To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

[CEO presentation at this year’s user conference, ed.]

Charting a new course
Where to go?
How to get there?

As CEO, my focus is on leading HarrisData and our customers to a successful future. That requires answering a couple basic questions.

Where to go?
Key trends pointing the way:
Smart phones and tablets are changing the way people interact with computers

    Mobility and multiple devices
    “Touch and speak” interfaces
    More iPads shipped than PCs by any single manufacturer
    Fastest adopted technology in human history

“Consumerization” of technology

    There’s no instruction manual for the internet
    There’s no menu for the internet

The most important change facing business application vendors today is the Consumerization of IT. After years of hype about Cloud / Mobile / Apps, the extraordinary adoption of tablet computers and smart phones represents a major change in the way people interact with software. In the past we could count on new hires being familiar with Excel and Word style point and click interfaces and menus. The new hires today know Google, Facebook, and Twitter – applications that do not have menus, that are optimized for touch screen and voice interfaces, and are so intuitive that little training is required to operate them. Further these new hires often operate more than one device at the same time, Twittering on the smart phone, searching on the tablet, and checking Facebook status on their laptop. The actual devices are not selected by corporate IT, but by the user themselves who bring their own device(s) and expect to be able to use them at work. Our challenge is to let our employees be consumers of devices while handling the back end applications and security necessary to a business environment.

How will application users react?
Study enterprise application users to find out how they respond

    Engaged leading user interface design firm projekt202 to help find out
    Watched real people do real tasks using new devices and interfaces

“Surprised and delighted”

With such a fundamental change in the way enterprise applications are organized in front of us, HarrisData engaged the experts at projekt202 to learn what users wanted, how to organize work flows, and how users reacted to the new approach. Several normal people (users of HRIS applications) were asked to participate in the study. We watched from afar (real-time over the internet) as these people attempted to perform normal tasks using the new approach. One by one they were presented a tablet featuring the new software and let at it without any training or explanation. I particularly enjoyed watching one skeptical person rant about how strange and inappropriate the application was, then plunge in, and about 5 minutes later start singing its praises! The results from this study: users were “surprised and delighted” with the new format.

User-centric interface
Most enterprise applications can be improved dramatically using new techniques


New HarrisData Workspace

What is this new format? It is a way of presenting an enterprise application which eschews menus and allows users to organize their work, collaborate with each other, and adapt the workspace to their own needs. Organize, collaborate, and adapt are the three core capabilities that consumer technology does well. Adding these techniques to enterprise software is what Consumerization of IT is all about. The new HarrisData workspace achieves the consumerization of HarrisData’s software.

The RTI Software Division has a workspace for CRM that got us thinking quite a while ago. Note that while it adheres to conventional “Windows” standards, it does provide user centric features. Tabs for task lists, collaborative work flows, and adaptability (via the IT department) are all present. It is a very effective way to manage a variety of tasks that come about when helping people through a support issue or sales cycle. This is a good starting point, but more industrial than consumer oriented.

Applying what we learned the new HarrisData workspace adds capability while achieving consumer orientation. Search, Favorites, History, routine tasks (what you want to do), assigned tasks (what your boss wants you to do), and alerts allow the user to have everything at their fingertips and organize it all as they see fit. Note, not a menu in sight!

How do we get there?
Server-centric architecture

    access from any device (mobile or desktop)
    Better security
    Integration via web services
    Cloud deployment options

Device-independent interface

    Windows, iOS, Android, what’s next
    Rich “touch and speak” clients
    Integration with common client features

How do we get the new HarrisData workspace to you? First we leverage a strong server-centric architecture for enterprise applications. The core processing, security, and data are kept on the server where it is easier to deploy, manage, and control. The server can be on premises or in the cloud. Web services allows extension of enterprise functionality and integration to peripheral systems (such as your e-Commerce site). The client is device independent, it runs in a browser and works with any device you user / consumers choose. At the same time the workspace can access common client device features (e-mail, contact lists, calendars, cameras) as needed. Since consumer devices like smart phones and tablets are the most stolen / lost / replaced items in our world, it is extremely important to keep the data and security on the server side so nothing is lost / and new device setup is a snap.

How do we get there?
Use Industry Standards

Use proven Frameworks

On a technical level, the key is to avoid Apps. Apps are device specific, must be independently developed and maintained, and require user effort to update on the device. Remember, users will bring their own devices anyway, it is our task to see that they are productively utilized. In response, the industry has developed core standards for consumerization which accomplish all that Apps do, but without the hassle. Use of these standards ensures operability across all devices. Proven frameworks including Sencha Touch and PhoneGap provide consistent feel and access to device capabilities. IBM’s Cognos provides delivery of BI and Analytics via consumer devices (it still requires report creation the old fashioned way).

How do we get there?
Build a common interface
Add web services layer to current applications

    Re-architect server processes as needed

Connect interface to current applications

    First project: HRIS
    Next project: CRM
    More to follow

To summarize, HarrisData is developing a consumerized, browser based workspace interface for all our applications. We are adding web services to all our applications, redefining processes where needed. Today we are introducing our new HRIS – a complete payroll and human resources application utilizing everything we have learned and featuring the new HarrisData workspace. Our next project will be the RTI Division’s CRM applications CustomerFirst , SalesFirst, and WebFirst. The rest of our applications will follow.

HarrisData is boldly taking all our applications to the new consumerized IT environment. No other enterprise vendor has done this, although several have dabbled with point apps alongside their applications. Expect “surprised and delighted” users / consumers at your organization in the near future.

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