02/02/2016

A Smarter Election in 2016

Last night, the citizens of Iowa kicked off the presidential nomination process by coming out in record numbers to participate in the quirky, uniquely American Iowa Caucus. The event’s complicated voting process, with Republicans using a secret ballot and Democrats showing their support for candidates based on their location in the room, has resulted in a number of vote counting and reporting errors over the course of its history. Most recently, in 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the initial winner when in fact Rick Santorum had won by a mere 34 votes; a finding that took two weeks to determine and release publicly. This error afforded Romney a host of political benefits, including increased publicity and access to funding that he might not have otherwise received. Perhaps more vexing, however, was the fact that votes from eight of the state’s 1,774 precincts were lost in the process. While a small proportion of the total number of votes cast, this incident generated concern among many participants, causing them to question the legitimacy of the political process, in which all voters expect to have an equal voice.

Elections, if only due to their colossal size, are difficult to measure. The Florida recount during the 2000 presidential election exemplifies the issues associated with vote counting and the often unsuccessful implementation of technology to remedy a centuries old process. Moreover, technology in the election process is often accompanied by great skepticism, and blunders are not uncommon—see Mitt Romney’s 2012 ORCA program failure. As a result, it was not surprising to learn that Microsoft had developed and deployed a mobile application to count 2016 Iowa Caucus votes and streamline the process of distributing this information to party officials.

Modernizing the Voting Process

Microsoft in collaboration with its partner, InterKnowlogy, developed two mobile applications (one for Democrats and one for Republicans) that enable fail-safe data entry into its Azure cloud system; thus, providing timely and accurate results to party leaders, the media, and the public. While very simple applications, they nonetheless helped modernize a process previously reliant on pen, paper, and landline telephones. Furthermore, to enhance security, Microsoft built two-factor authentication into the application; a feature important for ensuring only privileged Caucus workers had access to the system.

IA Caucus Image

Image: Microsoft

Likely a public relations opportunity for Microsoft (the company offered its software for free), the process went smoothly despite some extremely close contests that could have caused a vote counting and reporting error in previous caucuses. This outcome, not only highlighted Microsoft technology, but also illustrated the transformative nature of mobile technology. While Microsoft and the political parties do not at this time intend to use the applications for other upcoming caucuses and primaries, the precedent has nevertheless been established.

The use of mobile technologies in the voting process remains limited, with traditional data collection (pen and paper) and information distribution (mail) processes the norm. As a result, attempts to improve the accuracy and speed of the process should spur mobile technology adoption over the course of the electoral season. For even Clinton’s and Sanders’s campaign created their own Caucus applications to track the outcomes throughout the course of the night in an attempt to fact-check the process.

Campaigning in the age of Mobility

Candidates for political office have understood the importance of technology for some time, with Obama successfully employing analytics and social media tools to win the 2008 presidential election. Since that time, mobile technologies have evolved substantially and the American populous’ use of these devices has similarly increased. As a result, candidates over the course of this election season will leverage these technologies even more as they attempt to systematically target potential voters and craft political messages.

Microsoft may have not made money on the Iowa Caucus deal, but many technology companies are positioned to benefit this year from billions of dollars of spending on political advertisements. A large portion of which will go to Google and Facebook, given their substantial user bases and advanced targeting capabilities. The advertisements and the platforms they run on are important, but success will largely depend on a campaign’s ability to leverage big data pertaining to potential voters. Utilizing advanced analytics, campaigns will refine their messages and targeting to have the greatest impact.

Digital and technical expertise differs significantly by party, as exemplified by the notable adeptness of the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Republicans, acknowledging the importance of leveraging data and digital platforms, have invested heavily in these areas as of late—either building in-house capabilities or hiring digital companies, such as Targeted Victory and Harris Media. Nonetheless, Democrats still possess greater resources in these areas and have stronger ties to Silicon Valley. In particular, Hillary Clinton’s chief technology officer Stephanie Hannon, a director of product management for civic innovation and social impact at Google, brings unmatched technical experience and knowledge to the campaign trail.    

An Evolving Political Future

Mobile technology, as a tool for advertising and voter engagement, will reach record heights this year as candidates attempt to accurately target and mobilize their voter bases. Mobile is fast becoming the most effective medium for reaching target audiences, and politicians like companies continue to shift their resources towards this channel. More interesting, however, is the use of mobile technology to support electoral processes as in the case of the Iowa Caucus. Mobile devices and applications support mission-critical workflows in a number of industries from healthcare to public safety, but the political process has largely remained outside the influence of these technologies. In this way, Microsoft set a precedent that will likely serve as an impetus for further modernization. However, it will be the people, ultimately, who will need to decide the extent to which technology will be allowed to influence the electoral process.

Written by Matthew Hopkins.  For more information, contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.  The author can be contacted directly at mhopkins@vdcresearch.com.

01/21/2016

Appcelerator Runs out of Gas

Earlier this week, Axway, a global provider of enterprise engagement software that enables application programming interface (API) management, identity management, mobile app development and analytics announced that it had acquired Appcelerator, a privately held cross-platform mobile development platform vendor. Appcelerator’s flagship, Titanium, utilizes an OS abstraction layer approach to convert HTML, JavaScript, and CSS into native iOS, Android, and Microsoft Windows applications. The company also productized an mBaaS solution (Arrow) to help developers simplify the process of assembling APIs, models, and connectors to access unstructured corporate data.

