Five years on from the iPad’s launch

Ipad, front and rear

On 27th January 2010, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad. If you have 90 minutes or so to spare, that launch presentation is a fascinating watch.

There was mixed reaction to that initial announcement. Some people called it right. Even days before the launch, Deloitte predicted that a new generation “NetTabs”, such as Apple’s rumoured new product, would have a “breakout year”.  Other pundits were far more sceptical.  Bill Gates derided it: “It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.'”

Gates called it wrong, particularly in backing netbooks over tablets. By 2011, tablets were selling twice as many units as netbooks.  (Note to readers in the future: Netbooks were small laptop computers which didn’t have touchscreens or detatchable keyboards. Yes, I know!). Tablets, led by the iPad (to say the least), put a huge dent in the PC market, leading to its longest decline in history.

One of the most profound changes that the iPad brought was a change in user expectations. Since the advent of the WIMP (Windows-Icons-Mouse-Pointer) interface in the 1980s, most business software took the form of a form.  Users interacted with clickable, typeable boxes.

Tablets, without a pointer or a physical keyboard, don’t adapt well to “paperless form” interfaces.  It’s hard to click with a finger in a small box, and it’s not great navigating from field to field, typing into them one by one, either. Some might have expected that hardware would make the shift to accommodate expectations. Instead, the applications themselves changed. The tablet brought in new user experience designs, with great success.

Developers and designers quickly built on the lessons they’d already learned with touchscreen smartphones. They learned to produce tactile apps, making the most of swipes and gestures and movement. It’s arguably much more intuitive and friendly, as anyone who has ever given a modern touchscreen device to a toddler will attest. It’s also a great opportunity to deliver a more productive experience too. Applications like Shazam and Uber have taken this to an extreme: A single press on the screen replaces complex and clunky keyboard-and-mouse driven interactions.

This influence is even finding its way back to the desktop. PCs aren’t dead yet, and they are still holding their own as the superior platform for many use cases. But the influence of the iPad is pervasive. There’s a lot less tolerance amongst users for business applications which look like their tax form, with a save button. There is no tolerance at all for that in consumer applications.

Harnessing, and taking advantage of those expectations enables better software with better outcomes.  A tool like Smart IT enables tablet interaction for ITSM, but also carries many of the design and efficiency principles to the desktop.  The result is better productivity, a smarter Service Desk, and happier stakeholders on both sides of the service relationship.

Why customer centricity is an approach, not a dogma

“Customer first” is a much debated philosophy in ITSM. Studies and reports frequently place customer-centricity high on the priority list of CIOs and CTOs. But sceptical commentators argue that IT may be falling victim to its own faddish obsession: we are not the same as some of the most high-profile service innovators such as those in the consumer marketplace, and we have different drivers and limitations.

Some attempts to deliver customer-centricity in ITSM may indeed be truly faddish: driven by fashion or the notion that something is a cool idea, without really delivering a better business result.

However, I’d argue that such actions are no more customer centric than ignoring the customer’s wishes altogether: if service is delivered on the basis of improperly considered ideas, it isn’t destined to be successful, unless we get lucky.

Customer centricity is not just about doing whatever the customer asks. It’s about marshalling the available support resources to deliver service in the most effective manner for the customer. Most importantly, it’s about methodically identifying what that “most effective manner” actually is. The IT industry hasn’t always been very good at that bit.

As an example: One of the most significant areas of debate, conflict and sheer revolution has been the “Bring Your Own Device” phenomenon. Much has been written on the subject, but occasionally a statistic appears which really illustrates the need for a more customer centric approach to corporate IT.

Last year, an APAC-focused survey by VMWare, “A New Way of Life”, contained one such gem. The gem was not the survey’s finding that 83% of employees are bringing their own devices to work. This number is not unusual; many similar surveys have produced similar figures. It was a subsequent result which stood out: 41% of of these positive respondents cited “contactability by customers” as a primary driver for their use of non-corporate items.

Let that sink in for a moment: Fully one-third of the overall respondents in this survey stated that they needed to augment the technology their employer is providing them, just to give customers adequate means to contact them (and that is before we even start to ask how many of that group are actually customer facing: the percentage might actually be much higher for the most relevant groups of users).

Surely, then, IT departments need to ask themselves why this is happening?

