Oh, There Better Be an App for That

20 Jul 2016 by Technomics

Join application development experts Bob Familiar and Bob German, of BlueMetal, as they share what you can do to ensure your business app leads to maximum revenue. Spoiler alert: Your causation better be linked to a return-on-investment correlation or you’re heading down a well-traveled path to wasted effort.

Note: Complete audio transcript found after author info.

Headshot of Bob Familiar

Bob Familiar

Bob is a passionate software architect and people manager with more than 29 years of experience architecting and developing scalable distributed systems. He is currently BlueMetal’s director of national practice.

Headshot of Bob German

Bob German

Bob is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in architecting and building Microsoft® SharePoint® solutions. He’s currently BlueMetal’s principal architect of content and collaboration and a 16-year veteran of Microsoft.

Audio transcript:

Episode 1 – Oh, There Better Be an App for That

Published July 20, 2016


Announcer: You're listening Technomics. Connecting you to insights on digital transformation and the marketplace, with your hosts: Robyn Itule and Jeremy Nelson. The hosts' opinions are their own. Enjoy the show!

Robyn Itule: We're back in action for Episode 3.

Jeremy Nelson: Lucky number three.

Robyn Itule: Lucky number three, good things do come in threes. So we kind of were talking about this episode as, "Oh There Better Be an App for That." Which is by the way a trademarked phrase, "There's an app for that."

Jeremy Nelson: I did not realize that was actually trademarked.

Robyn Itule: Indeed it is, it's registered. Which is important because its such a huge conversation that has been scaling up over the course of the past few years. App revenues are projected to grow from 45 billion in 2015 to somewhere over 75 billion next year.

Jeremy Nelson: Think about that, almost a hundred billion dollars in a revenue stream that didn't even exist.

Robyn Itule: Alright well, applications are a huge money maker and they're having a major impact on the way businesses are thinking about doing businesses with consumers. And that's really the reason we're having this conversation today.

Jeremy Nelson: And obviously a big piece of that is they're such a big money maker because they are an engrained part of the way that we interact and we live our daily lives. Because the convenience and the freedom that they offer is something that has monetary value to each of us.

Robyn Itule: When its done right.

Jeremy Nelson: When its done right, obviously being important.

Robyn Itule: And it can go wrong, but here to help us not get it wrong are two individuals who have a great amount of knowledge and a lot of interest in the whole app environment and that is Bob Familiar and Bob German from our BlueMetal offices.

Jeremy Nelson: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will be joined by two very special Bobs, our guests. Stay with us.


Robyn Itule: And now a word from our sponsor. Engaging your customers with modern technology requires a modern platform and infrastructure. Enter Microsoft Azure.

Jeremy Nelson: Alright I have to stop you right there Robyn. Is it AZ-ure or Az-URE?

Robyn Itule: You know we had this conversation in Season 1 and I believe what we landed on is, it is about the color. Which is in fact AZ-ure.

Jeremy Nelson: Awesome, I'm glad that's finally put to rest.

Robyn Itule: Although now I've said it so may times I feel like I'm saying it weird.

Jeremy Nelson: It's like spoon.

Robyn Itule: We digress. The important message that you need to take away from this sponsorship is that with Azure you can build faster, move quicker, and empower your organization to reach new heights. If you contact an Insight specialist, they can help you find out how implementing Azure will open up a new realm of possibility.


Robyn Itule: Both of our experts today are named Bob. So how would each of you like for us to go about referring to you so we can help our listeners understand who is offering such great wisdom?

Bob Familiar: Well you can call me Bob. I don't know about the other Bob.

Bob German: You could switch it and spell my name backwards.

Robyn Itule: Thank you so much for joining us. We have a lot of apps and we need to have a lot of conversation about them today because they have become so central to frankly how we get everything done. So first and most important question. What's your favorite app?

