How does Elop make the cut?

Reuters reported that Microsoft has narrowed its list of external candidates to replace Steve Ballmer to about five people. Ford CEO Alan Mulally, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, former Skype CEO Tony Bates, and Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise chief are among the ones that made the shortlist. While under Mulally’s leadership Ford’s share has gained 111%, under Elop’s leadership Nokia’s share lost 55%. How does Elop make the cut?

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The intelligent connected car

As I spend the better part of this week talking to folks developing connected devices and solutions, I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if more these devices permeated my life, how my life would change for the better and what ideal solutions would be like for me.

Starting with the connected car, if my car was more intelligent it would be my travel guide, save me time and money and finally make my ride safe and enjoyable. It would have the following features

1. It would be able to sync with my calendar and help me schedule my departure time based on average traffic at that time of the day. If I need to head out in the morning, it would talk to my alarm and schedule my wake up time.

2.  If it is cold when I am heading out it would warm itself up a few minutes before I was about to leave. It would be able to check the weather channel for the duration of my trip and help me be prepare for any changes. If it is raining instead or will rain later in the day, it would remind me to carry an umbrella. If it is nice and sunny when I am heading out, but cooler when I am heading back, it would remind me to carry a sweater.

3. It would proactively navigate me away from any delays. If there has been an accident down the road or a slowdown due to debris for e.g., it would find an alternate route ahead of time and redirect me so that I don’t get stuck in traffic

4. It would save me time by find a parking spot for me at or my destination and guiding me to it rather than letting me drive around searching for one. If I wanted to, it would even help me prepay for the parking. And parallel park for me.

5. It would increase safety by i) warning me about obstacles in my path ii) Monitoring my alertness and using various techniques to keep me awake for e.g raise the volume of the radio

6. As I return home, it would communicate with my home and turn on the lights and the heater or cooler as appropriate.

7. Finally, it would self-diagnose problems, report on them and help me schedule maintenance at the closest or most reasonable or most trusted mechanic or parts store

Some of these features are already available in some cars today. Hope to see the rest sooner rather than later.

This post was originally posted on programmableworld.org

Nesting

 

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were things that we put in our homes and forgot about. We forgot about them until they ran out of batteries. We forgot about them until we were cooking something interesting and accidentally set them off. And we forgot abut them until there was an actual emergency. That is until Nest released its latest product – the Nest Protect, a Wi-Fi Smoke and CO detector. There are two reasons why Nest Protect is interesting

 UX Design

As with the thermostat, Nest focused on transforming an ugly product into something that people would love. But aside from the appearance, the important aspect of the design was taking away some of the annoyances that people have experienced over decades with the product. Nest added the ability to hush the detector when it is a false alarm, and used light indicators or app alerts when the battery is low. It also improved on safety by the use to voice to alert children who may not wake up with a standard alarm.

 Intelligence

Although there isn’t machine learning within this device as there is with the thermostat, it is smarter than existing solutions. For starters, it is the only detector that works with a mobile app and can send notifications and alerts. It can remember which room it is installed in and alert home owners of where the danger has been detected. If the home has a Nest thermostat in addition to the Nest smoke detector and if Nest Protect senses dangerous carbon monoxide levels, it will tell the thermostat to shut off the heating system which could be the probable cause of the danger.

With the introduction of the Nest Protect, Nest continues to disrupt the market of everyday devices which have not seen any major innovation in years, if not decades. While it connects with everyone via its beautiful design and vastly improved user experience, the price point which is nearly double that of existing solutions in the market means that Nest is targeting the segment of people who are not concerned with thrift. For them the Nest Protect is certainly a device to consider.

This post was originally published on programmableworld.org

Product design in a hyper connected world

Jetsons.jpegIn a race to capitalize on the IoT momentum, a variety of solutions are appearing in the market – from talking refrigerators to smart diapers. We are slowly marching towards the world the Jetsons live in with robots, holograms, and whimsical inventions. Each of us will have hundreds of connected devices in our lives and we will interact with them via their direct interfaces if any, their embedded components and their management interfaces.