While Appcelerator was successful in growing a large developer community by building a powerful suite of tools for cross-platform development, the company was struggling to achieve profitability and was forced to lay off 30% of its employees this past March. Like others who were early in entering the mobile development platform space (e.g., Antenna Software and Verivo Software), Appcelerator failed to gain the traction required to remain as an independent private firm. While the company raised a significant amount of capital (nine funding rounds for a total of $87.9M), Appcelerator was unable to grow its revenues past $10M, and was unable to gain significant traction with large enterprise customers (a challenge for most young startups).

A Fragmented Market

The mobile development platform and tools space is one of the most active in the ecosystem of mobile-first vendors. Whether native, hybrid, or HTML5 web applications, the number of mobile design and development tools available to developers continues to grow (VDC counted 25+ vendors with less than $10M in annual revenues when we assessed the market in Q4 2015). Market leaders such as IBM, Salesforce, and Kony have cemented their position in the market by focusing on the depth and breadth of their solution range. For example, each of these vendors has been actively engaged in refining their development tooling, expanding their backend data access capabilities, and simplifying their ability to integrate with multiple data sources and third-party systems. Other market share leaders such as OutSystems, SAP, and Microsoft are focused on building more tightly integrated, cleaner, less complicated, and more user-friendly development platforms. Other vendors are focused on modernizing legacy applications and speed—these vendors can reduce the pain associated with manually modernizing code, resulting in more reliable, cost-effective, and feature-rich mobile apps.

While Appcelerator's immediate revenue contribution will be minimal, we doubt that Axway paid a large multiple for Appcelerator, based on its flat growth and inability to grow its enterprise customer roster. However, the acquisition makes sense, as Appcelerator's platform is synergistic with Axway's focus on API management, identity management, and cloud integration.  Additionally, Axway's parent company (IT services giant Sopra Steria Group) will likely become a viable channel for Axway to promote Appcelerator's platform going forward.

01/14/2016

FirstNet RFP Marks Move to Modern Public Safety System

On Wednesday, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) released a much anticipated request for proposals (RFP) for the nationwide public safety LTE network. The Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract with a limit of $100 billion for a performance period of 25 years marks what FirstNet’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth describes as a “first of its kind public-private partnership”.  Proposals for the project are due by April 29th and many telecommunications carriers will likely enter the competition, which could prove profitable as any of the unused 20 MHz of 700MHz broadband spectrum will be left under the operator’s control. Moreover, the RFP highlights 16 key objectives requiring additional investments in a number of other auxiliary technologies to ensure network functionality.

Following the lead of other nations (United Kingdom and South Korea), the RFP is a crucial first step in the process of shepherding the American public safety system to modernity in an age of mobility and information. Over time, by increasing interoperable communications among first-responders and providing improved situational awareness with multimedia data, the network will inevitably revolutionize the way first-responders complete business processes and interact with one another and their communities. Moreover, FirstNet enables public safety workers to employ some of the very same technologies in the workplace that they are so comfortable with in their personal lives. In this way, the project is more than the development of infrastructure to support first-responder LTE use; with the RFP outlining the need to ensure user adoption, create a device and application ecosystem, and guarantee security among other objectives. For only with these tangential developments will the system work both technically and fundamentally to improve the effectiveness of first-responders and the lives of those they serve.

The success of the network ultimately depends on user-adoption, for a network without users, will be as effective as the current system albeit at a greater cost. To this end, devices operating on the network should meet industry work standards as well as ease-of-use expectations.  In particular, the RFP states that mobile devices should be “capable of gloved, one-handed, or hands-free operation as well as…multimedia and high-definition data transmission both from humans and machine-based sensors”. Fortunately, several mobile device and public safety equipment manufacturers—Sonim, Kyocera, Motorola, etc.—have developed Band-14 devices that live up to these requirements. Capable of dealing with rough work-conditions characteristic of the public safety industry, these devices also boast many of the features prevalent on consumer devices, thus reducing the learning curve often associated with custom-built rugged devices. In essence, FirstNet looks to improve the functionality and integrate further, a piece of equipment already deemed critical by many first-responders. Often used unofficially for acquiring contextual information, communicating with co-workers, or accessing organizational email, smartphones on a dedicated first-responder network are more likely to be integrated with back-end information systems and other personal safety equipment; thus increasing the productivity and effectiveness of a largely mobile workforce. 

As important, if not more important than a device ecosystem, a vibrant application ecosystem supplies the tools for modernizing workflows and providing first-responders with information fundamental to quick and appropriate decision-making. In particular, the RFP calls for the development of a “vibrant third-party applications developer community” and application store that will generate an “evolving portfolio of mobile and enterprise applications, as well as cloud services”. APCO International, the world’s largest public safety professional organization, understanding the importance of public safety mobile applications, created Appcomm.org in 2013. Initially listing 60 mobile applications dedicated to public safety, the site now provides access to over 200. First-responders can use these applications to improve their situational awareness, engage with the community, document evidence, and gain access to business-specific information in seconds. In this way, applications will undoubtedly change the way first-responders complete business processes by brokering access to important contextual information and enabling greater autonomy. Large and small software vendors alike have devoted resources to creating applications that address the unique needs of first-responders and encourage end-user adoption.

FirstNet’s RFP is intimidating with over 500 pages and 13 sections. This is indicative of the enormous scope of the LTE network project. With many individual moving parts vital to the success of the overall network, a strong and open relationship between U.S. agencies and the private sector is crucial. A number of early adopters—New Jersey, New Mexico, LA-RICS, Harris County—have provided test-cases for the large scale deployment that remains several years away. These experimental deployments should help develop guidelines and use-cases for how to best take advantage of the capabilities engendered in a dedicated first-responder LTE network. Moreover, the experiences of these communities should help mitigate obstacles such as balancing mobile security with usability. The network and the mobile devices on it will need strong security to protect the sensitive information housed on public safety networks. However, these security measures should be designed in a way that does not deter user-adoption or effectiveness. FirstNet will not be a panacea for all of the industry’s technical woes but rather is a stepping stone on the path to modernization; a path that will necessitate all communities buy into the benefits of mobility.