But this is the problem: We already did that. The IT organization already sat down and thought up the best policies it could: usually making considered judgements built on knowledge and experience, trying to find the best balance between security and customer requirements. But if more than a third of users still need to bring in their own technology to deal with customers, then something went wrong.

Maybe IT really didn’t learn enough because it didn’t get far enough away from its own desk. IT should be asking their customers why this is happening.

Even then, though, simply asking a question may not give us what we need to provide the best solutions. Customers, asked directly, may tell you what they think they need, based on their own frame of reference. Henry Ford, sadly, probably never uttered the quote widely attributed to him about giving customers “faster horses” if he’d simply followed their stated wishes, but it’s still an important point.

Instead, the best way for IT to be customer centric is to leave our desks. We need to stand with our users as they go about their job. We should shadow field support people, sit in customer service call centres, spend a day with a sales rep, observe the warehouse for a while. As technology experts, we know more about the challenges of managing evolving technology in an increasingly complex corporate environment, but we don’t know our customers’ jobs like they do.

IT deeply knows technology, but the customer knows their job most deeply. The foundation for customer-centric support is simply the combination of those two pieces of knowledge.

(Image credit: doctorow on Flickr)

Tomorrow’s Future Today 2014: The End of IT’s Monopoly on Trust

Tomorrow's Future Today logo

On 17th February 2014 I presented at the Tomorrow’s Future Today 24-hour online conference. The presentation explored the impact of Uber, TripAdvisor, Yelp and other consumer-oriented services on established (and legacy) “providers of trust such as guidebooks, regulators and establishments. In this context, it discussed the lessons corporate IT can learn from these huge trends.

You can view a recorded presentation, and my slides, here:

It was a real joy to be involved with this conference: it is a tremendous and free resource for the IT and technology field, with some great contributors.

Yale Shuts Down Student Course Selection Tool on Grounds of “Malice”


Hot on the heels of my recent “Alf’s Zoo” on Trust, here’s a fine example of the phenomenon.

Yale College has blocked a website which two of its students had created.  The students, brothers Peter and Harry Yu, had created an alternative version of the prestigious institution’s own course planning tool.  “We found that it was really hard to find and compare courses when we first arrived at Yale”, one of the brothers told the media. Yale students are given tremendous flexibility to choose classes, and hence the brothers identified a key frustration with the official solution: a lack of adequate comparison data.  Their tool added students’ course evaluation ratings to the class listings – a feature which proved immensely popular.

The university’s response was heavy handed to say the least. After quibbling with the students about their product’s original name (a derivation of the official platform’s own title), they went a step further and blocked the site on campus. Students attempting to access the site were confronted instead with a Yale-branded screen, purportedly “to help guard against malicious activity on Yale networks”.

But the brothers’ product, far from being a tool of malice, is a great example of a new generation of tools and technologies aimed at making consumers of services more informed… at least to its target audience.  The university sees it differently, using one of its monopolistic powers (its complete control over its own network) to assert its sole control of the course selection process. Yale initially justified its actions on the basis that it had not permitted its course evaluation data to be used in this way. That would be a plausible (if mean-spirited) explanation, if the news had not subsequently emerged that another student-derived tool, a light-hearted random course selector, had also been blocked on the grounds of malice.

Of course Yale are far from alone in behaving like this.

Alf’s Zoo – The Erosion of IT Trust

“Alf’s Zoo – This week, Jon Hall explains how Uber has changed our view of IT and the world. We no longer trust authorities as much as we trust our peers when it comes to selecting tools and services for work and life. Instead of prescriptive measures issued by so-called experts, we now rely heavily on peer-assisted selections, where we rate the vendor – and the vendor rates us. Imagine what customer reviews have done to online shopping, and ask yourself what IT can do to earn back some of the trust from its stakeholders. Jon provides one of the few concrete examples of how the consumerization of IT impact the business”

Why the CIO won’t go the same way as the VP of Electricity – an article at the ITSM Review

A dodo

Commoditisation is, without doubt, a massive and revolutionary trend in IT. In just a handful of years, a huge range of industrialised, cost-effective solutions have created rapid change, so much so that some commentators now predict the end of the corporate IT department altogether.

Info-Tech Research Group’s June 2013 article highlights a comparison made by some, between today’s CIO, and the “VP of Electricity” role apparently ubiquitous in large organisations at the turn of the last century…

More here at the ITSM review:

Image credit