Bob Familiar: Well, this is Bob F. My favorite app is, actually I have a few of them, I do a lot of traveling as part of my job. So all the apps that help me, help me travel. I enjoy flying Jet Blue, so I have a Jet Blue app. I enjoy being able to make the reservations very easily through Concur. When I have expenses, there's an app that allows me to take an image of my receipt, associate it with my expense report. All of that makes me a much more productive individual.

Bob German: And I think I'll pick Wayze as my favorite app. Its similar to Bob Familiar's answer, it saves me time. So I really like that it makes me more effective. But I also like it just because of the way that it works. The technologist in me appreciates the level of complexity that's going on behind the scenes to take real time traffic data from all around the country and put it together and help to guide me around the next traffic jam. It also has a lot of good modernization [assumed] opportunities and its good to see those starting to develop.

Robyn Itule: If you're a business who's looking to launch some applications, let's say you are a company like Concur that wants to offer business solutions and productivity for travelers, or people filing expenses, or just trying to navigate in a more efficient way through their business day. Where do you begin? What is the first question that you ask yourself about app development?

Bob Familiar: As you know at BlueMetal, our business involved being a modern application company and so what made our approach, working with our clients around their applications, what made it unique and differentiated from other companies that do this kind of work is, we put design as a first class citizen. And if any of the applications we've mentioned so far, and I'm sure everyone listening has their favorite app, if they were to list probably one of the reasons they like it, its the experience that they have using that app. So that is really critical to these modern applications. That the experience you have using them is immersive, its beautiful, its enjoyable, it allows you to get done what you wanted to get done very efficiently, very quickly. And the application design removes any guesswork and it performs well and all of those attributes. That's a big part of what's driving this app evolution is that the devices and the applications themselves create this very immersive experience.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah and I think one of the other things right Bob F, along those same lines is that you don't get a lot of opportunity to train somebody. I think the intuitive nature of that UX is also extremely important. Wouldn't you say?

Bob Familiar: I agree. Everyone wants to do business with everyone else these days digitally. So there's really no opportunity to say, "Hey, let's get together and I'll train you on this app." Or get people in a classroom setting and that kind of thing maybe is what you did 20 years ago. But that's not how the world works today. Everyone is moving at a different pace, a different velocity and so the app has to be super intuitive and straight forward in a lot of ways. Maybe the training of the app is built in. A lot of apps use that technique where the first time you use it, it says, "Hey let me just point out a couple of things for you." And it animates through the UI. So you pick up exactly where you need to click to get the task done.

Robyn Itule: Well and then the way that this all manifests in terms of, well frankly success and failure, is that according to SAP, more than 78% of applications are abandoned after the first use. So a little more than 20% of applications actually get opened twice by any given user. If you're a business looking to develop something, you've really gotta consider the ROI coming off a stat like that.

Bob German: Yeah exactly, this is Bob German. I was going to say that I agreed with everything that Bob said and the design is absolutely key. But there also has to be value for the end user. Or else it's going to be in that statistic. The percentage, the huge revenues that you pointed out at the front of the show are very captivating but, listeners should be aware that there's actually a fairly small percentage of apps that are generating that revenue. And a lot of them are just kind of sitting there in the store taking up virtual space. Something that can help with that is, first of all, starting with how are you going to help the end user. So I've seen some companies like they just feel like they need an app because everybody else has one. And in many ways that parallels what happened in the early days of the internet where everybody felt they needed a website. just for the sake of. But the ones that were successful were the ones that actually helped people in their day to day lives. A simple little thing that can help with that is creating what we call a pretotype. So its not a prototype, its much lighter weight. A pretotype could just be a notepad application in your phone or a pad of paper that you carry around. And whenever you would think that that app would help you, you pull it out of your pocket as if you had developed the app and you take some notes on what you would be doing right now with it. And get some folks to do that. This information can be gathered to actually make the app really useful in real world situations. And if you can get that kind of input before you actually start building, you can get a much better return on your investment.

