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?

Redesign the laptop

For a while I've already been thinking that we might have to redesign todays laptops, but never got to write about it. About a week ago when Microsoft showed some Windows 8 explorer redesigns my idea surfaced again and now finally I got some time to share some of my thoughts.

In my office I work on a large, 2560 * 1440 resolution, screen and that is approximately four times the resolution of the laptop I'm currently using to write this article. The screen is so large that it's not comfortable to work with full screen applications, except for photo and video editing. When dealing with text, the lines get to long and become difficult to read. My usual set up is to divide the screen in 2 sections with for instance 2 browsers running side by side. One for keeping track of email, news and social status updates and the other for real work that involves writing documents. Working this way makes sure the width of the applications is still comfortable for reading lines, they don't get too long and I really appreciate the height and overview of the documents I'm looking at. When working on a laptop I don't really miss the additional width, but I do miss the additional height and overview of the document.

For me the vertical screen real estate has become more important than the horizontal screen real estate and I do anything to maximize the vertical viewing area. This involves turning off task- and toolbars, menus, etc. So when Microsoft announced the increased usage of the ribbon in the Windows 8 user interface I immediately got worried about the available vertical screen real estate.

It's time to rethink laptop designs, why not creating a laptop with a portrait oriented screen. I doesn't have to be any bigger than a current model 13" laptop, because that would be large enough to hold a reasonable sized keyboard and the screen would still be wide enough for comfortable viewing. There would be more space for a larger trackpad so it could combine keyboard and touch interface very well.

Call to action for all laptop vendors that want to created a competitor for the Apple Macbook Air: Don't try to compete by doing more of the same, but really rethink the design. When you do launch, be cool and give me some credit.

Credit for the image: Sie-Hang Cheung, a great interaction designer too.

Benefits of a good API

Before going into the details I will give a bit of context. I'm currently working on a solution for a very specific and niche market. I focus is on the interaction with the users in the field that require a simple and effective solution, this is the area where the real value for the application is created. However there is also a requirement for an important, but less sexy, administrative bit of functionality. This functionality is pretty generic and available in standard commodity solutions. My aim it to integrate with one or more of these standard solutions and I spend some time to explore their various APIs.

The first thing I noticed is the huge variation in offered integration possibilities. This ranges from 'call us if you want to integrate' to offering a very clean, well documented and easy to use REST API. Let me describe how I short list the solutions I possibly want to integrate with.

  1. The solutions must cover a basic financial administration compliant with the legal requirements for the country I'm operating in.
  2. Is it a cloud, Software as a Service solution with a pay as you go business model, because that fits better in my total offering.
  3. Is there an API available without having to call and/or sign agreements and contracts. Since I don't have any customers (yet) the other party isn't interested in talking to me anyway.
  4. What kind of authentication is the API using? The consumer web has already learned us that basic username and password authentication is a no go. I take the same stand, because there are good ways to do it without me having to ask and store usernames and passwords. 
  5. What is the coverage of the API, is it only data exchange or does it also allow me to initiate and execute processes? A real world example could be: I collect the information for an invoice, send the invoice to your system, process the invoice to finalize it and retrieve the 'processed' invoice to present to my user. This all in real-time without a significant delay.
  6. Is the API stateless? This is a bit technical, but is important if you want to use the API from an environment where each API call can potentially come from a different server, something what is very likely to happen when using a cloud Platform as a Service environment.
  7. What is the interface used for the API, I find everything from exchanging files, SOAP web services to REST XML or JSON. The first is too limited, because it's usually to heavy for real-time integration and more suitable for batch integration and most of the time only covers data exchanges. SOAP web services are nice for enterprise integrations with an existing message bus system and a REST API has my top preference.
  8. What is the data format used in the API. The choice is usually between XML or JSON (Java script object notation) and it's not that important for me, but the preference is on JSON. JSON is lighter, easier to parse, requires less bandwidth (good for mobile solutions) and has better type checking. 

If you made it through the list your are a very likely candidate to become company I want to partner with. 

Unfortunately not many business solutions make it through the list and inn this respect the consumer web is already much more advanced than the business web. It's like in 'The importance of strategic user experience' with the challengers having the lead on the establishment and in the 'Old versus New World SaaS' the newer SaaS companies having the lead on the older SaaS companies. It's time that the establishment steps up and realizes that there is a huge long tail of opportunity up for grabs. 

A great API allows you to extend into niches beyond you can cover yourself without a significant extra effort. I'm more than willing, for my normal consultancy fees, to help you defining the future of your APIs.

Steve Jobs, thank you for being a source of inspiration

Dear Steve,

This morning when browsing some tweets on my iPad the first thing that hit me was that you resigned from Apple. My first thought was, OMG I hope your health isn't getting worse. I hope you are getting better and this is a decision made base on your trust in the apple team and not because you have to. Once again I hope you get better soon. The whole day I was busy, but got overwhelmed with news about you. I had to travel quite a bit, what gave me time to think things over a bit.

You and Apple have been a great source of inspiration for my professional career. I'm an engineer by trade, but you made me realize it's not about the technology, it's about what people can do with the technology. It's not about the mega pixels of the camera, but it's about taking great pictures. You made me see I need to serve people and place the user front and center. In my more recent career I turned this into a User Experience evangelist role. Your eye for the smallest detail and focus on simplicity also thought be a few things. When looking at engineering failures from the past, it always leads back to either a lack of focus on the details or not being bullish enough to focus on a simpler solution. You make me realize that mediocre is not good enough and a constant focus on even the smallest and unimportant looking detail is crucial for success. This is hard and that's why solutions should be kept simple.

