Monday, June 25, 2012

On the Surface, Microsoft has good news enterprise

There are plenty of reasons to question Microsoft’s move this week to launch a tablet – and to launch their Microsoft Surface tablet the way they did.  But likely enterprise interest is not one of them.

You could definitely question why they would decide to go against their normal ecosystem of partners – those who provide hardware while Microsoft provides the software.  You could also question whether they have the design point right (landscape, eh?).  And you certainly could nitpick about launching without a delivery date.  Or pricing.
However, as a device, the Surface looks intriguing.  And, a lot of the “typically Microsoft” approaches to lock customers in…er, keep customers coming back aren’t going to work this time around, given their lack of control in the cloud.

Analyst Dana Gardner has a good post on ZDNet about how he thinks some of this will play out. “Microsoft will try to keep this a Windows Everywhere world, but that won’t hold up,” said Gardner. “What makes mobility powerful is the escape from the platform, device, app shackle. Once information and process flow and agility are the paramount goals, those shackles can no longer bind.”

Another big deal with the delivery of the Microsoft Surface, that Dana also noted, is probably the most significant one:  enterprises are deeply wedded to Microsoft, its operating system, and its productivity tools.  We here at Framehawk see this every time we ask customers and potential customers what they want to use from their iPads.  Some very likely initial answers?  Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.  SharePoint, too.  A tablet that helps you make the most of those previous investments is a big positive for the enterprise.

Gardner actually thinks the larger implications are pretty profound.  As he said in his post, “with Surface and the Windows PC-tablet hybrid it defines, Microsoft is showing a way to enterprise mobility.”

But will the Microsoft Surface be a winner? Pundits, as always, are mixed (there’s a good SF Chronicle summary here).  I saw comments about the Surface ranging from “rather fantastic” to “not a threat to Apple.” Farhad Manjoo from was already “deeply smitten.”  And as Apple fan boys griped a bit about how Microsoft ripped off Apple, I was amused by the alternative view from Lucas Mearian in Computerworld: in fact, Microsoft came up with the tablet PC first (in 2002).  It’s just that nobody cared.

I’m not necessarily convinced that Surface will be a winner, but its appearance (whenever it actually happens) and any adoption it does get in the enterprise, adds to the diversity of devices that IT needs to think about.

A successful Microsoft Surface will increase the need to consider BYOD policies and strategies that are effective, regardless of which device an employee ends up bringing and using for work purposes.  iPads are dominant today.  Android is a player, though still small in the business world.  And, this new entrant from Microsoft will surface an increased need to be device agnostic.  For IT, that means it’s time to really focus on those BYOD issues – and to do so now to get ahead of the curve.

In the meantime, Stephen Vilke, our CTO at Framehawk, tweeted that he “can’t wait” to get his hands on Microsoft’s new tablet.  He expects it, plus Framehawk-delivered applications to be, in his words, “wow.”
And I agree with Jason Hiner of TechRepublic & CNET: “I'll say this about Microsoft Surface... the more I read, write, and think about it, the more genuinely curious I am to get my hands on it.”

I think that’s as good of a start as Microsoft could have asked for at this point.

This article is also posted on the Framehawk blog.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

With tablets, do you 'pave the cow path' or rethink IT?

I just saw a nice think piece by Dion Hinchcliffe posted at ZDNet talking about the profound impact of tablets on IT. His premise is that these devices are so revolutionary that IT shouldn’t keep doing things the same way.

In fact, he believes that the rise of the tablet means that we actually can’t, even if we tried.

It’s an interesting thought, for sure. I think the real question that Hinchcliffe’s commentary brings up, though, is whether or not there’s room for doing something fundamentally different while also solving some immediate issues. For example? Like finding a way to make tablets immediately useful in an enterprise.

For starters: making enterprise IT “tablet-ready”
Hinchcliffe talks through the many ways that IT must think about making their capabilities “tablet ready,” especially since “employees are using their tablets for work now.” On the list: requiring a way to handle different OSes and devices, how to service-enable existing IT for tablets, demanding certain enterprise-class features like policy control over apps, cloud-resident data, and location-based services. Not to mention plans for which things to deliver using your inside IT staff v. outsourcing – and how you should take a very close look at security.

The list is definitely complicated and painful to implement. And the suggestions are similar to some we’ve mentioned in discussing BYOD issues we’ve discussed here previously.

Are incremental IT changes enough?
However, in thinking through all this, Hinchliffe comes to the conclusion that simply enabling tablets isn’t going to be enough. Instead of “paving the old cow path” that IT has already been following (I love his bucolic visual), tablets require us to rethink IT.

“Tablets are fundamentally different computing devices with entirely new capabilities,” says Hinhcliffe in his post. “To get the real competitive advantage of the next-generation of end-user computing will require rethinking how tablets and their innate capabilities and strengths can be used to transform business processes. Location-awareness, always-connectedness, augmented reality, pervasive video/audio, and more can create highly situational and context-aware apps that hold the potential to provide hard business benefits.”

All true statements. However, their truth doesn’t negate an immediate-term need that we here at Framehawk are seeing right now. That immediate need is all about enabling those employees that are indeed “using their tablets for work now.”

We have very forward-thinking customers like UBS that are building applications and an IT world that is all about mobility and tablets. But we also have talked to many, many others who need something much simpler. Something like: “I want my employees to be able to use our current apps from their iPad.”

It’s not as revolutionary, but hey, it’s useful.

A bit of a continuum
So it seems like there’s a continuum of mobile needs when it comes to enterprise applications. We’ve started to describe it as a bit of a mobile maturity curve (sounds like a great blog topic to come back to, in fact).

Step one is to get your folks the access they need to do their jobs, with the security and performance required, making use of their mobile devices. The next couple steps after that would include more native-influenced look, feel, and gestures for particular applications. And beyond that: more complex mash-ups as experience warrants – and business demands.

I’m betting that no matter how forward-thinking and revolutionary tablets should enable us to be, there’s a smart way to navigate through the normal incrementalism that comes with enterprise IT, while also preparing yourself for the brave new world where iPads and Android tablets are part of the every-day picture inside a major corporation.

The trick, then, is to find a “step one” approach that lets you also take a “step two” and a “step three” toward the world that Hinchcliffe is a proposing – one where tablets are the inspiration and driver for a new way of doing IT.
And to switch metaphors from cows to hawks for a moment, we think we’re a pretty good example of this. Our customers are beginning to use us as a way to take those incremental steps. We’ll share examples as more customers are able to talk publicly.

In the meantime, pay attention to where those IT cow paths lead: they’re the telltale signs of what’s useful today inside the enterprise. And they’re a great place to start.

This blog is also posted on the Framehawk blog.