Written by Matthew Hopkins.  For more information, be sure to review our forthcoming Public Safety View discussing FirstNet developments, set to be released next month (February), or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.  The author can be contacted directly at mhopkins@vdcresearch.com.

2016 Predictions Part II

Predictions for 2016 Part II

This is part II of a two part series of posts which provides the Enterprise Mobility and Connected Devices Team’s predictions for 2016.  The following predictions were written by:  David Krebs, Eric Klein, Cameron Roche, and Matthew Hopkins.  To contact the team, please e-mail us at info@vdcresearch.com

Top 5 Growth Industries for Mobility in 2016

Companies in just about every industry have the opportunity to benefit from a mobile strategy that improves productivity and engagement. However, mobile penetration among industries varies significantly due to a number of factors including, regulatory drivers/inhibitors, security barriers, killer applications, competitive pressures, work force demographics, etc. Despite these drivers/inhibitors, VDC expects software and hardware mobile investments to increase in 2016 as companies adjust to a world that continues to move towards mobile computing. Specific impetuses and impediments to mobile investments by sector will undoubtedly dictate the pace of mobile adoption, but all companies will nonetheless feel pressure to expand their mobile initiatives. Whether employed to improve business processes or engage customers, mobility’s ability to provide employees and consumers with critical information just about anywhere will continue to transform the enterprise.

Modernization and mobility are disrupting just about every industry, but VDC believes that these five industries in particular will be among the greatest investors in mobile technology in 2016.

  1. Following several years of heavy ecommerce investments Retailers are again shifting their focus back to in-store solutions and particularly in-store customer engagement. A key challenge for retailers as their digital and physical presences continue to meld is data and record management and creating centralized inventory and customer datasets. Another key theme for retailers will be around them optimizing the omni-channel initiatives especially addressing their increased delivery cost exposure. In addition, a key focus for retailers will be to create a consistent experience for their workers and customers across multiple platforms.
  2. The postal/courier industry, spurred by ecommerce growth, will be expected to deliver a higher volume of packages and meet the growing delivery expectations of customers. To live up to these demands, organizations need robust mobile applications for engagement as well as comprehensive track and trace solutions that provide individuals with near real-time package information. 2016 will see continued modernization of legacy mobility solutions to address customer’s increasingly sophisticated requirements.
  3. The healthcare segment has great potential for mobility because its workforce is inherently mobile. However, a general resistance to change within the industry as well as security and patient privacy concerns have provided some road blocks to greater mobile adoption. Nonetheless, many companies in the space have made significant investments to reach out to their customers and provide them with the tools to manage their accounts.
  4. Hospitality companies have significant customer engagement needs and the age of information has transformed their business model and increased competition. Market disruptors such as Airbnb and travel websites like Orbitz leverage mobile and Internet platforms to compete with more traditional players in the space. This dynamic is pressuring the larger, traditional organizations to more strongly infuse mobility in their go-to-market strategy.
  5. The Transportation industry, like the hospitality sector, has faced its fair share of market disruptors—Uber, Lyft,etc.—that are driving companies in the space towards mobility. In particular, mobile device use among employees in the space for GPS, logistics, and other application-based services has also proved effective in improving productivity. These dynamics should result in increased investments in 2016.

 

Microsoft Surface:  Some Serious Market Share Ahead

While Microsoft has traditionally ruled the desktop space, challengers like Apple and other devices based on Android platforms have forced Microsoft to renew their efforts in other hardware sectors.  Looking at mobile devices, Microsoft has brought their line of Surface products to the market.  Using the Surface Pro 3 and 4 for their current flagship tablets, Microsoft has been able to successfully redefine a market domain which for years was dominated by high-cost high-performance iPads and lower-cost Android devices. The recently released Surface Book has also seemingly hit a sweet spot boasting top-notch performance at a competitive price. While Tim Cook thinks it’s a “product that tries too hard…to be a tablet and notebook” while succeeding at neither, this also comes from the man who said that the iPad Pro would kill the PC. If that’s true, then he may need to keep his guard up as the Surface Book sold out within the first few days. Couple its popularity with the power of a laptop, the mobility of a tablet, and generally better specs than a MacBook Pro, and Microsoft should see their Surface series of products more than double in market share from 8.9% to nearly 20% by 2020. With this kind of success, Microsoft will likely release a Surface Phone in the future. This Surface Phone would shoulder a heavy burden of possibly being the last true chance for a Windows powered phone to become a significant player in the smartphone space. Otherwise, Microsoft may need to investigate partnering their Windows 10 OS with other smartphone OEMs.

Android Makes a Significant Dent in the Rugged Handheld Market

Over the past decade, Windows CE and Windows Embedded Handheld (WEH) 6.5 have become the OS platforms of choice for the majority of enterprise (rugged) mobile devices contributing to an installed base of well over 15 million devices. The platform has offered its enterprise customers a broad portfolio of devices to select from; as well as strong development tools, a stable developer community and wide support among enterprise mobility-focused ISVs. In addition, with support from Microsoft for 10 years, enterprise customers received the stability critical to their enterprise mobility investments. However, as of January 2015, WEH 6.5 is completely off Microsoft mainstream support with only security patches provided until 2020 when it fully reaches its end of support lifecycle.  Microsoft’s answer to the next generation platform for rugged handheld devices is Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1. The platform has been adopted by a small number of OEMs, however, the devices available supporting this platform today is limited as is their functionality. Moreover, support for WEH 8.1 is expected to expire by 2019. More recently Microsoft has shifted focus towards Windows Mobile 10 (or Windows 10 IoT for Mobile Devices) for this category of devices. This version was beset by many delays with OEMs now estimating product availability by mid 2016. However, Microsoft is expected to more tightly control the specs for devices running Windows 10 eliminating options such as wearable form factors or handheld computers with hard keyboards.