I'm convinced that Apple as a company will continue to inspire me with great products, but I will miss you as the mentor and personalization of the inspiration. I wish you and Apple all the best for the future

Thank you

User Centric software development teams

Last week I wrote about the importance of strategic User Experience design and a transformation toward a user centric organization. A mention briefly the requirement of multi-skilled and multi-functional engineering teams, but before going into that I want to take you back say 15 years.

In the mid nineties the bulk of software engineers either worked on the Windows platform or on some kind of mainframe. I was part of the first group and remember very well that Microsoft encouraged us the follow the Windows DNA (if I remember well) that basically was marketing speak for three tiered solutions with a data, business and user tier. The story was nice and correct, but the implementation was hard. The technology based on COM and DCOM was just difficult to get deployed and hard to get robust. Many decided to ignore and just build very fat client applications. For this engineering teams used their favorite development tool, for instance Visual Basic, Visual C++, Delphi, DBase, FoxPro, etc. and an engineer would cover a chunk of functionality from the database up to the user interface. Working on the user interface was more focused on following the Windows style guide as it was focusing on the user and how the execute tasks. The companies successful in this era differentiated based on their technology capabilities, as I also said in the importance of strategic UX article.

Fast forwarding to today we can also see that Microsoft consistently have been telling us to separate the business logic from the user interface and always has provided tooling and architecture patterns to do so. We also see that the scope of solutions we need to offer today has has become much broader. Depending on your solution you might need a native Windows and/or Mac client, a web client (including one working on tablets) and mobile clients for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry. The number of platforms, each with their specific engineering challenges, has exploded and at the same time we want to transform the business to have a more user centric focus. This is your challenge of today.

The generic software engineer from the mid nineties is not going to solve this challenge, you need specialists for each individual area. If you ever watch Pimp my Ride on MTV you see that there is a specialist for the bodywork, interior, sound system, engine, wheels, etc. and they all work together to deliver the end product. In software development, unless you want to settle for mediocre, you need exactly the same, a specialist for every single little detail of the solution.

Since you want to be user centric you have to start with the user interface. For web applications you need real web developers, those guys that together with your designers can really make a beautiful web front end. They know everything about HTML, CSS, Javascript and the available libraries to make compelling dynamic web pages. They don't need to worry about the business logic and database, all they do is bridging between the designer and the API guy that understands how dynamic web applications are made, but also realizes that the API is used by many other clients. At the same time your iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac client engineers talk to the same API guy. The API guy translates the business logic into a usable API to be used by all his front end buddies. He knows everything about web services, REST, XML, JSON and other API standards. He realizes that API access needs to be safe and secure and does this with today's standards on authentication. The API guy bridges the gap between the user interface and the business logic and since he is close to the logic he is also the one that can really talk to the logic engineers that know everything about complex algorithms, object models, functions and procedures. Finally the logic engineers work with the database engineers to realize a perfect data storage model. Here you go, you need at least five different expertise's: Front end engineers (depending on the platform), API guys, logic engineers and database engineers and an architect to set guidelines and direct the final solutions.

If you're an engineer reading this you have to decide who you want to be and study to become one. It might sound harsh, but you won't survive if you don't specialize. If you're a manager reading this you have to review your team and/or organization and restructure, reeducate and rehire to make sure you get the right expertise in the right place.

Scrum brought use multi-functional teams that build end to end solutions, however there is a limit to the size of an effective scrum team. It might not be possible to fit all in a single team and you might have to rethink the scope of your solutions. What if the API is the end product? In this case your scrum teams can deliver up to the API and other teams than deliver the various client solutions. This scales better in your organization and allows easier outsourcing of expertise you don't have or is to costly to gain. This especially might be true for developing many different mobile clients.

Great software can only be delivered by a team of specialists.

Test Driving a BMW 3.18 touring

For about a year now I've done without a car, or better said I've shared a car with my girlfriend. This worked out pretty well, it required some more planning but it has been doable. However business is picking up and I believe it's not a sustainable situation to only have one car among the two of us and I'm exploring car options. It's always a difficult decision between a rational sensible option and an emotional option. An hour test drive usually only gives a short impression, making it even harder to choose.

When my girlfriends Mini had to go for a little damage repair (I actually crashed it into something that fell of a truck on the highway) I asked BMW if I could have a BMW 3 touring as a replacement, explaining that I was considering it as one of the options to buy. One thing that is really good with BMW is their service, and they immediately promised me to organize this.

The car

A few days later I brought the Mini to the workshop and in exchange I got the keys of a brand new BMW  3.18 touring. It was a fairly standard business line, grey, with dark upholstery and an automatic gearbox. The automatic gearbox was nice, because I always have doubts about going standard or automatic and this allowed me to do an extensive test. I found the car well equipped and the navigation system was easy to use (although I had to ask another BMW drive how to turn on the voice over) and did a good job, even on places where I've seen others go wrong. The same applied for the build in phone features, it was easy to connect a blue tooth phone and it was very easy to use. I found in general all the equipment very easy to use and matched my expectations on features. Further the interior was roomy and actually bigger then I expected, the booth was huge in my opinion (criteria here is: does it fit 2 snowboards). The exterior on the  other hand is very modest and probably fits very well with the business like family car market segment, but is a bit too boring for me.

The ride

The first thing I noticed was how soft the suspension was, as my girlfriend said: It's a boat, meaning smoothly moving up and down with the waves. This soft suspension did a good job smoothing out the road, but for me it was too smooth, because in fast corners it was leaning over quite a bit and the steering wasn't that razor sharp as I like it. The automatic gearbox was good, you hardly noticed shifting gears, except for some more engine noise when shifting down. However I felt it was shifting a bit too much, but that is probably because the engine might be a bit under powered when running it at lower revs. In general the ride was smooth and comfortable and I'm sure many people will like the comfort. For those interested, I drove it the way I always drive and the fuel economy was somewhere around 9 liters per 100 km. I found this reasonable.


