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Over the last several months, we’ve been discussing with our clients the value of user experience. I’ve noticed a shift in our industry, one that I think is worth mentioning.

First, a bit of history. EffectiveUI started as a Flash development  company – Me, Andy, Drew, Geoff, Jim, Sean, RJ; all were admiring our ability to write beautiful code in AS3. At some point (I think it was at the time they all decided to kick me out of the development team:), we realized that there was more to what we were doing – we were all uniquely focused on creating more user friendly software… a focus on the UI. The term everyone started using : rich Internet applications. We liked it better than “Web 2.0″, because it was more descriptive – and it made us believe that we were part of a more unique, niche movement of developers that loved well designed software. When we added Lance to the team, our eyes were opened wide to the power of designer/developer collaboration. “Rich” really meant all kinds of interesting things… brand consistent, animation, skip intro, emotive experience, high design, useful… etc.

But times have evolved, our customers have evolved.

I’m not saying that we have evolved beyond the features of the RIA platforms – I’m saying that all software will need to live up to the original RIA standard. The original standard was simply: “make software that is connected, engaging, and respects user adoption over technical integration” – something we are all now calling a “focus on user experience”.

Marketing buzz words have value. “Social Networking”, “Web 2.0″, “Semantic Web”, “Cloud Computing”, “Rich Internet Applications” – but they also all typically have a shelf life. I’m suggesting “RIA” has reached this point. All great software from now on will be “rich Internet applications”, so the term “RIA” has no meaning. It no longer adds any truly descriptive value to the conversation.

Imagine a hollywood director today pitching a movie simply on the idea that he would film it in color… We need to stop stop talking about RIAs as though they are novel and understand that all software needs to value user experience and the connected world.

Had a fun session last week at Mix in Vegas… Top 10- ways at fail at software development.  I had an hour and 15 minutes, but I talked really fast and got it done in 40 :) Microsoft filmed the session:

http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/C06F

 

Here is the list I go through …

  • DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE END USER
  • TRUST DEVELOPERS TO MAKE GOOD DESIGN DECISIONS
  • HOPE FOR A SILVER BULLET DESIGN
  • BUILD FOR EVERYONE
  • LAUNCH & FORGET
  • DO NOT DEFINE SUCCESS
  • AVOID ALL CONFLICT
  • BELIEVE YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SELL YOUR IDEAS
  • PLAN FOR PERFECTION
  • VALUE PROCESS OVER THE PRODUCT

I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Ray Valdez (gartner analyst) this week. He presented an interesting perspective on adoption of RIA technologies by large enterprises.

We started the discussion by asking Ray how he saw us, and how we should communicate our differentiation to the market – we often find ourselves competing with Avenue A one week, and SAP the next – our clients just know where to “put us” : are we an interactive agency or an integration firm (we’re kinda neither and kinda both)… Ray agreed that we are presented with a challenge, especially with large corporate entities.

The challenge is that we are in this weird RIA place right now – some companies are jumping in with both feet with a platform whereas some are taking a “wait and see” approach. Which Platform? Ray believes Adobe currently has about 50% of the RIA market – he said “I’m being asked to help companies decide between Flex and something else – its always 2, and Flex is always one of them”. He also said the vast majority of enterprises are going to be much slower to adopt. He pulled out a napkin and drew a chart that looked something like this:

 

 

Ray Valdez - The RIA Chasm

 

He described Adobe as being in  a very interesting “Sweet Spot” – where users are demanding rich applications at the same time there is only one true player in the space right now. He said either these enterprises are waiting to see how well Adobe’s platform does, or they are waiting to see what their current platform provider (sun, microsoft, ibm) comes up with.

I believe Adobe’s leadership in the enterprise will rest on enterprise’s ability to execute. In other words, if a company sees one or two “wins” (either internally in pilot projects, or from their competition), Adobe will “win” – The challenge is that RIA, and Flex in particular, require development and design teams to think differently than they have been with traditional web deployments. EffectiveUI’s biggest successes have been those where we’ve been asked to “own the deliverable” – and help companies inch into the space. The projects that struggle a bit are those where an internal development team wants to apply their own legacy HTML/Java/C++ methodologies and thinking to an RIA.