Robyn Itule: I love how analog that is. And that really speaks to my heart as somebody who's not proficient in coding. And I think I could be an excellent developer in prototypes.

Bob German: Yeah, in fact it may be the non-developers who add the most value in this part of the process because...

Robyn Itule: Aww shucks.

Bob German: You know developers, well you know, we often have an idea in mind of what we think it should be and sadly that idea is usually wrong and we have to actually ask the real users to find out what's important.

Bob Familiar: We have a name for that. We call that lean engineering and being able to define the minimal viable product. So you know, as part of that being the developers, Bob and I, we are definitely not the people you want designing your UI. We want to actually learn from the users and then we'll get designers engaged as well. And through that process, that feedback loop, on building out, starting with the pretotype and then moving to a minimal, viable product, a very small number of features implemented that you can now work with on the device. You can provide feedback directly to the team. So that feedback loop is critical. That we build something quickly, put it in your hands, get the feedback. We adjust, we tweak, fail fast if necessary, get another version into your hands quickly and then you provide feedback. So that cycle right there is something that we leverage with our clients as we're building out these applications and using this lean engineering approach.

Bob German: Sure in fact, and often the apps have built in telemetry so that they measure how they're being used and we can find out after, obviously not in v1, but after people are starting to use this. Maybe its an internal release. YHow much time are people spending one screen versus another. Is the function that they most often use the one that you expected? Maybe the function that people want the most is actually buried under a menu and it should be right up front.

Jeremy Nelson: And I love how the maturity of the model that you just described. I think back on when smartphones were first coming out of the market and everyone, like you said, had to get an app out. And so you saw a whole bunch of companies where they're like well we gotta be in this market. And they would just kind of package a wrapper for their mobile website. And so that interactivity just the way that you worked with it and the tools that were available were extremely limited, extremely challenging and turned a lot of people off. So it actually did them a complete disservice. So they kind of had to rebuild from that first missed step. And then it also kind of reminds me a lot of the story of Instagram right? The guy separated from Google. They start building a check in service around checking in and games and things like that and as they went through and had this whole bevvy of features available, they kind of looked at it and said hey, the thing that's the most compelling is really this photography component. Let's stick with that. And now it's one of the biggest social medias on the planet with over 100 million users so.

Bob German: Yep exactly.

Robyn Itule: Well and then, the other thing that is really, really interesting here. IDon't get me wrong I love the idea of a lean engineer, cause that's going on my LinkedIn profile. But on the more technical side, which is how we actually get everything done here, the development of these applications is really expected to skyrocket. So much so that its anticipated that development capacity is going to be outpaced five to one by 2017. Which, by the way, we're six months away from. So, in terms of the industry of applications, how is possible or feasible to meet scale? And what do you tell people who, well first of all you have to have that discerning about whether or not you need the applications. So its not as Jeremy just indicated, something you just rush to market with. But how do you make sure that in the universe of applications, the right ones are being put out there, and their meaningful to your business?

Bob Familiar: Businesses today, what we're seeing is a lot of common themes. They all want to move to this application world. And the reason is, there's several reasons but a lot of it is, as I said earlier, everyone wants to do business whether its yourself personally with Amazon or your bank or whoever, you want to do it digitally. And so the applications then become the way that you accomplish this digital experience. So businesses are transforming to this digital world. In order to support that, they now have to say, "Well we've got to start to create these digital experiences for customers, our employees, and our partners." And it means that even if they're not in the software business, they are going to make software a big part of how they do the business.

Jeremy Nelson: So I love that kind of perspective there Bob. So one of the things that I was thinking is you talked about this lean engineering and the pretotyping, and one of the components that Robyn brought up was obviously the infrastructure side of this. Being able to interact with that volume of people digitally has an impact on the infrastructure side of some organizations. And you also mentioned cloud-based services. So how does that infrastructure component work its way in?