It was really good to have the opportunity to do a three day test drive and I thank BMW for making it possible. The car was good, easy to use sound, phone and navigation systems and the ride was smooth. Everything felt of good quality and comes with the great BMW service. It's a sensible option to buy.

However, I prefer a bit stiffer suspension, sharper steering and a bit more power so I do need to drive a version with a sport suspension, manual gearbox and larger engine to make a final judgement on my personal purchase.

I'm open for other few day test drives in the Delft, the Netherlands area. Just contact me for details

Aadjemonkeyrock now also on Facebook

A while back I introduced my personal social networking policy and I still believe I made the right choices, but there are a few caveats. In the description of my social networks I still included updates of this blog in my Facebook stream, but came back on this decision and removed blog updates from my Facebook feed. I also learned that with the constant growth of Facebook the number of friend requests increased all the time and my policy enforced me to either ignore or reject most of the requests.

Ignoring or rejecting 'friends' is just wrong, because when people show an interest in other people this shouldn't stay unnoticed. The consequence was that my guidelines started to slide and became a moving target and it just became even more unclear. The only thing that remained clear is that I wanted to keep my Facebook crowd limited and fairly private. A proper solution was needed.

A while back I registered Aadjemonkeyrock as my business and a Facebook page for the business was created. The solution I have for you today is very simple: You can become a fan of the Aadjemonkeyrock Facebook page and interact. This blog will be republished on Aadjemonkeyrock on Facebook and I will post other business related updates, new customers, pictures, presentations, product launches, anything that can be shared at the right time.

The advantages for you are simple: You can easily follow what Aadjemonkeyrock is up to, like, comment and interact. We might even be able to build stronger relationships and you might even be able to promote to my personal space. Did you already like Aadjemonkeyrock in the sidebar?

While a appreciate you as fans I also value my private space, so don't be offended if I remove you from my personal Facebook friends, Aadjemonkeyrock is open for everyone.

The Importance of Strategic User Experience (UX)

Part of what I do is helping business software companies to embed user experience (UX) in their strategic software development. I do this not as a user experience specialist, but as a user experience evangelist and change agent. There is a lot of interest from companies into the subject and there is awareness on the importance of improved user experiences. However not many companies manage to successfully transform from an engineering focus toward a user focus and embed user experience into the strategic product development process. While I'm preparing another workshop I realized that it would be good to share some of my learnings from the last few years.

I've always been told, and for long I believed it, that the reason is that the business software buying process is based on comparing features and the buying decision maker is not one of the actual users. These facts are true, but aren't the main reasons why it's hard for companies to transform.

First lets look at some general characteristics of these business software companies. They come in two flavors, those that have a long track record and often already existed during the first internet bubble and those that are younger and more recent companies. Lets call the first category the establishment and the second category the challengers. You can easily recognize the different categories by looking at their Software as a Services solutions: Old versus new world SaaS

The establishment
  • Their current success is a result of their technology and engineering advantage in the past
  • The focus was always on using technology to improve efficiency and productivity
  • User experience is the number of clicks to efficiently reach a goal
  • Have accumulated a significant and loyal customer base (otherwise they wouldn't exist anymore)
  • Helped many customers through the various stages of technology evolutions and learned the importance of compatibility and comparing features
  • Believe customers are conservative and risk avers
  • Innovation is based on evolution 

The challengers
  • Their current success in most cases isn't proven yet
  • The focus is on improved effectivity by doing things differently
  • User experience is how it looks. 
  • Have customers, but need to expand the customer base significantly become sustainable
  • Convinced customers to start doing things differently
  • Believe customers want to innovate their business
  • Innovations is based on disruption

I'm well aware this is a generalization of the two groups, the reality will be in most cases somewhere in the middle, but it helps to explain a few things.

Another way of looking at this is from a strategic perspective, are you serving or steering?
  • Tactical versus Strategic
  • Efficiency versus Effectivity
  • What is your problem? versus What is your strategy?
  • What do you want? versus What do you need?

Most software companies today are serving their customers and focus on the tactical operations by improving efficiency and solving problems. Customer feedback is used to determine what a customer wants. This is very logical, because it's easy and low risk, just listen and improve. The establishment is very good in doing this and maintaining the status quo. Is there an incentive for them to change?

The alternative is to investigate how a company can become more effective by asking about the strategy and research the companies and user needs. This research requires specialist expertise for doing user research and is the area where user experience begins. This way you can move to become a strategic partner by making companies more effective. This is what the challengers aim for, sometimes successful, but more often not. It doesn't matter as long it's a wake up call for the establishment to realize the need to transform.

It's a company DNA change from an engineering focus on efficiency to wards a user focus on effectiveness. To illustrate this point: CRM and Time tracking systems are introduced to increase the efficiency and productivity in the company, but there is no sales guy or consultant in the world that loves using those systems. The only reason they use them is because their bosses, or the bosses of their bosses, tell them they have to use them in order to get their commissions. However the same sales guys and consultants use Foursquare to constantly check-in into places, while nobody is telling them to do it, meaning it's possible to motivate them without using a stick. The sales guy or consultant has no advantage in becoming more efficient or productive, all they want is to become more effective and make a bigger impact for the customer, themselves and the company. User experience shouldn't be aimed on efficiency and productivity but on effectiveness.

Now you know why user experience is so important, it allows you to become a strategic partner by making the business more effective. It's actually the next maturity level for a software company that can be reached.