Designing the direct interface

Some devices have beautifully designed interfaces i.e. the Nest thermostat, while some like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, leave much room for improvement. Interbrand recently released its list of most valuable brands and ranked Apple as number 1. If we start to look at why people value Apple, it can be traced back to its design philosophy guided by 3 principles – empathy, focus and impute. This means understanding what customers want, forgetting everything else and presenting solutions in a creative and professional manner. What the Interband results show clearly is that people care about beautifully crafted devices vs devices that are awkward to use or recharge

Designing the embedded components

People wont interact with the embedded components of the devices such as sensors except when it comes time to replace the battery or the sensor. But we cant expect people to really manage hundreds of batteries and cant really expect them to buy a new device if the embedded sensor dies. We need to design solutions that improve battery and sensor life such that they last for the expected duration of the device.

Designing the management interface

If each device we own has a separate app, speaks a different protocol and requires us to read manuals to learn how to manage the device, we are unlikely to leverage that connectivity. We need to develop plug and play devices.  We need to enable things to talk to each other and make meaningful recommendations without requiring people to think of and program each interaction. Things need to be able to learn and adapt to our behavior and help us make decisions.

Building solutions

When designing devices today, we often start with the myopic view of a single device. Instead if we were to add context of where that device will be used at the onset, we can come up with solutions that enable us instead of overwhelming us. Providing a public API and engaging a community will help us add context in ways that we could not imagine or intend. An API needs to be an integral part of product design.

Hyper connectivity is challenging our current thinking about product design. We need to think about a system of devices and the various touch points within that system. Then by reducing the number of total touch points that are exposed to the end user and carefully crafting those that are exposed, we can start to build interesting solutions rather than creating new problems

Photo Courtesy x-ray delta one

This post was originally published on programmableworld.org

Software id eating the world: Part 2

Software is eating the world and the hungry software of today is vastly different compared to  the satiated software of yester years. Pac-Man-3443345456We live in a world where users expect instant service, from any device and are sophisticated enough to expand the use of a product, sometimes beyond our wildest dreams. Not all software needs to be  web scale, but it does need to consider service design, api design, device access beyond traditional and mobile devices.

Products are usually built to solve a particular problem and provide a value as a service. This value should be easily extractable. If we make users go through hoops to extract this value, they will quickly lose interest and start looking for alternate solutions that make their lives easier. For e.g. requesting a compute resource in the cloud should be as easy as picking an appropriate machine image, entering a few configuration details, clicking launch and waiting a few minutes. If on the other hand server launch takes close to an hour, its quite likely that the service provider is going to face the fate that dinosaurs did.

Gone are the days of walled gardens. APIs provide LEGO like building blocks that can be connected together to extend products. APIs enable services such as IFTTT that make integrating different services as easy as writing a simple if this then that statement. Having an API strategy is an important part of product strategy. After all, if we pick the right business model, APIs can become a key part of the product revenue. for e.g. Expedia doing 90% of their $2B/yr business through their API. Identifying API strategy, value proposition, appropriate business model, target audience are important activities for product owners. Picking the right architecture (RESTful or not) for the target audience, maintaining backwards compatibility, up to date API documentation (and sticking to that documentation) are important activities for product builders. Requiring separate accounts for different API versions or modifying the API while keeping the version number the same are sacrilegious activities worthy of stoning.

And it’s not just traditional devices , smartphones and tablets that will access software services, its all the things that are enabled with sensors and can access the internet. Some predict that by 2020 some 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet. Devices of all shapes and forms will be a part of all walks of life. Accordingly device access strategy needs to be expanded to consider form factor, power requirements and secure access to and from a wide variety of devices.

Ultimately devices will try to rule the world but software will eat them. Here’s to building kick ass software that eats all the things!