Bob Familiar: Well I'll start and then I'll let Bob German chime in. I know he has a lot of experience. I think what's important is in combination with this lean engineering approach, is that we're also combining that with what we call Devops [assumed] which is the automation of the build, testing, and deployment of the software. We fully automate that so that we can do all of that work as fast as we can. We leverage what's called a micro-service architecture so we can build small components, test them and deploy them and version them. Again, at velocity. And leveraged cloud platforms because those platforms provide us this automation and micro-service capability at huge scale. So we can create solutions that scale to whatever the demands of our clients are.

Jeremy Nelson: And obviously that's a big enabler when you're talking about that minimal viable product, right? Like that model that you guys described earlier. Where you gotta get something out on the market and then the idea is to continue to iterate and iterate rapidly in order to be able to get that final, I guess it's never really a final product right?

Bob German: Yeah exactly. And if you started with more than a minimal viable product, the argument goes that you would probably guess wrong what you should build. So better to start minimal and then base your decisions on real user input and telemetry.

Jeremy Nelson: Great thoughts Bob, I'm excited to continue the conversation after this short break. So stick around.


Robyn Itule: Jeremy do you ever feel like you have a hard time figuring out what the most important technology news is on a weekly basis?

Jeremy Nelson: Always, I never seem to know where to go.

Robyn Itule: There's so much of it.

Jeremy Nelson: So much.

Robyn Itule: Fortunately for people like you, there is The Script. Which is one of our news letters that's about the news, best practices, and current trends in technology. We have scoured the web and we've looked for only the most important things. So if, like Jeremy, you need a concise, valuable way to get the most out of the technology headlines, visit www.insight.com to subscribe to The Script. They're IT headlines worth repeating.


Robyn Itule: Okay so we know that there is a lot that goes into both the technological and design side of building an application. But how much of it is about awareness and user fandom? And where does that factor into the planning experience that you all facilitate?

Bob Familiar: I think that the joy that users will get from using your app is something that everyone hopes for. You want them all to have this really amazing experience. So that's why, as Bob described, we want to be able to get early versions of the applications in customers hands, get their feedback, and then put that feedback right back into the app so that the next version that comes out should come out very quickly. Its showing the changes that came from their feedback. And so that continual loop of always being available, whether it's coming from telemetry or direct feedback from customers. Make sure that you're putting the application into their hands that they want. And of course that your business, it has the capabilities that your business is looking for as well. You want to make your users happy, you want to make them have a great experience using your app. You need constant feedback for that. And if you're not delivering that, you need to be able to fail fast. You need to be able to say "Hey, we rolled out a new feature. Everyone hates it. Let's pull it out and let's revamp it and roll out the next version of it based on the feedback." Doing that kind of turn around measured in days and weeks rather than months and years is what you want to achieve. And that's why you have to have that very automated process for doing your development, your testing, your staging and production so you can roll out the changes at velocity.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah and I think that's a key to success and we see that in the marketplace as a whole. And its easy to see it when we look at these smaller applications right? Very targeted mobile applications that provide great user experiences and enablement. But it's funny, when I was hearing you talk about that Bob, my brain immediately went to this very large shift that we just saw in the way Microsoft treats Windows. So when we talk about small apps, obviously its a lot easier to tackle. But its interesting when we think about that on something. Its hard to think of software more widely used than Windows. And to think of the shift where obviously Microsoft went though some bruising around the Vista and kind of like the turning a blind eye to some of that user experience and user feedback. And to see where they got to with Windows 10, where it has almost turned into the exact model that you described where its no longer a finished product. Something that they're continuously getting feedback on and that they're iterating on.

