At a recent software summit for industry analysts in Stamford, CT, IBM made a big point of showing off some of its newest employees. They’re not computer scientists from top engineering schools like MIT or Carnegie Mellon, but visual designers, interaction pros and user experience experts from design schools like Rhode Island School of Design and Pratt -- urban hipsters in a sea of button-down IBM’ers.
This is part of IBM’s growing effort to embed “design thinking” into software development across its portfolio. Central to the effort is the new IBM Design Studio in Austin, TX, led by design general manager Phil Gilbert. The group is recruiting design-minded professionals by the hundreds to help inject human-centered design principles into next-generation business software. They work closely with software teams to rethink interaction models and influence what’s coming out next.
The facility has also hosted dozens of high ranking execs from across IBM in “design camp” events aimed at teaching the relevance and importance of design-centered thinking across the company.
“We are attacking this transformation from the bottom, top, and (everywhere) in between,” said Gilbert.
This isn’t just an effort to make software look good. Software vendors are realizing that to be competitive, software products must have powerful capabilities, function smoothly, streamline complexity and be usable across a spectrum of people, regardless of their technical skill.
I have had the opportunity to contribute to a brand-new piece of research led by my colleague Julie A. Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.
We both believe mobile has the potential to be even bigger and more disruptive than the Internet.
That’s a bold statement! Today, few of the numerous professionals we interviewed are developing digital strategies that leverage context and make the most of the phenomenal technology packed inside mobile devices. Even fewer are anticipating the opportunities that will emerge tomorrow, with technology innovation driving capabilities around the user’s context.
Indeed, the fancy features, such as GPS and NFC, embedded in mobile phones will become common, while new sensors like barometers will reveal more about the user’s environment. The phones will also act as modems, relaying or interpreting information from other machines or from attachments with sensors. In a few years, mobile will be divorced from the PC. While a mobile device may have the ability to act like a PC, it has the potential to do much, much more. Product strategists must step into the leadership role, driving the development of user-context-based products. Increasingly, voice and motion will control devices and applications. There will be an entirely new generation of products and services delivered on mobile platforms that will not originate online.
At the end of the day, who knows you best? Your mobile phone! Why?
Because it will become the device you use to interact with the world around you — your hotel room, your shopping cart, your TV, your bank, your parking meter, your car, your running shoes, and many other aspects of your life. You won’t be able to keep anything secret from your mobile phone.
Delivering highly contextual mobile services is an expectation. Mobile phones are personal devices. Consumers expect personal and relevant experiences.
What is context?
Forrester defines “context” as
“the sum total of what your customer has told you and is experiencing at his moment of engagement.”
Situation: the current location, altitude, and speed the customer is experiencing.
Preferences: the history or personal decisions the customer has shared with you.
Attitudes: the feelings or emotions implied by the customer’s actions or logistics.
eBusiness professionals make limited or very basic use of context today. Mostly, they use an individual’s location to tell her where the nearest store or hotel is. The use of location is a minimum requirement today to meet consumer expectations of “decent” mobile services. The bar is rising quickly though. eBusiness professionals need to layer intelligence on top of contextual information and plan how they will use new contextual information such as temperature or altitude.
Here are a few scenarios that simply leverage intelligence with location:
Banks. Should a user require the same depth of authentication at home, at work, or in a foreign country?
Hotels. How much should you quote a prospective customer for a room tonight if she is 5 miles or 500 miles away?
Airlines. What home page services should you show a passenger whose flight leaves in 2 hours? In 10 minutes?