This has opened the door for alternative OS options to fill this void with Android emerging as the primary candidate. Enterprise (rugged) mobile OEMs have been investing in Android solutions over the past several years with shipment volumes beginning to reach critical mass in 2015. We expect this to continue in 2016 with Android supplanting Microsoft as the leading platform for enterprise handheld devices.

01/13/2016

2016 Predictions

Predictions for 2016 Part I

This is part I of a two part series of posts which provides the Enterprise Mobility and Connected Devices Team’s predictions for 2016.  The following predictions were written by:  David Krebs, Eric Klein, Cameron Roche, and Matthew Hopkins.  To contact the team, please e-mail us at info@vdcresearch.com

Point: Microsoft Progresses towards Gaining Critical Mass in Mobile

Microsoft’s Windows operating system currently accounts for less than five percent of the smartphone market despite many efforts—most notably its acquisition of Nokia—to revitalize its mobile portfolio. However, 2016 will mark the first full year of Windows 10. This new operating system enables applications to work across all Microsoft devices; thus countering an argument that critical mobile mass is necessary for robust application development. The Windows Continuum allows developers to develop for all devices in the Microsoft ecosystem, thus ensuring an extensive marketplace of enterprise and consumer apps. Moreover, smartphones have largely become commoditized, and with differentiation fading, Microsoft has a new opportunity to enter a static market with new, sophisticated, and affordable mobile devices. A window of opportunity is opening for Microsoft in the mobile space as the previous barriers to success are fast eroding. Microsoft should gain market share because Windows 10 creates a stronger “mobile” developer community that will design applications for sophisticated devices in various form factors that meet the needs of consumers and enterprises alike. Moreover, the novelty of Apple products is declining while their price remains the same, and the gap between high-end and low-end phones continues to blur. From an enterprise mobility perspective, in segments such as retail, we are witnessing a strong desire to create consistent experiences – from POS to clienteling – and the Windows 10 Continuum value proposition aligns well with those requirements. These dynamics present Microsoft with a unique opportunity in 2016.

Counterpoint: Mobile OS is No Longer Strategic to Microsoft

Yes, it is hard to consider something strategic that is teetering at 1-2% market share globally. However, following Steve Ballmer’s bombastic “My way or the highway” approach to conquering the mobile market, one of Satya Nadella’s greatest accomplishments during his still young tenure at the helm of Microsoft is recognizing that Microsoft can be successful and have a lot to offer to mobile users even though it does not dominate the underlying OS. This OS and hardware agnostic approach has seen Microsoft enable and optimize its core services – from Office to Skpe – to work on Android and iOS, the two clear mobile OS leaders. Not to mention that Microsoft makes $2 billion in royalty payments from Android OEMs. Yes, Microsoft would still love to see its mobile OS share grow and, yes, Windows 10 does offer unique differentiation with Continuum. However, outside diehard Microsoft supporters and those curious enough to make the switch, it is unlikely that adoption will be sufficient to propel Microsoft market share to double digits.

Enhanced Privacy:  A BlackBerry Resurgence?

In the wake of the 2015 expansion of ISIS, hardware and software companies were pressured by governments to reduce encryptions or create back-end ways for monitoring potentially dangerous activity. The hardware and software communities will continue to push against these requests as their own quest for secure data continues in light of hacks and breaches. Expect to see more complex encryption techniques from software, mobile payment, and app creators. Additionally, expect to see hardware vendors leverage advanced biometrics. With the introduction of iris scanning into consumer-grade cell phones (e.g. Microsoft Lumia 950); look for further penetration of iris technology. Also, with fingerprint scanning penetrating both high and mid range consumer-grade devices, some rugged or semi-rugged devices may also see enhanced biometrics in 2016. Finally, the focus on privacy and security may also provide BlackBerry’s hardware endeavors with another chance at life.  The relatively positive reception of the BlackBerry Priv and rumors about a modernized design on their next smartphone are indicators that 2016 will provide BlackBerry with an opportunity for success not only in software, but also in hardware.

Graduating From BYOD and Basic MDM…Resetting Enterprise Mobility Expectations

2016 will be pivotal year for the technology industry writ large. Mobile and cloud computing will continue to disrupt how IT services are provisioned, as both personal and corporate computing continues to migrate to mobile platforms. However, how strategic is mobility really to today’s workforce and is the opportunity appropriately aligned with IT vendor’s initiatives? When it comes to customer engagement in segments such as retail then, absolutely, mobility initiatives or digital transformation (or whichever buzzword is currently trendy) are strategic and represent critical competitive initiatives. However, what about today’s workforce? Our research suggests that the workforce is increasingly mobile – estimated at approximately one third of the workforce or 1.4 billion workers. And, yes, the adoption/penetration of sophisticated mobile devices continues to scale – in 2015 global shipments of smartphones and tablets reached 1.6B units. However, when looking at how enterprises are truly leveraging these mobile devices to support or enhance mobile workflows the reality is that we are barely out of the starting gates. Outside of task or line workers such as warehouse workers, delivery drivers, retail associates, service technicians who rely on mobile solutions to support very specific and critical workflows, this opportunity has had a very slow burn rate. In fact, VDC’s research suggests that of the overall 1.6B smart device shipments in 2015, only 50M were deployed to support enterprise mobility workflows (this excludes the use of smart devices for email and basic productivity applications).