Now the key question is how to get there. In the first alinea I already mentioned that not many companies succeed in implementing user experience in their strategic product development cycle. I'll give you a few points to get started with and feel free to use the comment section below for a further conversation:
  • It's strategic so you need to start to evangelize at the C-level in the company. You can start telling this story or hire me for a more independent opinion
  • Realize you need specialists, not only for user experience but also in engineering. The generic engineer is a thing of the past, you need web front-end engineers, back-end logic engineers, API engineers, database engineers, test engineers, etc. all with a clear focus and skill development plan and organized in multi-functional teams. 
  • Cluster customer feedback and research he why question. Don't make assumptions, but research the facts. Do customers want SaaS or a pay as you go business model? Do you want a camera with more pixels or do you want to better capture you memories? These are two different things.
  • Make things beautiful, the first advice a start-up gets applies also for an established business.
  • Technology advance move fast, what might not have been possible 2 years ago might be a commodity today. Be alert on what is going on and keep your skill sets and product offering up to date. 

In a later article I'll give more in-depth information about multi skilled and functional engineering teams.  With platforms and technology becoming more and more divers building the right engineering team becomes also more of a challenge, but that is a subject in itself.

Other articles you might be interested in:

... and don't hesitate to join the conversation below.

My top 9 most used Microsoft products

Years ago there was a time that all I used were Microsoft products, but since becoming an Apple fanboy, leaving my corporate job and adopting a Apple and Google lifestyle this has changed. However this doesn't mean all Microsoft products are gone, they are still part of my daily use pattern.
  1. Skype, since I'm working as an independent, freelance consultant it's the communication tool of my choice. I'm actually surprised in how many organizations Skype is used, even when they have a OCS/Lync infrastructure. When Microsoft decides to integrate them, or at least allow inter communication I can see the value of the Microsoft Skype acquisition.
  2. Microsoft Exchange Protocol, used to connect my iPad/iPhone/Nokia to Gmail. GMail on Google Apps, another important communication channel. It's funny how all this different companies have to license Microsoft technology to realize inter operability between the various vendors.
  3. A Microsoft blanket, a few years ago my girlfriend joined me to Seattle on a Microsoft visit. Microsoft made them very welcome with a hotel room with a gold fish, a goodie back and a few bottles of wine. The goodie back contained a nice comfortable blanket that is frequently used, especially on chilly summer days when snuggling on the couch watching some television.
  4. SkyDrive, over the years I've given a few presentations and I've archived them all on SkyDrive. I ofter refer back to old stories and reuse slides for new stories. The graphical presentations tend to get very big quickly, but SkyDrive with the 25Gb of free storage is more than sufficient to maintain the archive. I never need to think about carrying the presentations with me, they are always there and I can easily browse them without having to download them. It would be great if one day I can actually copy paste between different presentations with PowerPoint online so I can easily re-assemble new presentations.
  5. PowerPoint, together with Prezi the presentation tool of my choice. Prezi has the advantage that I can do everything online and don't need to rely on installed (and licensed) software on each of the various clients I'm using, but PowerPoint has the advantage that I can easily reuse the enormous archive of presentations and story lines. I look forward to the day I that PowerPoint online is powerful enough to replace the desktop client.
  6. Yahoo/Bing for sanity check searches. I'll admit that 90+% of my searches are on Google, but I quite often use Yahoo/Bing to get another view on the results. Sometimes I just think Google knows too much about me to return objective results, Yahoo and Bing just know less about me and in some situations this pays off.
  7. Microsoft powered web sites and Software as a Service applications. These will be plenty, but they usually aren't advertised in that way.
  8. Excel, not because it's my favorite spreadsheet tool, actually I don't like spreadsheets at all. However my business partner does like spreadsheets and does a great job getting numbers and plans organized and visual using Excel. It's giving and taking when working together
  9. Word, because I've learned that most collaboration still takes place over email. Sharing documents with email is still the de-facto usage pattern and it will still take a while to convince all people that there are other ways. Knowing this there are only two uniform document formats, use PDF if you want to give a read-only version and in all other situations Microsoft Words can be used by almost everyone. 

The list might not be very long, there aren't very many client applications present and this indicates that I might be a front runner of a transition to come. Over time Microsoft will power more and more services we consume through the cloud and we all will become heavy Microsoft users without actually know it. The focus might change from the user focused logo on screen to the back-end powered service. 

This list would have been a bit longer if my last Microsoft Windows computer hadn't died on me. I still believe Windows (7) is good and offers a productive working environment. May be one day when I invest in hardware again, the coin might flip the Microsoft site and I will give you an updated list.

Science fiction has become reality

Today when going thru some technology news there were several mentions of Skype adding video chat to another 17 android phones and that Skype will definitely bring video calling to Windows Phone. This is all great news, but not really shocking. Technology has become so advanced that video calling more or less becomes a commodity. This got me thinking and brought back some childhood memories.

When I was a kid this was very different, phones were something still sort of special and we could only dream of video calling. The phones where big, heavy, wired, had rotating dials to select a number and took center stage in the living room. Video calling was science fiction and at best we believed the future of making calls. The phone evolution was imagined to enrich voice with video like the transition from radio to television. The devices got bigger, complemented with a screen and would offer a richer experience by attracting more senses.

At that point in time I never imaged the phone evolution would take a complete different route to video calling. First the phones lost their wires and became sort of mobile. They were still bulky but over a ten year period the continued to reduce in size and loose weight. The miniature phone emerged until it became impossible to put a screen and keyboard on a device the size of your thumb. Now the phone had gotten so small that either the keyboard or the screen had to go, because style and size was no longer a differentiator. As we see so often with technology products it became a battle of who can add the most features. Thus we got the feature phone that later emerged into the smartphone. Since they had become little computer that are almost running our lives they also needed a decent screen so once again the phones started to grow. It was not until these newer and larger screen sizes that video calling made sense again and now we hardly blink our eyes on video calling and take it for granted.

Science fiction has become reality, but it took a little detour from the imagined evolutionary path.

