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technical humanism

A bit about tablet platforms

We’ve worked with a variety of mobile platforms, and as with all choices there are lots of pros and cons to consider before making a commitment. Let us skip past the discussion on who offers the slickest hardware, because we know which fruit flavor wins that competition. But that bit about commitment is important, because while all of these are mature enough to ensure you’ll be able to find support, those support and training costs do tend to multiply as you add differing platforms. Even a purely mobile optimized web solution (which, without getting on too much of a tangent, is an excellent approach) will provide somewhat different user experience on different hardware. As always, begin with a comprehensive discovery process to fully understand your needs before deciding and investing. But with that out of the way, we’ll dive right in, starting with, surprise surprise…

The iPad

For all its’ sheen, the iPad is a serious business machine with the right specs to run a flexible array of applications while still being very competitive on cost. It is also a little bonus to employees who will love you for letting them take it home. The greatest weakness here is Apple’s iron grip on developers, which can cause some headaches when it comes to enterprise software deployment. A fantastic choice for internal web-based solutions or anything which can be accessed through the excellent remote-control solutions available (e.g., Citrix, RDP, logmein)

An Android Cornucopia

Lots has been written about the fragmented Android market, and much of that is actually true. But the tablet space splits into two camps: hi-spec iPad competitors like the Galaxy and Xoom and lower-spec models like Archos and now, Kindle Fire. That choice between cost/feature levels is the big win of this platform. You can select hardware/features that suit your application and not have to pay for features which don’t. You also have complete control over the platform software, even up to modifying the operating system if you need to (you don’t). The hi-spec options aren’t very attractive unless you need something an iPad can’t do.

Windows (7? 8? Phone?)

The workhorse of mobile business applications for years, Microsoft’s mobile ecosystem has become confused of late. So here, we are talking about tablets running Windows 7 (soon 8), not ancient versions of WinCE or much advertised little sold Windows Phone OS, since that appears to be the direction we’re headed among tablets. The main advantage is if you have existing systems built on Microsoft technology, they may be easier to bring to a mobile platform also running Windows, though the benefits are not huge. The platform unfortunately is not yet competitive with others in usability demands a higher cost which is hard to justify. For the Microsoft-faithful only.

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The megafauna of the QR ecosystem – scannable rooftops!

QR ever further blurs the line between marketing to your customers vs. marketing to their devices with scannable rooftops! New technology places a QR code on large rooftops to provide meta-data to mapping services (e.g., Google, Bing, …). Get ready to ask your customers to click on your building… Read more

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“Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

Brooke’s Law remains a fundamental principle in software project management. Which is to say, it’s usually ignored. If your project is late, it’s not because you need more resources now – it’s because you needed them all along. You add more resources, bring them up to speed on the project status, business needs, and development standards (costing the entire team time) – and you’re now trying to squeeze a more complex development effort with greater management costs into an already compressed schedule. Surprise, you’re even later than you were before.

The first problem is simple: Each resource you add will have a fixed non-productive cost as they’re brought up to speed on the project. It’s unavoidable – there’s no pool of resources available that are already know the project, so your schedule will bear the brunt of this for every unplanned resource you add. Adding multiple resources when you’re near deployment brings this cost at the worst possible time.

The second problem is one of “combinatorial explosion.” You see, as part of any group effort, every resources has to communicate with every other resource in some way. With two people, there’s one line of communication: information is exchanged only between these two. With three people, there’s three lines of communication: The first person communicates to the second, who communicates to the third, who communicates to the first. With four people there’s 6 lines of communication, with 5 there’s 10, and so on. This is why it is so critical to have the right number of resources at all phases of the project – to prevent the enormous productivity losses which come from spiking up to larger teams.

The solution is simple also: Understand the business needs, and have a plan to achieve them! The critical lesson is that a late project is already a failure. There is no approach to adding unexpected resources that can mitigate it. Successful development projects all follow the same model: Discover, design, implement, deploy. It is absolutely critical to have a thorough understanding of the effort required for each step before starting it – otherwise you’re doomed to dig the hole ever deeper with panicked mistakes as you approach your deadline.

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Moving “to the cloud”

The latest buzzphrase actually has a lot of merit – server capacity has evolved much faster than the demands of business software, and ask as you might, neither Dell nor HP will sell you half a server.

The federal government recently announced that they have finally come to understand this strategy (, with a cost savings in the billions. Of course, you may not realize benefits quite at that level, but the calculus is the same – it is cheaper today to share server resources.

But saving money is only one consideration. You also have to consider how backups, redundancy, and network capacity compares. With a few locations and some mobile users you may not be taxing your headquarters network, but no matter how many 9′s you’ve been promised it will be down from time to time. With costs spread over hundreds of customers, cloud providers can make multiple redundant ISPs cost effective. Not to mention electrical redundancy – you do have a diesel generator in your server room, don’t you?