Yes, enterprise mobility is extremely challenging as is accurately conveying the ROI of many B2B opportunities. As a result we are seeing a shift among larger IT/technology powerhouses and their enterprise mobility initiatives. Standalone (enterprise) mobility practices will be a thing of the past as organizations realize the value of mobile as an enabling technology of a broader initiative (hello, Digital Transformation) rather than a standalone solution. This will represent a huge challenge for some of the pure-plays especially as some mobile capabilities – MDM representing the obvious example – become commoditized to the point that they are given away for free.

12/22/2015

Q3 2015 Rugged Mobile Hardware Market Overview

In Q3, the total rugged mobile hardware market, sized as all rugged notebooks, tablets, vehicle mounted devices, and handhelds, grossed just over $1 billion in revenue shipments and has produced year-to-date (YtD) revenue shipments of $3.2 billion. Also looking YtD, the market has shipped over 3.1 million units across the globe. By the end of Q4, we will likely see YtD revenue shipments surpass $4.2 billion and YtD unit shipments near 4.3 million units. While the rugged market has actually seen a year-over-year (YoY) revenue contraction of 1.7% compared with its position in Q3 2014, it has also produced 5.1% growth from Q1 2015 to Q3 2015.

Figure 1:  Rugged Mobile Hardware Global Overview

  Q3_blog_figure

 

Breaking down this $1 billion market by form factor, we find weakened global demand for rugged notebooks, stagnation in revenue for tablets, and strong revenue shipments for handheld devices (the handhelds category includes devices such as smartphones and PDAs). As economic conditions continue to stabilize, this recent growth comes as welcome news to many hardware vendors who look to take advantage of increased economic stability and opportunities presented in the Americas and Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions. For example, the growth in the handheld revenues occurred primarily in the Americas and APAC, with global YoY growth of 5.0% over Q3 2014.

While global tablet revenues shipments remained at similar levels to Q3 2014, EMEA generated more revenue shipments from tablets than from notebooks this quarter. One possible reason for this stagnation in growth is due to the increased competition from consumer grade tablets. One specific instance can be seen with the latest Microsoft Surface Pro, which has received relatively positive reviews and adoption from the enterprise market. Furthermore, both EMEA and APAC regions saw slight YoY growth in tablet revenues as the Americas saw minor YoY contraction. Rugged notebook revenues witnessed their highest quarterly performance on the year, but still had YoY revenue shipments fall in all regions, producing a global revenue dip of 14.9% between Q3 2014 to Q3 2015.

Overall, the rugged hardware market continues to maintain a strong global presence, even in spite of some areas of weakness and additional competition from consumer grade technologies. While this increased competition from consumer grade devices may seem like a hard hit to the rugged space, it can be counteracted with rugged vendors offering more advanced technological portfolios. Increases in processing speed, RAM, memory, camera quality, dual-OS capabilities, touch capacity, and enhanced security are all features which are slowly making their way from the consumer market into the rugged market space. As rugged vendors add these, and other, new technological facets to their mobile solutions, their specifications comparisons to consumer grade devices become far more attractive. Additionally, as economic conditions continue to improve, especially in the EMEA regions, rugged revenues will likely rebound for many form factors.   

For more information, be sure to review our forthcoming full Q3 mobile hardware tracker and database, set to be released in late December. For additional information please contact VDC at info@vdcresearch.com. The author can be contacted directly at croche@vdcresearch.com or via his Twitter @Cam_Roche.   

12/18/2015

Warfare in the Age of Information and Mobility

In an upcoming military and defense report, VDC will examine the unique security, application, and hardware requirements for mobile devices employed among military users.

The phrase “fog of war” describes the general state of uncertainty surrounding military operations, and has been referenced frequently in military literature for over a century. Equipped with less than perfect information, military leaders use their best judgment and the little information they have to make decisions in the theatre of war. Generally, these gaps in knowledge, or situational awareness, occur on both sides of the battlefield, essentially offsetting one another. However, if one side does possess superior information, even in the slightest, then it could tip the scales of war. This logic largely supports the network-centric warfare doctrine, which argues that communication, computer, and IoT systems provide an operational and strategic advantage in war. More generally, a military receives a competitive advantage when they have the ability to collect, analyze, communicate, and act on information in a synchronized manner.   Millitary Blog Graphic 1

Abiding by the principles of network-centric warfare, militaries have researched, developed, and implemented a growing arsenal of information and communications technologies. The United States, the largest military spender, maintains a diminishing global lead in technological superiority. This lead is largely owed to astronomical spending and access to some of the most cutting-edge technology coming out of Silicon Valley and other high-tech geographical clusters located within the nation. Private sector companies have played, and will continue to play, an important role in developing products for command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) solutions. Procurement of commercial off-the-shelf-technology (COTS) has increased over the past decade owing largely to the private sector’s improved technical competency and the decrease of Western military budgets. Notably, this reduction in the West contrasts increased military expenditures in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions.

The investments in C4I technology include hardware, software, and networks; the three components interact with one another to produce insights and an operating picture necessary for informed decision-making. Crucial to ensuring this integration and interaction are mobile devices and applications, which provide soldiers and support-employees with the tools to distribute and act on information. In the most basic sense, these devices act as receptacles for mobile applications that serve as the gateway to data often stored behind organization firewalls. Tablets and smartphones now possess powerful computing capabilities in a mobile format, thus ensuring access to information anywhere and at anytime (assuming an available network is present). This value proposition has encouraged defense organizations to implement mobile devices in the field as well as in-and-outside the office. Imposed requirements such as general-use guidelines and enhanced security features including device management software and encryption help to reduce risks associated with mobility and are representative of a “secure enough” approach taken by many military organizations. This is the most feasible approach since completely impenetrable mobile devices are the stuff of science-fiction. The measures employed as part of this  approach increase security while maintaining functionality, and most agree that the gains of greater information distribution offset minimized security risks.