Creating another time lapse video

Time lapse videos intrigues me and after I created my first one earlier this year I kept thinking about another one, but this time with a much better quality. I didn't want to spend any money, but then I realized that I have gotten a DSLR in the mean time.

You can see the result below or on on YouTube and Vimeo. Make sure to watch it full screen in HD, when you have a good eyesight, you can see the church clock moving.

For those interested, this is how I did it and what learned during the process.

  1. I used a Canon 60D DSLR in combination with the Canon EOS Utility. The EOS Utility allows you to control your Canon camera from a computer (Mac in my situation) and it can automatically create a sequence of shots and store the images directly on your computer.
  2. Put the camera in a sturdy position and put everything on manual. This included timing, exposure and white balance, but also auto focus and image stabilization. Especially the last one took me a while to figure out. When you leave auto focus and image stabilization on you won't get perfectly aligned images and the end result is a shaky video.
  3. I aimed to create full HD video with a 1920*1080 resolution. The camera takes by default pictures with a much higher resolution, but that is not necessary. I reduced the resolution of the pictures to 1920*1280 pixels, otherwise the amount of data too process quickly gets very high.
  4. Now I took a little over a 1000 picture with a eight second interval, a time span of a little more that two hours.
  5. Since the images are slightly higher than the required HD resolution I used a little tool to bulk crop the images at the right height of 1080 pixels. This makes the processing into a movie a lot easier, because no resizing or realigning is necessary.
  6. I used Final Cut Express to make the movie, just start a new project, import the pictures and you are done. Add some titles and music and all set. Of course you can also your own favorite movie editing tool.

The next challenge is to create movement. I would like to shoot pictures at a higher resolution and then slowly move the video viewport during the movie, to create a sense of movement. Well I haven't really figured out yet how to do that. Next time.

How I became an Apple fanboy

In the twenty plus years I've been using computers most years was spend behind a Microsoft Windows PC, but in recent years this has shifted towards Apple products. It's interesting to analyze how after so many years working with Windows I made the shift.

In my early engineering days I was interested in the internals of the computer, I could dream Charles Petzold's Programming Windows 3.1 and loved to hack around a bit. Working with early beta releases of  Windows 95, Chicago if I remembers well, Windows NT, 2000, XP, etc. was fun and very educational. Crashes and frequent reinstalls were all part of the game and accepted. I call these my early IT years and over time my professional interest changed from what the computer can do toward what you can do with a computer. I maintained a high interest in the technology, but lost interest in the computer internals and gained interest in the solutions offered. The computer wasn't the central point of attention anymore, the focus was shifting towards the person behind the computer.

During all these year I also had an interest in good design and esthetics. I drove Italian cars, may be not the most reliable, but pretty and build for the driver. I remember buying a Dell computer because it was black and not the ugly off white/beige that was the standard. I also spend a small fortune on a first generation 15" flat panel, just because it looked better and paid too much for a Sony Vaio laptop with a carbon fiber casing. You probably get my point here. I'm prepared to pay a premium for something good looking.

So how did this all make me an Apple fanboy. The first Apple product ever was a simple iPod, but about 4 years ago the first generation iPhone changed something. It was a gadget beyond imagination and showed that something simple to use can be powerful too. However one gadget doesn't make a fan yet. That came a bit later with the launch of the Macbook Air, a beautiful, elegant piece of hardware. I just had to get one and did so almost immediately going for the expensive SSD version. When I bought the machine I actually never ever did something with Max OS-X. I didn't buy for the software, I just bought it because of the looks, the love for the OS came later. It quickly became the computer of my preference, it was light, instant on and off and reboots had become a thing of the past. Now more than 3 years later it's still in operation, a bit less, but this post is for instance still written on my very first Mac computer.

From that point on there was no going back anymore. A year later a bought a Macbook for my girlfriend, this one of the best investments ever, because it always worked and I never had to give support again. When I decided to buy a desktop computer the choice was easy too. Today this household has gone Apple, not because Windows is bad, but because a tight integration between hard- and software just gives a better user experience. The Microsoft model with various hardware partners competing on price using the same software just can't offer the experience I desire. This all said, I'm looking for a pretty looking Windows laptop for a while already. Any more tips?

What Exact should do with the flagship product

This is an extensive response to Ten things Exact should do with the flagship product by Barry van der Meij

First some background. I was one of the early innovators and engineers of Exact Synergy (of Baco at that time). It was pre Internet bubble and technology was primitive but hip and cool. We created a product that structured business processes and provided transparency on the performance of your business. That was then, today it's a different world, I left Exact, technology has advanced enormously, a wave of consumerization in IT has taken place and users have become much more IT savvy and demanding. What hasn't changed is the need for efficient and structured business process, but the way we work has changed and puts new perspectives on those business processes. Running a business requires deeper expertise and has become a much more collaborative effort than before, not only within your business but also outside your business.

I usually don't comment on Exact products and services, because those products and services are a proud part of my professional live and I don't want to bring them into any discredit. However here I can only partially agree with Barry's suggestions, because it's a typical more of everything will make it better list. I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry where it's not about more features, but about the emotional value of the features. Like Steve Jobs once said: It's not about the mega pixels of the camera, it's about taking good pictures!

In the introduction I already mentioned that today's users are more demanding and expect a fluent and smooth experience. I absolutely agree with Barry that Exact needs to pick-up speed in this area. The preview was launched when I was still Exact and I'm sorry to hear that this hasn't become the standard yet. I also agree that many tasks, like document and work flow management need to become a lot easier to do. However lets not forget that a lot of the complexity has been introduced based on feedback from customers as Barry is serving. The key challenge for business software today is to balance feature richness versus usability. As long as the purchase process is feature driven instead of user driven it's very difficult break this pattern.