Like any major decision in your network infrastructure, there are a lot of issues to consider and no right answer for everyone. But moving your resources into the cloud, despite being far overused terminology, is getting more attractive every day.

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Speaking good human?

Technology consultant… it doesn’t exactly conjure up an image of interpersonal communication prowess. All too often, when you find someone with the skills to meet ones and influence zeros, you’ve found someone who hasn’t quite mastered the social graces. A certain infamous Scott Adams character may spring to mind at this point.

And you need your consultant to understand technology, right? You do – but that’s only the beginning. All the technology expertise in the world won’t help you if you can’t effectively communicate what to do with it. The days of back-office technologists toiling away to prepare your business for the future are over (the nerd cave, geek room, or other endearing monikers) – technology is at your front door. It is often the first interaction with your customers, or the competitive advantage that brought them to you in the first place.

But don’t think that this level of understanding is just for search-engine optimization or help manuals. Being able to relate your needs to technical innovation begins before any code has been written or any servers installed. It begins with understanding your business, your vision, and your culture. Your technology consultant needs to be a partner you can relate to and rely on as you build and grow your business. Technology is as much a foundation of a modern business as the concrete under your floors, and to be successful and efficient your technology consultants must understand who you are.

Don’t let that communication stop with designing your solution. From the first day of implementation to the last day of deployment, you are on the team – or at least you should be. You and your consultant will no doubt discover new ways for the solution to benefit you, or new approaches to meet your goals more efficiently – you need the lines of communication open so your creative ideas can flow freely when they spring to life. Your technology consultants have to be part of your team, and you have to be part of theirs. If you can’t speak plainly to one another – if your consultant can’t speak human as well as they speak machine – you will constantly find yourself on the wrong path. Don’t believe for a second that it has to be this way!

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Total cost of ownership and the third party

It’s an attractive offer – a third party, open source (or otherwise free) framework offering a host of features that your solution really needs. But is it really free?

The value proposition from these packages is quite simple. First, they cost nothing up front. Second, they have features. Something for nothing, easy sale. But things get cloudy from here. You see, in a world without customers, or users, or business objectives – all is well. But when providing high quality solutions that solve business problems, getting it done isn’t enough – it has to be done right. And that’s where things go sideways. The framework may have a feature to provide something that you need, but will it fit the way your business operates? If so, great, but that is unfortunately rarely the case. This technology will meet the needs of some other operation, and will need customization to meet your needs. And that’s where the real cost of these packages comes into light: is it more costly to customize the package than it would have been to build the feature specifically for the need?

To be sure, it will never be possible to build a solution matching the free framework competitively (this is axiomatic – the free framework is free!) But do you need all of the features provided by the third party solution? Probably not. So you must evaluate the features of the framework that build true value into your final product, and consider that some aspects of the framework may in fact increase your costs as your solution requires working around them. For example, the framework may be built with a specific user management approach in mind, but you want to integrate with your Active Directory environment for single sign-on, requiring building additional components into the solution that would have been far simpler standing alone.

The answer to total cost of ownership, like project success as a whole, is to stay focused on the big picture. Offering advanced functionality for free is compelling when evaluated on its own, but the limitations you will inherit by building a solution on top of a platform, in addition to the long term support, maintenance and scalability issues, must always remain part of the conversation. The path to success always demands focusing on your business needs first and evaluating technology choices only after understanding your objectives. Only with the big picture in sight will you be able to achieve the lowest total cost of ownership.

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New website launched!

We’ve launched our new website @ !

We’re very excited to have our new online presence ready – hope you will take a look!

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On the other side of the table

Reviewing comps for our own new website – an interesting experience to be on the other side of the table! We’re “eating our own dog food” on this project and following through a formal development process as we build out our own new presence – style guides, comps, user interviews, storyboards, user perspective studies, the whole nine.

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New Android app: Easy-prompter

Easy teleprompter script scrolling app with optional reflection for use with mirrors and a high contrast invert mode for automatically converting black-on-white content to white-on-black.

Any web page can be used as your teleprompter script including images/etc. Images will be reversed along with text in mirror mode.

Click the play button at the bottom to start the scroll, then tap anywhere on the screen to stop it.

Easily adjust the scroll rate, re-load new scripts or toggle on/off the mirror and invert modes using the menu.

Can also be used as an auto-scrolling web text reader

** Please email with questions or problems **

Install (from phone only)

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New Android app: Markup

Mark up your photos with comments and drawings then save or share the result via email/facebook/etc. Quick and easy touch based drawing and text on top of your photos. See screenshots for examples.

Install (from phone only)

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