The Department of Defense’s mobile policy abides by these guidelines and includes an application store, which grants employees access to productivity enhancing, commercially available applications as well as line of business applications that enable business processes and access to organization data. Security measures differ based on whether an employee resides on the classified or unclassified network, but in general, the DoD acknowledges the trade-off between security and usability and has increased the footprint of devices under management to include popular consumer devices such as iPhones and Samsung Galaxy smartphones. While this type of enterprise-use is fairly common throughout the private-sector albeit with greater security measures, the field use-cases for mobile devices are certainly unique.


Millitary Blog Graphic 2The U.S. Army’s Nett Warrior system uses consumer-grade Android smartphones to arm individual soldiers with enhanced situational awareness and communication capabilities on the battlefield. This use-case falls directly in line with the network-centric warfare doctrine since it facilitates informed decision-making in an arena in which judgments must be made quickly and frequently involve life and death decisions. Operating on radio networks, these devices provide details on friendly as well as enemy troop locations, and allow soldiers to send text communications to one another. Perhaps most importantly, this system serves as a platform on which more applications can be built; increasing the capabilities of soldiers and improving their effectiveness in the field while reducing risks associated with uninformed decision-making. As tactical radio networks evolve and mobile device technology becomes more powerful, soldiers will essentially have access mini computers in the field. Therefore, this device will not only improve communications with command and control and among soldiers, but will also serve as an interface for data garnered from numerous sensors on the battlefield and satellites in the sky.

Militaries face a number of obstacles—budgets, fragmentation, and legacy technologies—that inhibit their use of modern technologies. Nonetheless, these organizations have made great strides in incorporating mobility within the past few years alone. The idea of equipping individual soldiers with consumer-grade mobile devices in the field for communications and situational awareness would have seemed ludicrous to many only a few years ago; yet Nett Warrior now embodies these ideas. VDC expects “lowest price technologically acceptable” acquisitions to increase the competitiveness of commercial vendors and even consumer-grade products in some instances. Only time will tell whether these devices are suitable for military use-cases as insights into failure rates in mission-critical environments are currently unavailable. While policies and requirements for mobile devices will undoubtedly change to reflect evolving technologies and use-cases, the increasing role of mobile devices in this space is inevitable. Military leaders view information as a transformative tool on and off the battlefield, and mobility is a crucial component for transmitting and accessing this resource.

Written by Matthew Hopkins and David Krebs.  For more information, be sure to review our forthcoming full military/defense report, set to be released next month (January), or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.  The author can be contacted directly at mhopkins@vdcresearch.com.

11/18/2015

Behind the Research: 10 Tips for Survey Design

This post is the first in an upcoming short series of blogs called Behind the Research. Our Behind the Research series is intended to provide existing and potential clients with targeted insights into our some of our key methodological approaches pertaining directly to our data.  While this series is by no means exhaustive, our Analysts will lend their expertise and provide tips on methodological topics of interest and relevance.  If you have a topic which you would like to see covered in a future issue of Behind the Research, feel free to e-mail your suggestion to croche@vdcresearch.com or Tweet your suggestions to @VDC_Research.

Polls and surveys have the ability to provide significant insights into many areas of research and can often reveal hidden trends.  Whether used in politics or market research, surveys provide analysts with vital data for forecasts, predictions, and cross-cutting analysis of their desired topic area.  Many of VDC’s reports, whitepapers, and blog posts contain data provided from our custom designed surveys. 

The nature of VDC surveys allow respondents to provide information from an anonymous, protected vantage point, giving them the ability to respond freely with information regarding markets, business structures, and other strategic details.   However, before leveraging the capabilities of any survey, it should pass through rigorous planning stages to ensure that it is not only effective, but will also yield the best possible environment for accurate results.  This design process further solidifies internal and external validity, ultimately reducing Type I and Type II errors in the following analytics process.  While there are many strategies involved in survey design, this blog post will attempt to highlight 10 critical tips to keep in mind when designing your own survey.