Bob Familiar: All organizations are moving in that direction exactly. They have to to stay competitive. And so even with large systems, software systems like Windows. And every business today has some of those large software systems that they rely on to run their business. They all need to evolve towards this approach as well. So Microsoft has taken an automated or Devops approach to how they are developing and delivering software. And they are also breaking down their monolithic approach to the way that software's been built to being more of this cloud-centric, micro-services approach. And that's what's giving organizations the ability to be able to achieve this. So that's a big part of our engagement with our clients is helping them evolve their culture away from the previous way they were leveraging software to this new approach leveraging lean engineering and micro-services and cloud platforms and Devops so they can bring software to market very quickly and be very agile in the way that they make changes and deliver capability to their customers and partners.

Robyn Itule: So, as we think about the evolution of Microsoft, is a great example. And I think if you look at the last few platforms they were developing on, they've been heavily influenced by hardware. Microsoft's really been working on trying to evolve and now with their Devops approach, they really have much stronger capabilities across devices. Which, as you look at how that's proliferating in enterprise, the number of devices an employee is expected to bring through the door is going to go from about three to double that in the next couple of years. So when we consider wearables and the Internet of Things, how does that change the scale and scope of evolution in applications?

Bob German: Well it just keeps pushing on the same thing. I have this theory, which is the theory of yes. "Do you want a camera, or do you want a camera in your phone?" "Yes." "Do you want a GPS in your car or do you want a standalone GPS or do you want the GPS in your phone?" "Yes." People tend to want all of it. And we use the devices that we need in each moment, just what's sitting next to us. So a challenge with this is the sort of Balkanization [assumed] of devices. Meaning that its possible to develop for a range of devices with one project. But you don't get the, usually as full of an experience unless you design your applications specifically for a device, a target device or class of devices.

Bob Familiar: Yeah and I would add to that. In order to support this explosion of all these different types of devices, that's only going to increase, you want the capabilities of your application to be able to show up on the watches and the other wearables. Probably eventually in the virtual reality and augmented reality headsets as well as mobile phones and tablets and desktops. Just about everything is going to start to get smart. Including probably panes of glass, actual windows, physical windows in your house or in a business are going to be surfaces that you can work on. The way that you can bring your applications to this explosion of these device formats is by creating a set of APIs. So that's another big effort that we do with our clients, building up the APIs which define all of their capabilities. Now I used the term micro-service earlier, that's what those micro-services are. They're the APIs that represent all the capabilities that you want to be able to bring to market. And of course you build up that library of capability over time. Those APIs can be grouped into various API products and then offered, obviously to your own development teams, but you can also provide them to customers and partners and third-party developers. And they can begin to build new experiences on top of your data and your APIs. And that's a very exciting part for our clients. It's an opportunity to create a new business channel that's based on their business capability and on their data. Which is really the gold mine.

Robyn Itule: So to what degree do we think technology is influencing applications and to what degree do we feel that the generational shift and use of technology is really influencing where this is going?

Bob German: Well I think the technology is certainly making more things possible. And where the generational shift comes in is just that its bringing in fresh eyes and people who are more receptive to new technology as a group, certainly there's lots of individuals in any generation. And also, if you don't have sort of a preconceived idea of how to do something, you might find a new way that's technologically enabled that's never even existed before. And that's where a lot of times the real transformations come. You're not just mimicking the old process but you're actually coming up with something that is uniquely possible because everybody has a computer or five in their pocket.

Jeremy Nelson: And a computer with a whole array of sensors right? Again coming back to that Internet of Things, those numbers of sensors available and continues to increase the number of data points and number of possibilities.