I also mentioned that I find Barry's suggestions in the category: more of everything will make it a better product. I don't agree with this approach, it might be on the very short term, but it's not sustainable over a long period of time. Looking at the product life cycle I would opt for a completely different and more radical approach, because the future of business solutions for the SMB (Exact's target market) is in cloud with easy to start, easy to use, low cost, no customer lock in solutions. Saying this I also realize this is not the most preferable option for Exact partners like Barry's employer Nobel, but change is the name of the game here. What would I do?

  1. Take the current product and strip 40% of the least used features, including many of the personalization and customization features.
  2. Bring the product to the cloud as a multi-tenant single instance Software as a Service offering.
  3. Authentication based existing identities (e.g. Google Account, Windows Live ID, OpenID)
  4. Expose all functionality with a consumer web REST API with OAuth authentication. This API will allow the eco-system to integrate other products, build extensions and even create customer niche specific user interfaces.
  5. Have a two layered offering based on the platform (with OEM licensing for partners) and the product.
  6. Build a market place around the platform where Exact can distribute the eco-system solutions
  7. Integrate with Exact Online.

Now back to Barry's points

  1. User Experience, this should already have been done.
  2. Document and 3. Work flow management are for the most part of 1. User Experience. The rest is about building extensions based on the API.
  3. Work flow management has a bit of a challenge in the 4 steps, but the bigger challenge is that work flow is about status change based on rules. It's not a carrier of information, but that is how it's currently used in many situations.
  4. Flexibility, can only be achieved with a proper easy to use and flexible API.
  5. Reporting, The integrations with companies like Qlikview, Business Objects, etc. is something where the eco-system should jumping and offer the integrations via the marketplace
  6. Social CRM and...
  7. Social Interaction, this starts with authentication and separation between business and personal identities. The product and only become truly social if the product is open enough to interact with existing social platforms, because for building your own there is not enough scale.
  8. Marketing, integrate with anything you want based on the API!
  9. Cloud, the only cloud is a public multi-tenant cloud. Anything else is just a temporary solution
  10. Successor for Exact Globe, that is why Exact Synergy and Exact Online need to merge into one Software as a Service platform exposed with a common API serving multiple products.

Just to remind you: I've no insights into the road map of Exact and this is my personal view on the matter. I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry that requires to take a step back, before it can move forward again.

If you agree or don't agree or like or dislike, let me know in the comments below. If you believe some of my ideas can help your business, feel free to contact me.

Google, you have broken the internet

Dear Google.

I've always been very supportive to anything you have been doing. I could almost say I adored you, but recently you have become very broken.

Over the years I've started to use more and more Google services including Google Apps since I'm living a Apple and Google lifestyle. Reading back this blog you can see that when I wrote about my favorite applications you could see they are very influenced by Google and I for instance also shared my experiences when migrating all my services to my Google Apps account. I did this all because I believed your promises, that it would become a lot easier to manage everything with a single account. I accepted that I would miss Google Buzz and a Google profile for a while, because you told you are working on it and it would be available soon. Unfortunately I'm still waiting, but that is ok! I can handle the lack of Google Buzz and a Google profile, I started to use alternatives and continued to work. I didn't really miss anything and the stuff I have is working.

However this all dramatically changes when you started to release Google plus, first with the buttons and now with the whole Google plus thing. My web and working experience suddenly have become very broken.
  1. You have plastered the web with Google + buttons that are all broken. Pressing results in:

  2. You send me advice to improve my Adsense performance (see the email here). I should implement a Google + button! Well done, I can't even test my own Google + button, see the message above.

  3. You are brainwashing the Silicon Valley Technology bloggers to adopt Google + so they start tweeting and sharing links to Google + articles. You know how they show up?

    Another false promise, because pressing results again in.... the above Oops message

  4. On the iPad the experience is even worse

    You got me to think I needed to enable something... but not.

So you have by now broken the Google web experience. I realize you didn't do this on purpose and you probably just got to busy fighting Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and the rest of the world and forgot about the experience of your loyal customers. I also realize that things go wrong and new developments need to go through a beta period for a select number of people, however this doesn't mean you can just break the web for so many other people. 

This is a crises situation and I expect you to step up and do something about it. I've a few suggestions:
  • Give Google Apps accounts access like other gmail accounts! They don't need anything extra, just a profile so they can continue working.
  • Give clear messages when things go wrong and provide real promises on the availability of fixes.
  • Stop treating your Google Apps accounts as second citizens. 

I can deal without Google +, but I can't deal with a broken Google web!

Best Regards

Why a Tablet is NOT a PC

The Tablet computer form factor is already over a decade old, but only since a year they are the talk of the town and we hear the wildest stories. Some say they will replace the PC as we know it, while others claim they are just temporary because the mobile phone will eventually dominate and take over the tablets tasks.

For more than a year I'm using a tablet computer and it hasn't replaced anything yet, it just changed my who computing behavior. I'm using the full range of computing devices, from smartphone, tablet, laptop to a desktop computer and each of them has their specific usage and I don't want to miss any of them.

Just consider a typical day. I get up in the morning and want to know what is going on in the world. At breakfast I grab my tablet and browse the news, check if there is important mail, scroll down some tweets and catch up with some overnight news from my RSS feeds. After breakfast I go to work, this can be in my home office, in a shared office or going to an external meeting.

In the home office I've proper desk, a good chair and a big screen desktop computer. Working from home requires me to virtually collaborate with others meaning video chats, sharing screens, co-editing documents and making notes all at the same time. The current setup is good for my sometimes trouble some back and provides heaps of screen real estate.