  1. Outline First:  Overall, when designing a survey, it’s best to create a rough outline of how your survey will flow, the logic, and the block organization before programming it into your desired survey platform (Qualtircs, Survey Monkey, etc.).  This can save a lot of time during the revision process when changing blocks or re-order questions. 
  2. Create Fair Questions:  Know your audience and design questions to elicit a fair answer.  A biased question will give you biased answers.  Using leading questions or answers which clearly favor one response, will often result in heavily skewed and unreliable data.  When using Likert scales try to avoid terms like “Always” and “Never” in favor of terms like “Not Very Much” or “Extremely”.
  3. Limit Response Options:  Consider limiting the number of response options or design close-ended questions.  If you have a multiple choice question which asks participants to “select all that apply” and give them a list of ten (or more) items to assess, you will likely receive watered down data points and might miss trends due to aggregation.  In the case described above, respondents will generally select quite a few choices, but you can combat this through response control.  If participants can only select 3 or 5 options, they will provide more accurate responses. 
  4. Beware of Respondent Fatigue:  If you have a HUGE question, sometimes it may be best to break it into a series of shorter ones.  Participants will only give each question a certain amount of time before they become tired and move on.  So, if you have a question followed by a long list of Likert scale items, or one which requires heavy reading, participants will probably tune-out about half way through due to fatigue.  You can combat this phenomenon by making several shorter questions instead of one long question.  Limiting response options will also help prevent respondent fatigue.
  5. Attention Checks:  Always ask an attention check question.  This will allow you to quickly purge any respondents who fail this basic test in the data cleaning phase of your project.  You don’t have to hide this question; if people are not paying attention, then you don’t want them in your data anyways.  Be sure to insert the attention check question(s) in the middle or end of your survey to catch satisficers or flatliners.  You’ll be surprised at how many people actually fail a question as simple as this: Attention_check
  6. Page Breaks:  Be sure to put a page-break after lengthy questions or after two smaller back-to-back questions.  Too much information or too many questions on any one page can easily overwhelm respondents and increase fatigue.
  7. Organize Questions:  Put questions with the same theme or topic into the same block (organizational structure).  This way, respondents answer all the pertinent questions regarding one topic at the same time.  By focusing all of their attention onto one general topic at a time, they are able to provide more accurate responses.  This organization will significantly help when using survey logic tools as well.
  8. Use Survey Logic: Use “skip logic” and “display logic” to map out your survey.  This way, participants will only receive specifically applicable questions.  Skip logic will allow you to skip a question if a respondent does not meet certain criteria.  Display logic will allow you to only display a question if a respondent meets specific criteria.  While these tools many not be needed on simple surveys, on a long more complex survey, logic coupled with organized questions can save a lot of programming time.
  9. Fore Validation:  Remember to force respondents to answer questions which are essential to your data or which are important to the general flow of the survey.  Any question which is dependent on skip or display logic should receive this treatment.
  10. Test Your Survey:  ALWAYS test your survey!  You essentially want to try to break your survey by being the worst respondent possible.  This way you can catch any logic issues, organizational problems, or other errors which might be lurking before you launch to your actual target audience.  Also, feel free to give it to co-workers and let them try to break it too!

Cameron Roche received a dual B.A. in psychology and government & law from Lafayette College and his M.A. in political science, specializing in political psychology, American politics, and polling/survey methodology, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He previously served as Assistant Director for UMass Poll and as a Research Assistant for the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES).  Be sure to look for future Behind the Research posts addressing other methodological aspects of survey work and data cleaning.  The author can be contacted directly at croche@vdcresearch.com or via his Twitter @Cam_Roche

11/17/2015

The Postal-Courier Industry’s Looming Technological Challenge

The postal-courier industry, in the midst of market changes, will need to grapple with a significant technological challenge looming on the horizon. The delivery of goods is an expensive proposition that requires significant capital investments and a large supply of labor. Technology, in the form of handheld devices and delivery software, works to create an efficient process that enables companies to minimize costs and maximize revenues. The handhelds used by delivery personnel include a number of important capabilities—bar code scanning, messaging, GPS—that help facilitate workflows. From enabling track and trace to obtaining proof of delivery, the current use-cases for these devices are plentiful. As the expectations of consumers grow and their desire for greater personalization increases; postal-courier organizations will need to heavily rely on these devices to transfer real-time data between all parties involved in a transaction. Moreover, postal-courier organizations attempting to expand their service offerings to offset declining mail volumes and differentiate themselves from the competition will employ handheld devices and new applications to complete additional business processes. To this end, upgrading to a new, more modern operating system helps organizations expand into auxiliary, customer-facing services.

Today’s Operating System

While several postal-courier organizations have chosen smartphones as their delivery device, the vast majority have opted for ruggedized enterprise mobile computers. Over 80% of these devices run on legacy Windows Embedded CE and Windows Mobile 6.x platforms. These legacy systems are particularly well-suited for enterprise devices and applications due to their customizable nature and strong ecosystems of solution providers developing applications. Moreover, comprehensive lifecycle support from Microsoft and OEM partners provides further value-add for these platforms. However, Microsoft ended meaningful support for Windows Mobile 6.x in January 2015, and support for Embedded CE will end shortly; with Microsoft only providing security patches for the platforms through 2020. As a result, over the course of the next few years, postal courier organizations will need to transition to a new operating system. 

Postal Courier Blog Image

 

In theory, the logical next step would be to transition to the most recent iteration of Windows without needing to implement any serious changes. However, the situation is far more complicated than that; leaving many organizations debating their next steps.

The Path Forward

With the deadline of 2020 fast approaching, companies must begin evaluating their options regarding hardware, operating system, and software. In choosing an OS for next generation enterprise handheld devices, the decision comes down largely to the consumer heavyweight, Android, or the enterprise incumbent, Microsoft. However, with Microsoft having failed to deliver a desirable operating since the release of Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 in 2011; some in the industry have moved to the Android operating system with its modern features and capabilities.

Android does not represent a perfect solution. Designed for the consumer space, the operating system lacks many of the security and management features of Windows as well as the substantial base of enterprise developers and OEMs supporting it. Nonetheless, Android’s enterprise user-base has grown steadily over the past few years, coinciding with improvements in the OS’s enterprise functionality. All leading rugged OEMs now offer an Android option, and several view this operating system as the way forward for the industry. Moreover, many ISVs that previously supported legacy Windows systems have shifted their R&D focus to Android (and iOS). This growing portfolio of Android devices and enterprise applications serves as justification for many to switch to this OS in light of Microsoft offering no suitable alternative.

Microsoft’s hopes to regain its market share, or at the very least stop the flow of users away from Windows, lie with its new OS for enterprise handheld devices—Windows 10 IoT Core. Postal-courier organizations, specifically those in the United States, have a pent up demand for a Windows solution, albeit having been burned by Microsoft in the past. Failing to deliver a Windows 7 solution and releasing an unsuitable solution in Windows 8; confidence among those in the space is waning. Windows 10, with its cross-device functionality and enterprise features could meet this demand. However, the release continues to be delayed, incentivizing those in need of a more immediate upgrade to switch to Android. Continued delays, or the release of an incomplete product, would further spur Android adoption, essentially sealing Microsoft’s fate in the rugged enterprise space.