GE at a Pivotal point

Software is eating the world and it’s a no brainer that GE decided to take the plunge into software development.Late in 2011 GE announced that it would invest $1B in software over three years as it seeks to use software to make its products more profitable. One could argue that this was a late move for GE, after all IBM recognized the power and importance of software in the nineties and over the past three decades has invested heavily in software and services while divesting some of its hardware assets.

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On the heels of its software initiative, GE launched its Industrial Internet initiative, which is the convergence of the global industrial system with advanced computing, analytics, low-cost sensing and connectivity via the Internet.  To make this a successful initiative GE needs key enabling technologies such as cloud, big data and analytics to come together so that it can make sense of vast amount of data that will be created by the machines. And on that note, earlier this week GEannounced that it would invest $105 million for a 10% stake in EMC and VMware’s newest venture – Pivotal.

Pivotal inherited assets and people from VMware and EMC with a mission to build a new platform for a new era. The platform will consist of Cloud Foundry for its Cloud Fabric, Spring and vFabric for its Application Fabric and Pivotal HD, GemFire and GPDB for its Data Fabric. While individually these assets may be successful as Pivotal is expected to bring in $300 million in revenue by the end of 2013, over all integration remains a key challenge and will take a long time for Pivotal to address. Still GE has faith in the management’s ability to execute.

Will Pivotal enable GE to compete against other companies in the IoT space? Will the Pivotal One Platform enable GE to build the services it needs for its Industrial Internet initiative? Netflix didn’t choose CloudFoundry and other Pivotal assets as they didn’t meet its needs and instead built its own platform.  But unfortunately for GE, IBM has a head start against GE having launched the smarter planet initiative in 2008 and showing 25% YoY growth in the most recent quarter. So rather than building its own platform, GE made the right move to focus on its core competencies and partner with someone who can build the platform for it. It certainly used a rather unorthodox model of partnership by taking a sizable investment stake in Pivotal vs. simply buying the product, thus having a strong ability to influence the product direction. Perhaps GE’s investment will pay off…

This post was originally posted on cloudfieldnotes, a Rishidot site

It’s the people, stupid!

In his April 2013 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos talks about how in 2012, AWS announced 159 new features and services. No other cloud service provider even comes close. There are several things that make Amazon the undisputed leader in cloud services, but the biggest driver behind Amazon‘s competitive advantage is its customer centric culture rather than competition centric
culture. Bezos talks about how their customer focus enables them to invent, improve, lower prices and increase value for customers before they have to thereby earning trust with customers. It is a letter worth reading.

We all know at the back of our minds that culture is important, yet often we focus on things that don’t really matter. Culture comes from people, not size. Yet often startups turn away candidates who have worked at larger companies forgetting that Amazon employs 88,400 people and is more agile and innovative than many startups. Culture comes from people, not deep pockets. Yet often free meals, drinks and expensive social outings are advertised as reasons to work for a company forgetting that people may not work well together even though you may have organized a team outing on a beach in Hawaii.

Building the right culture is hard work. You get it right and you attract talent. You get it wrong and people perceive working for your company is committing career suicide and you end up fighting a talent war. John Willis recently gave a talk at the Silicon Valley DevOps meetup group and highlighted three very interesting cultures – Netflix, Github and Etsy. His research can be found here. While I believe no other company’s culture can be a match for your own, each of these companies provides examples of techniques that can be adopted for positive impact. For e.g. Etsy’s blameless post- mortem technique is very relevant in this cloud era. Failures happen and what better way to deal with them than to view them with a perspective of learning rather than punishing those individuals closest to the failures. Another interesting technique that both Netflix and Github talk about is using minimal processes, which is also relevant in today’s fast paced cloud era as businesses need to be agile or else be left behind. Github focuses on automation to reduce human processes while Netflix focuses on hiring high performance people who would use self-discipline and avoid chaos.

Lou Gerstner, former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of IBM once said, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” So it comes down to who’s got the right people and that’s the horse you want to bet on.