In a shared office it depends on the expected activities and duration of the trip. When I expect a full day of collaborative content creation (e.g. preparing a presentation, or writing a plan) I bring a laptop. However if I only expect a few hours of brainstorm, and only limited note taking is require I bring a tablet. This is the only area where I notice a blurring between the two devices and sometimes I even bring both. I'm not yet seeing developments solving this issue, unless someone can build a 12" convertible laptop, that is half the thickness of a Macbook Air, weights less than 2 pounds, has a 12 hour battery life and boots in less than a second.

When going to an external meeting I predominantly bring a tablet computer. The only reason for bringing a laptop is when I need to do a presentation and I prefer to be rather safe than sorry and don't want to rely on external supplied hardware. The tablet is good enough for taking notes and made it possible to skip carrying an ugly laptop bag when traveling. All I carry is the tablet because I don't needs anything else.

At the end of the day I just want to relax and while watching a movie I might pick up the tablet to check out some movie stats, or during commercial breaks browse some other news, stumble upon some websites, etc. It's a floating device, it doesn't have a place and that makes it so differentiating from the other devices. You phone is in your pocket, your laptop in your bag and you desktop on your desk. You tablet is where you are!

Living with so many devices also brings new challenges. The devices and their used software are all in different stages of their maturity and aren't equal in capabilities. This is why there is so much future of the cloud and cloud application, because it reduces the dependencies on software on the various platforms. All you need is either a web browser on the device or a device specific client connecting all to the same central cloud based information storage. This allows me to take notes on a tablet and process them into a document in my office on a desktop computer without having to transfer or synchronize any information.

I was inspired to write this article based on Microsoft's WPC announcement that tablets are PCs, but so far I haven't had the need to connect to networks (other than the internet), using USB drives, to print and using Office. Tablets today connect to the internet (the reason why I do have a 3G capable tablet) and the internet allows me to access cloud storage and print. I don't created full featured co-authored documents and presentations on a tablet, but make only notes instead and there are many note taking solutions with a central over the internet accessible datastorage. May be I'm just not looking a head far enough and in a years time when Windows 8 powered tablets are available my world has changed.

How do you use your tablet, leave a comment below

There are NO conservative customers

InnovationFirst I apologize that it took so long since the last article. After relaxing for quite some months I've recently been super busy helping companies to innovate and at the same time kickstart my own software business.

Many of the companies I work with are software vendors that see their world is changing and are searching the right path forward. They are confronted with changing customer demand on business models, price pressure as a result of new entries into their market, a technology push towards the cloud and a growing opportunity in mobility. These are of course only a few of the challenges, but those are the ones I see most of the time. The companies have a 10-15 year history and have a successful on premise (most of the time) offering, but this success is at the same time one of their challenges.

When talking to these companies I often hear back: 'We have very conservative customers' and they are using this to defend their slow move or hesitation towards the cloud. It's not so much about the conservative customers, but about their challenge to deal with all the changes they are facing. The companies have millions of lines of on premise code and already have a hard time dealing with all the customer feedback and adjusting their product to the latest standards and platforms. They just lack the the resources to invest into the cloud or mobile solutions. It's not only a huge investment, it's also something they can't justify in a business case, due to upcoming price pressure on their products.

For many years they had a comfortable operation with releasing a new product version with many new features every two to three years. The product features were used to motivate customers to migrate to the new version in the next few years and the cycle repeated itself again. This was a very nice and predictable model, however due to the changes mentioned earlier this doesn't hold up anymore. It's time to bite the bullet and start to do things differently. It's time to start innovating for your customers. Get inside there business and figure out what they need and this isn't necessary what they want! You might consider your customers are being conservative, because you believe they should innovate more! They on the other hand expect a software vendor that helps them to innovate. Just forget the past, open your visor and look into the future. The changing world offers so many opportunities, you just have to grab them.

Just remember: There are NO conservative customers, there are only customers that are waiting for their software vendors to help them innovate their business.

Btw, those that are curious about my own software business need to be patient for a while. It's still too early to share what I'm up to. Just subscribe to this blog and you will be the first to know.

Image: Vermin Inc

Observing gadgets while traveling

Last week I spend a few days in New York city and as always traveling is a good source of inspiration. A couple of observations on gadgets I made during this trip:
  1. The personal entertainment systems on intercontinental flights are up for something new. The systems have lousy screens, a terrible user experience and on this trip the system, both on the going as well on the return flight, wasn't working properly resulting infrequent system resets. At the same time more and more people have kindles, iPads, Nintendos, etc. and take them with them onto the plane and the need for the build in systems is reducing. The first reports of airlines that start to offer loan tablets for entertainment are there. I'm not yet sure if that is going to work, but there is a lot of room for innovation. For instance WiFi, power and a streaming media server on board would be a good start so people can hook on their personal devices.
  2. New York city has the worst mobile phone reception I've ever experienced. Disclaimer: I carry a european phone and depend on GSM connectivity. I saw more often 'No service' than connection bars, not even on top of the Empire State building, probably 20 meters from a GSM antenna, I was able to call home. In the subway I've no idea what all the people do on their phones, because it's impossible to get any kind of connection on your phone. I never ever, not even outside, managed to get a 3G data connection and I really wonder how New York can be the Twitter capital of the world. All the discussions on expensive data plans and music cloud services for streaming to any device for sure don't make sense for New York city. It also made me realize why there luckily enough is a good availability of Wifi almost everywhere, it was really saved my days and the only way that allowed me to stay connected.
  3. The people in NYC tend to put their smart phones into protective cases a lot more than here at home in the Netherlands. This now explains to me why the US centered smart phone business creates, except for the iPhone, so ugly phones: people put them in even uglier cases anyway, so why put any effort into the design, since it's a waste of time. Those that carried naked phones could most of the time be identified as tourists. I also don't understand the US centric discussions on the thinnest devices; yeah the Samsung Galaxy Tab is 0.1 mm thinner than the iPad, but I put it in a quarter on an inch thick case anyway. It sure needs to look like a phone book!
  4. Riding the subway I noticed a lot more iPhones than Andriod phones what was surprising after reading the articles on the explosive growth and increasing market share of Android phones. A few explanations could be:
    1. Android owners don't ride the subway because they still have money left to ride cabs versus the iPhone users that spend all their money on AT&T and the phone and have no choice but riding the subway.
    2. iPhone owners are more out going and tend to show off, while Android owners are embarrassed about their device and keep it in their pockets. May be this is also the reason behing the inch thick protective cases, just to avoid showing your phone.
    3. Since there is no phone reception so all you can do is listening music or play a game and Android owners have an iPod touch for that. That is why I also saw so many iPad touches in the subway.