Bob Familiar: And because we have all those sensors, and we're beginning as individuals to use lots of different devices. You know, you mentioned the Fit Bit earlier. Its a wearable, we're just starting to get the HoloLens in the office right now. We're beginning to build applications that are these immersive experiences coming through in a three-dimensional augmented reality. If you look at the numbers, there are about 2 billion PCs on the planet, about 10 billion mobile phones. When all these additional devices in the world become connected, which is happening right now, and the number is exploding, if a few years we're going to have tens of billions maybe even hundreds of billions of devices connected with sensors gathering data. When they talk about big data, that's what they mean. There's going to be hexabites and petabites of information coming in from these sensors. And businesses want to prepare themselves to take advantage of it. We refer to that as the real-time business. You have all this information flowing in from your products, from your customers, and you want to be able to in real-time, bring that into an analytics environment and generate visualizations and draw insight from it so that you can make real-time business decisions. And this digital transformation that organizations are going through is evolving to that. To becoming a real-time business. And the explosion of devices and sensors is simply an artifact of that. It's businesses now being able to take advantage of the fact that everything's connected and data's going to be flowing in in real time.

Robyn Itule: That sounds like a whole other conversation we're going to have to have in episode five.

Bob Familiar: That's at least several more podcasts.

Robyn Itule: So I want to kind of bring us back down to earth right? Part of the point of Technomics is just to have these what's possible conversations and I think we all get pretty excited. I definitely saw Jeremy quietly clapping his hands around enterprise applications for the HoloLens over in the corner.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah I'm just wondering when I get my trip out to Boston so I can get into the lab there with you guys.

Robyn Itule: I would love to leave listeners with some fodder [assumed] for a first step here. If you're going to venture out into the world of enterprise applications, where you essentially have a blank canvas right now. Let's just, use it as a hypothetical. What would you advise is a first step or a first question to be prepared for success?

Bob Familiar: What we look forward to is, our clients reach out to us, we get together in a room and we help them realize what's possible. Again that blue sky. So engaging the BlueMetal team for a blue sky session to ideate and look at the business, look at the challenges, bring in the design team, see what's possible. That's a first step. And knowing what's possible, allows you then to prioritize and say okay, we can see there's three or four or five things that we could do. But that one right there, that's the one that we're going to do that's going to have the biggest impact on our business. So let's go and do that together.

Bob German: Yeah I think that a good first step is to look for those inspirations in the apps that you use today and figure out how they could apply to your business. Consider using the prototyping kind of technique to just sort of pretend. Be a kid for a day, pretend you have the app. And then how many times would you use it? How would it actually change your life? And then all of that is useful information that you can bring when you actually start talking with the professionals in a company like BlueMetal.

Robyn Itule: Awesome alright well gentlemen, Bob and Bob, thank you so much for joining us on Technomics. We are definitely going to expand on this conversation and we hope to have you back soon!

Bob German: Thanks so much it's been a real pleasure.

Bob Familiar: Great, thank you.

Robyn Itule: I need to get a smartphone sized notepad so I can prototype everywhere I go.

Jeremy Nelson: I love that we, that I learned something really, really new today. And that prototyping is going to be pretty cool.

Robyn Itule: We're going to be like walking around in the square of HQ, like we normally do, prototyping. And then we're just going to crash into each other.

Jeremy Nelson: Absolutely, I'm going to prototype a specific app that lets me know when you're coming close.

Robyn Itule: That's a great idea.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah.

Robyn Itule: Billion dollar idea.

Jeremy Nelson: Yup.

Robyn Itule: What I love about that whole idea is that it just makes it so, so simple. That all these complex interactions and all these great applications that we get so invested in could really come from this very simplistic and analog interaction. It just, its a little bit mind blowing to think that it's really that simple.

Jeremy Nelson: Absolutely very, very complex digital ideas developed in the analog world.

Robyn Itule: And it brings home the point that you still need to know how to write in cursive or have that legible handwriting. That way your prototype is legible for legitimate engineering and production.

Jeremy Nelson: For someone with handwriting like mine, I would wager that maybe its better if you can just draw a square.

Robyn Itule: That bar's kind of low.

Jeremy Nelson: My handwriting is pretty bad. Thanks for listening to Technomics. If you want to find more episodes, you can download the podcasts from iTunes, Google, or your favorite podcast provider. And for more stories, on intelligent technology, visit www.insight.com.