What about the Apps?

Devices and operating systems play an important role in the completion of business processes, but applications/software are the last piece of the puzzle. Most organizations either develop their applications internally or outsource the process, but either way, the finished applications provide the key to performing tasks in the field. Unfortunately, postal-courier organizations planning an OS transition will also need an application-transition plan. For regardless of OS choice, organizations will need to recode old applications or develop new ones.

Windows 8 and 10 are not backwards compatible with legacy Windows systems, and a move to Android or iOS will similarly require recoding. This process, in most cases, will be expensive and cumbersome. If the company has the technological resources, they may complete the project in-house; however, most organizations will likely need to outsource at least some of the project. There are a number of tools on the market, such as Xamarin or iFactr, which enable cross platform development, and essentially provide organizations with a bridge to their next OS. Microsoft is also providing hooks from Visual Studio (VS) to the Xamarin platform making it easier to leverage existing .NET and C# skillsets to support development on Android or iOS. Moreover, we expect many in the industry to use this period as an opportunity to modernize applications that have been in service for decades.

The Bottom Line

Handheld devices play an instrumental role in the postal courier market now and moving forward. The next few years mark a period of mass transition of the likes never seen in the postal courier industry, and the lack of leadership by Microsoft creates an environment of uncertainty. However, this period also marks a moment of opportunity for organizations to modernize their systems and applications. The path taken today will largely dictate the quality of enterprise mobility capabilities tomorrow.

Written by Matthew Hopkins and David Krebs.  For more information, be sure to review our forthcoming full postal-courier report, set to be released this month (November), or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.  The author can be contacted directly at mhopkins@vdcresearch.com.

10/30/2015

Acquiring Direct Store Delivery (DSD) Optimization

Within the past week, the NASDAQ and NYSE witnessed the announcement of two major acquisitions:  Walgreens intends to buy Rite Aid for $17.2 billion and Snyder’s-Lance plans to buy Diamond Foods for $1.9 billion.  Even though Walgreens and Snyder’s-Lance reside in different industry sectors, they both heavily rely on direct store delivery; Walgreens to keep their pharmacies well stocked, and Snyder’s-Lance to stock their retail partners. 

Direct store delivery (DSD) is a system of selling and distributing a wide array of products in which the supplier delivers goods directly to the retail store, thus bypassing traditional distribution centers and warehouses.  Workflow integration within the DSD processes is often extremely complex and typically involves products which have high consumer demand or shorter shelf-lives.  Product lines which are regularly supported via DSD plans include baked goods, beverages, dairy products, ice cream, and other snack foods.  Other industries that frequently use DSD processes include wholesale distribution, gas, and pharmaceuticals.

In recent years, a primary hurdle for the DSD community has been the increased demand placed on mobile devices coupled with the constant need to optimize the numerous moving parts involved in the DSD process.  In a market space where spoiled, rotten, or out-of-stock goods directly impacts profits, employing mobile devices which are efficient and adaptable to the complex technological requirements of DSD applications is critical.  As such, those engaged with DSD must constantly assess their mobility solutions in order to keep their delivery operations running at peak levels.  A 2015 survey, conducted by VDC Research, found that three of the top five investment drivers are directly related to with the ideas of efficiency and adaptability.  These drivers include reducing order times, reducing out-of-stocks, and providing faster decision-making capabilities. 

Likelihood of Migrating from Batch to Real-Time DSD Processing

Migration1

The vast majority of the DSD market is only now catching up to the significant advances seen in mobile and wireless technology.  Wireless coverage, performance, functionality, and cost of mobile devices are all factors which have drastically changed with little adoption into DSD systems  Through advances in mobile technology, DSD suppliers can now communicate with their drivers and with retail partners regarding inventory, payment, and customer support services in real-time.  Compared with aging batch-processing methods, WAN (cellular networks) connections or wireless DEX (Digital Exchange) support can significantly optimize every phase of the DSD structure.  The modernization of DEX from a hardwired solution, which required DSD drivers to carry a fragile and unreliable DEX cable, to a wireless Bluetooth solution greatly improves transmission reliability and reduces errors during communication.   A 2015 VDC Research survey revealed that DSD suppliers beginning to realize the opportunities presented by Bluetooth-based DEX and WAN.  70% of respondents indicated they are likely to migrate from batch processing to a real-time processing format within the next 2 years.  With increased migration to real-time solutions seemingly imminent, VDC expects the next generation of DSD solutions to address performance gaps and better support CPG operations.

Even though Walgreens and Snyder’s-Lance populate opposite sides of the DSD chain, the effects of emergent, real-time mobile processing features will be apparent for both companies.  They can expect to see more efficient customer support and faster response times to requests/inquiries.  More specifically, Walgreens can leverage their expanded reach to better optimize existing DSD delivery strategies by modifying routes to better coincide with Rite Aid and Walgreens locations.  Additionally, Snyder’s-Lance will be better positioned to react to real-time inventory information and will be able to consolidate Snyder’s products along with new Diamond products into the same DSD trucks and routes.  Clearly, if Walgreens/Rite Aid and Snyder’s-Lance/Diamond take advantage of new mobile technologies described above, they should see more efficient services and reduction in overall DSD costs.

Written by Cameron Roche, Analyst.  For more information, be sure to review our forthcoming full DSD report, set to be released in December, or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.  The author can be contacted directly at croche@vdcresearch.com.  

 

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