Bill Nigh: NJTC Mobile Application Forum

I was invited to attend the New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC) Mobile Application Forum on Wednesday June 15, 2011 as a guest of Mark Luckasavage, CEO and founder of Policesoftware.com (and folks, think of how nice it is to own THAT domain name :) ) His company makes software for police departments internationally, as well as emergency notification and other useful apps; main market is the law enforcement community, as well as schools, essentially any entity or jurisdiction that needs emergency notification, records management, and/or dispatching functionality.

The day-long event was hosted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, which has campuses in several cities and countries, including Madison NJ, where Mark and I met. My commute was only a couple of towns over, and, any excuse to wear a suit (I mean, it's a good suit). The campus in Madison (named 'Florham' campus, not to be confused with Florham Park, some miles away) is serenely beautiful. It's on the outskirts of Madison, a few miles from Drew U, where the annual Shakespeare Festival draws thousands annually, and is noteworthy for being one of the few places in the US (or the world for that matter) to do the entire Shakespeare cycle of works.

I was startled (at least initially) at the amazingly low altitude of some pretty good-sized planes I saw whose flight path took them directly overhead. They were plying regular routes to Morristown Airport out on 510, I can only assume.

The first plane I saw at that egregiously low (to me) altitude made me wonder if that Hudson River hero, Cpt "Sully" Sullenberger, had suddenly embarked on a nostalgic joyride, as it seemed the plane was landing almost within seconds, within earshot.

Mark Luckasavage and I go back to the IT world of punched cards and octal keypads. He's been able to make a career of IT for a long time (as have I, thankfully). He's a Powerbuilder veteran (how we first met via Telsource n-tier app project). Mark has worked in the realm of police- and homeland security-based application development since 2002. This year, thanks to the advocacy of an NJTC member, his SaaS product suite had been entered into competition, and had won for "Smart Cities" app. He and the other winners, as part of the proceedings, offered roughly 6 minute presentations of what they were about; this time constraint, in some cases, made the presentation woefully inadequate, I believe, as some of the offerings were quite compelling.

The Attendee List had 73 organizations, and it was a good sized and energized crowd that attended; (lots of nice suits :) ). The attendees were mainly from New Jersey (the NJTC angle), with three Canadian cities: Montreal, Toronto, and Waterloo. I have been fortunate to have spent many days in both Toronto and Montreal. Waterloo I know frome early days of the PC industry as that Mother Lode of great compilers in the 1980s, where Watcom came from, later incorporated into the Sybase family. The Canadian Consulate based in NYC helped facilitate the event, and Irena Harris, Nathalie Bechamp and Allison Young provided us with a day that was replete with worthwhile activity at a beautiful idyllic venue, and which culminated in a reception that included the naming of the grand prize winner. I did not stick around, as my brain was already full.

Some takeaways:

  • Lots of development happening on Android platform
  • There are thousands of apps available, with development happening apace
  • The Blackberry is the #1 smartphone Twitter platform
  • Mobile app dev is a 'very young industry', per Shoshana Loeb, of New Jersey-based Telcordia
  • Mobile is a 'game changer, per Rich Napoli, like the paradigm shifts to client/server and the web in past decades
  • Mobile IPO trend just really got going about two weeks ago, per Jason Serotta, of Verizon Wireless
  • Jason asked the conferees at one panel discussion "how do the next great technologies become known?" in a world where social media and marketing/PR are in such flux and their synergies are visible
  • Rich Napoli described a landscape of opportunity and peril where, like in the early days of the World Wide Web, companies knew that they 'had to get on the web', but didn't know (and often didn't care) how, and didn't know why; novelty knocked out due diligence (my gloss on his words). In the same fashion, companies want to get apps into the marketplace, but don't really know why or what it will be. This rush to apps can cause reliance on developers and consulting shops, where the client company surrenders and just says "Tell me what to do".
  • Arlene Setacci spoke eloquently of the promise of 'Super Apps', and new vectors of potential perils, such as NFC (Near Field Communications).
  • At several points, the need to recognize and safeguard enterprise vs. individual/personal content and channels was emphasized, as well as the difference between enterprise and personal accounts; for example, the app is not usually the first point of contact for enterprises into mobile.
  • Fittingly enough in an era of growing importance of social media and community, the usefulness of aligning with and cultivating a developer community was mentioned. This is typically done through engagement via social media and support desk channels, as well as conferences and productive relationships with bloggers. This developer to vendor interaction would promote exposure, support and timely feedback.
  • The type of mobile marketing one sees varies per OS. Android, per the panelists, was 'extremely social'.
  • My own observation: It's interesting to me how the 'freemium' model is so engrained in how software is promoted now, but it sure can help in growing advocates who get full-bodied albeit limited tool functionality.
  • The Geico Glovebox was praised as a winning app. Features include find nearest towtruck via GPS, file an accident report, look up how to change a tire, etc.
  • An important design consideration is whether apps want to, or need to, use native capabilities such as camera and microphone, or can be generic and still available.
  • It appears that the luxury industry is an ideal customer for tablet devices. One can use these devices for, say, a user manual for a car, or maybe a virtual concierge, or to display the establishment's wine list, with external links to wine websites.
  • Jason Serotta of Verizon Wireless mentioned the usefulness of security profiles to section off certain apps within the mobile device per profile on that device.
  • People change devices, but unknowingly may change into new OS. What if anything can allow users of mobile devices to keep their apps and their app-related data separate and sacrosanct where warranted?
  • Mobile marketplace at present is 'extremely siloed by OS'. This clean break when new accounts are required enables remonetization at the boundary of the OS.
  • My take on it: The enterprise/individual domain divide should be as prominent as the Continental Divide, when security is the goal.

Photos

Part of the event was the opportunity to meet tête-à-tête (h/t to our mandatorily bilingual Canadian neighbors and partners) with companies from Canada. The vibrant business environment in Canada was ably manifested in our meetings with Panvista Media Corp. and Anomalous Networks.

During our meeting with Andrew Echenberg of Panvista, he easily proved himself an able advocate of his company's value proposition as a content management infrastructure offering.

Mark and Andrew discussed a possible API from the Policesoftware suite to the Panvista CMS domain; synergies not yet self-evident. Andrew opined that ".Net or HTML5" is a big choice for designers; his company has a migration path in any event. In a welcome truism, Andrew reinforced that "Everyone wants to be cross-platform".

David J. Kinlough, VP of Sales at Anomalous, was effusive, informative, and personable in our pleasant, schedule-constrained chat. There was a lot of activity scheduled in a compact timeframe; kudos to event organizers, but sometimes, as with David, we yearned for a bit more facetime. He's an impressive guy.

We met with Dave Kinlough in one of the many lovely rooms at the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison. What a gorgeous venue, but I digress (deliberately, out of courtesy).

David informed us of the at times scandalous nature of mobile billing. There are multiple case studies of folks on corporate accounts who are just doing their jobs, yet end up very quickly piling up egregious rates for doing routine things like email, often because of roaming fees.

For example, as David told us, on average 30% of the time an iPod does not know it's roaming, so major billing surprises could lurk in the future of any corporate A/P function.

I joked after hearing some remarkable war stories of massive overbilling, that I wish I had more telecomm stock, but he quickly schooled me to the fact that overcharges like the $92,000 body slam and much more mundane amounts are quickly and vigorously contested by the parties who have to pay that surprise bill, and there is time and talent taken up on the vendor side to somehow adjudicate the matter, so it's not a desirable pattern for vendors. The ability to 'geo-fence' the world in this context becomes quite a good feature, which Anomalous can provide.

Part of the issue is timely notification of innocent violation, and this is where Anomalous comes in. As David informed us, the best billing systems in the world are 4-6 hours behind. Dave's company has patented algorithms for usage patterns, and have the intelligence built into their architecture to make detection of virus-based behavior more obvious more quickly. All in all, an interesting discussion. Ever the sales pro, Dave suggested possible joint portal and webinar opportunities, which I will remind Mark to look at.

All in all, a very nice way to spend a June day.

Bill Nigh is active on Twitter and on LinkedIn. More about him here.