days I suddenly run into some other articles touching the subject of home automation. Just look at some other articles that are recently published:
I do believe that home automation will take a big step forward in the near future.

The technical evolution created significant improved devices, but didn't connect them yet. Cheap Wifi might be the next innovation driver in the home, allowing all devices to communicate with each other, creating many new possibilities. Remote access and control, but also analytics on their use. Oeps did I turn off the coffee machine? Now you can easily check and correct this from a remote location.

Besides the technical evolution there are the social developments. It might very well be so that in the future we spend more time at home, because the way we are working is changing, we in general feel less safe and we definitely like to avoid traffic. When we spend more time at home, it also makes sense to invest in the home to make it a comfortable and convenient place to be. Due to the credit crises investing in the current home is probably easier than buying a new home.