This week I had the opportunity to attend the Gartner Web Innovation Summit. Overall, the sessions were good … I really loved the one by Christine Connors @ Dow Jones on the Semantic Web – With the exception of Christine’s session (which I think was an advanced topic for the folks here) I’ve noticed that the sessions are not asking the audience to take the big steps necessary.

 

Some background: As we are dealing with larger and larger enterprises, I’m noticing a common conflict brewing. There is a demand from the business to create better user experiences that directly conflicts with the sheer complexity of the legacy systems & IT’s inability to make any progress forward. The truth is that most of these systems are “frankensteins” – 2 year old software bolted on 5 year old software bolted on 10 year old software (even all the way back to 20+ year old vacuum tube systems).  — The question: is your IT group enabled to pull your company into “today”?

 

Here’s the rub – how do you tell an enterprise to be innovative when business realities are not allowing them to be so. Hell, sometimes large enterprises are struggling to make simple, incremental improvements. And, the truth is most of them are not willing to take the risk and make large scale strategic moves to re-build their infrastructures from the ground up.

 

So… here we are at the Gartner Summit, primarily geared towards telling big business how to be  innovative… And I’m thinking to myself that these sessions are not really telling these people what they need to hear. I know it is not because of the quality of the analysts – when I meet with them individually they are very bright and have well informed opinions. I’m left feeling (I’m am over stating this for effect) that these analysts have just learned that enterprises are so opposed to change that the best these analysts can do is to incrementally bring enterprise into “this decade” … The bigger issue : change is happening so quickly that every year a business makes what they think is a big change, they are actually falling behind even further. 

 

Where does this leave us? Ironically, I believe the big winners of tomorrow are the market laggards of today. I think current market leaders in the enterprise are going to be less willing to take risks in areas where their competition may be willing to make them – and given the real value of making large investments in online customer centric initiatives, there is a very real potential to leapfrog.

 

My humble advice:

  • “Walk the factory floor”. In other words, take the time to talk to your IT folks (not just the managers, but the system analysts, developers, QA personal) … They know what needs to be done to bring you up to date, they know what legacy systems are holding you back. Let them know that you are not passing judgement on “how we got here” – I would say 80% of the fortune 500 is behind the times, and 99% of them have some legacy system skeletons. 
  • Talk to your customers – and involve objective 3rd parties in the process. Do not wholesale put your trust into what 3rd parties tell you – use them to give you insight without ego and another perspective (or even validation for what you have found in your own customer research)
  • Establish metrics for success – let the teams know how you will measure their efforts.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I’m not suggesting that all your legacy systems need to go (I’m not that delusional) – but put systems in place that starts to abstract the legacy environment from the presentation tier. That way, years from now, you can incrementally replace without having major impacts to the business
  • Get horizontal organization buy-in. Make sure the key stakeholders across the organization departments are all bought in. You may even need to help break down silos and create cross-departmental teams to help.
  • Invest now – Someone in your space is already doing pilots in online customer portals with RIAs or desktop software or employee productivity software…. all of which (if executed on properly) will show positive ROI results in short order.
  • Be patient – innovation is incremental. Gartner suggested that the ROI on these efforts is about 2 years. Don’t place unrealistic demands on release dates because that will force your IT to continue the frankenstein process.

Creating great UIs for clients [podtech content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/12/PID_013155/Podtech_EffectiveUI_Anthony.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/home/4688/creating-great-uis-for-clients&totalTime=1172000&breadcrumb=263ba99510e34eb69182acf105b9e7ee]Creating Killer UIs[podtech content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/12/PID_013156/Podtech_EffectiveUI_RJOwen.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/home/4689/creating-kickass-uis&totalTime=895000&breadcrumb=b9afc45b0e7e44a8ace24dbc9ef24487]Beneath great user experiences[podtech content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/12/PID_013157/Podtech_EffectiveUI_demo.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/home/4690/beneath-great-user-experiences&totalTime=724000&breadcrumb=0560786079ed48bf9f7abe69be3e61c2]

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