What are your travel observations? Leave them in the comments below!

Microsoft you make it very hard to switch back

A while back I wrote about my Apple and Google lifestyle and I still do it that way, but since I quit my regular job I also miss having a Windows laptop. I like Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 and enjoyed the promise of Windows 8. In general I think Microsoft had a good 2010, with the adoption of the web with HTML5 support in Internet Explorer 9 and introduction of Office 365, you show glimpses of the past glory. Unfortunately your hardware partners still don't know how to make compelling hardware and thus devaluate your software. I'm happy to hear you are working on this for your tablet strategy.

However while you recently have been doing better than for a long time, I still have doubt if you are able to maintain the ever increasing complexity of your software solutions. Just this week I wanted to do a simple upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 to Internet Explorer 9 on an older and bit forgotten piece of hardware. This machine used to be the pride of the living room acting as a media center, a concept that I still love and unfortunately Microsoft is not innovating in this area. The media center function by now is replaced by a second generation Apple TV. I was by now mainly using the hardware to test some of my web projects on Internet Explorer and since you do well with Internet Explorer 9 and I see adoption growing I decided to do a simple upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 to 9.

This unfortunately wasn't that a simple process. I downloaded Internet Explorer 9 and run the installer, but that only gave cryptic messages on an incorrect service pack. Some research was necessary and it appeared that on Windows Vista Service Pack 2 was required. I know, and many people already told me, that I shouldn't be using Windows Vista, but only a few years ago I was the latest and the greatest you ever made and I believed your promises and happily paid a $300+ for a Vista Ultimate license to run media center. It worked and I just didn't bother to upgrade, why fix if it ain't broken. So don't tell me know I'm stupid!

I first made sure that all required windows updates were installed and downloaded and installed service pack 2. Unfortunately the installation failed and again back to Google Bing and found a hot fix for the service pack to be installed first. Installed the hot fix and installed the service pack and all was successful, except for the last reboot before completion. It just doesn't boot anymore, not even in safe mode. I'm now stuck with a nice piece of hardware that just doesn't run anymore. I can't find the original disk anymore and vaguely remember I threw it away a few months ago and all I can do now is dish out $120 for a Windows 7 upgrade and reinstall. This $120 is not a nice message on the day that Apple introduces OS-X Lion for $30 and the Apple TV that replaced the media center was only a $100.

Microsoft, thank you for killing my media center with a simple Internet Explorer update. I know you work hard to avoid this kind of situation, but you really, really have to try much, much harder to regain trust so I want to spend money on you again. I'm for now trying to install from my 10 year old original Windows XP disks.

Meet my heater repair man

Hot showerThis story starts about a year ago on the hottest summer day of 2010. It was a saturday morning and our home heater, providing heating on cold and chilly days and hot shower water on all days, was failing. It was just not delivering hot water for a refreshing shower. A few years earlier it also malfunctioned and I decided to call the same repair man to get it fixed. His first question was: Do you have a service contract? and I replied: No, but just fix it and write me an invoice! Then he simply said: Well I don't service customers without a service contract in the weekend, end of conversation. I called a few other repair men and got a simular story until about the 4th of 5th that immediately answered: I'll be there in an hour.

He arrived as promised, fixed the problem and I happily paid the bill. We had hot water again and could go on with the weekend. Since the heater was about 15 years old I asked the guy when I should replace and he answered: When it's still going, let it go, but anything after 12 years is up for replacement one day. It was a nice guy, I valued the service he delivered and decided he would deserve my business when I need to replace the heater.

About two/three weeks ago the heater was giving troubles again. Most of the time it was working, but very often it first required a couple of kicks before it would deliver hot water. A bit annoying and time for replacement of the heater. I called the guy from a year ago, we had a chat and he also remembered last year and we agreed that he would send quotations for two different options. He asked if he could email the quotation on which I gave my email address and asked how to confirm the preferred option. He proudly replied: I'm modern and automated, you can view and confirm the quotation online. As promised I quickly received three emails, each with a quotation and additional information and specifications. I choose one of the options and could indeed confirm online. I liked what I saw and with my background in business software was interested and explored a bit further. I saw he was using MoneyBird a simple online quotation and invoicing solution in the Netherlands. A few days later we exchanged some emails to plan the day for replacement.

He arrived as promised and did a fine job. While he was busy we had a chat and he told was running his own business now for a little more than a year and a half and he was getting busier all the time. By the time he was done he took his iPad, and explained how convenient it was to immediately send out the invoice and process the payment (on a separate device). He emailed the invoice, I paid, he left and while he was driving around the corner I already received confirmation of the payment and a thank you for the business.

What did I learn from all this:
  • There is a huge opportunity for software vendors by providing simple solutions that enable entrepreneurs to deliver better service
  • The iPad (or any other tablet when they get good enough) is the gateway to automating these independent entrepreneurs.
  • Small entrepreneurs are looking for convenience, Software as a Service offers this. 

Image: Allie's.Dad