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Apps are the new Internet - here's what your company needs to do next

by Ben Bajarin

May 12 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.


"Software will turn the tablet from consumption device to invaluable workplace tool," say Bajarin.

A few years ago, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen wrote an article explaining why software is eating the world. His fundamental premise was that both the access to the Internet and the tools to develop quality software with ties to the Web have become pervasive.  

I hear this trend all over Silicon Valley. Everyone wants to be a software company. Everyone is starting software companies. Apps are the new Internet is a phrase I hear often. There is much truth to this trend and I see companies large and small wresting with it.

Of course when Marc makes his point about software eating the world, he's not talking about the bygone era of the desktop PC browser, which was so central to the early startup boon of the early 2000's.  

This new software revolution is being driving by smartphones and tablets and, I believe, more importantly by tablets.

A brilliant tablet app

I say this because tablet apps, in which our best examples to date are on iPad, are much more powerful than ones on smartphones. For example, for my industry presentations I use an application called Perspective by Pixxa.  It is a brilliant piece of software that does not exist on the desktop nor on any mobile device.  Yet it has single handedly transformed how I present data to clients. 

The slate form factor, touch interface, and other parts of the equation have made the tablet the best device for many new and innovative productivity software solutions. I believe this software trend, as well as the tablet, will open up the door to a new era of business.  

We are only scratching the surface of how tablets will be implemented and fundamentally re-shape key jobs and tasks for enterprise customers. Right now the majority of ways I am seeing enterprises large and small use tablets is simply to replace paper and many paper processes. This is a great start but I believe there are more interesting examples ahead. 

Most enterprises use or license third party software solutions for key parts of their business to run on. SAP and SalesForce.com are examples,but there are at least dozens more. Many enterprises have legacy custom software running that was either custom built or licensed as well and are in desperate need of some upgrades.  

What is interesting to me about this software trend is that the door is open now for enterprises to create more, proprietary, in house software to streamline processes and increase efficiency. In essence, enterprises have the opportunity to become software companies deploying unique solutions for key tasks.  

Of course some larger enterprises do this today, but they have the resources and staffing. Many, however, use third party software, and from my own experience inside larger enterprises using these solutions, it is never fully encompassing.

This is where the opportunity for enterprises to become software companies becomes interesting.  

Develop your own tablet apps

Rather than license or buy general purpose third party solutions that are not custom built for a company's specific needs, enterprises can make their own custom software solutions or apps to deploy on mobile devices, and even PCs. This will lead to custom software developed to tackle jobs or processes unique to the enterprise. 

I am already hearing of companies deploying custom apps for "in building" open meeting room location and other internal on campus location-based services. 
 
I am hearing of other companies deploying custom applications for new ways of customer relationship management, including things like real time engagement with new and existing customers through native chat applications. 
 
Perhaps my personal favorite, have been custom applications built by high-end restaurants where the waiter or waitress hands you an iPad containing the whole menu, plus specials, and gives you rich photos of the meal and all interesting details about the dish. The whole menu is interactive, and right from the iPad you can place your order.

In discussions I have had with CIOs and CTOs there is certainly concern about having to staff and manage massive in house software teams, but there are interesting out-of box-software tools being developed that can address these concerns.  

Alpha Software for example sells a rich toolset that enables custom business software to be deployed across a range of devices. It lets enterprises create software that spans PC, tablet, and smartphone and preserves the unified experience across all screens. This is one example of many solutions geared to help more companies become software companies.  

In some cases CIOs and CTOs know exactly what processes require custom software to solve. In other areas, there may be new challenges that emerge where experimentation and innovation is required to develop software to meet employees needs.  

One thing I tell clients is to have the equivalent of a software incubator inside their companies. Let employees, who may have the best idea of what software needs to do to help them do their job better, experiment by building concepts of these solutions. Even if this technique is just used for ideation it will be a valuable internal program. 

When I hear about tablets just being deployed as paper replacements, and when I hear CIOs and CTOs remark that they still aren't sure all the ways tablets can add benefit to the enterprise, I get more excited about the opportunity awaiting these devices going forward.  

Software like VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for personal computers, helped turn the tide of desktop hardware from hobby to work horse. In the same vein, it will be software that turns the tablet from consumption devices to invaluable workplace tools. You can bet on it.

(Corporate app development will be among the key topics discussed at the Tablet Ecosystem conference in San Francisco on September 12). 

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.
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