Luck be a lady—twice: behind the scenes at AT&T Developer Summit’s Hackathon

JD Jordan

JD Jordan

Mapping apps are great at getting first responders to a building.
But not into it. And not at winning.

For the second year in a row, I joined the Slalom Atlanta custom development team at the 2014 AT&T Developer Summit Hackaton. And for the second year in a row, we came in second place—always the bridesmaid…ahem, bridesgroom—with our finalist app, RescueRoute, beating out nearly 120 teams after only 24 hours of design and development. Read more of this post

Improving the Customer Experience with Responsive Design

Ian Rogers

For IT executives within retail, the digital world continues to evolve and become increasingly challenging as you develop your omni-channel capabilities and focus on delivering a consistent customer experience across all channels. This is due to the increasing growth of various mobile devices and form factors, along with mobile becoming the preferred method for customers to access information and perform transactions. We understand you’re under huge pressure to provide brand-appropriate, mobile versions of important tools and resources.

The tough technical hurdles and high development costs for an ever-increasing number of platforms to build and support custom mobile applications are incredibly daunting. Additionally, the need to create and support separate web and mobile sites is a huge burden for IT—and a source of confusion for customers. Read more of this post

Crafting a Mobile Web Strategy

Douglas Borenstein is a consultant in Slalom’s User Experience Practice. He specializes in visual design and user interface development with an emphasis on mobile projects.

Douglas Borenstein is a consultant in Slalom’s User Experience Practice. He specializes in visual design and user interface development with an emphasis on mobile projects.

There are many benefits to optimizing a website for mobile and non-traditional[1] devices. The primary advantage to optimizing a site is to create a better customer experience—75% of people prefer a mobile optimized site, while 96% say they have been to sites that are not optimized for mobile.[2]  Customers won’t return to a site, recommend a brand, or make purchases if they have a negative experience. While more than half of the Fortune 500 companies have a mobile app, less than 30% have optimized their site for mobile.[3] This presents a huge opportunity for those companies that consider their customers’ needs and optimize their sites to present the best experiences.

While apps can be an important part of a mobile strategy, this paper focuses on the mobile web aspect due to the web’s presence on so many devices. Mobile web, which is simply the web on non-PC or small-screen devices, introduces many new challenges and may cause companies to rethink some of their online goals and strategies. But having a mobile web strategy and incorporating it into all projects will ultimately create better experiences for everyone and lead to success in the form of sales, conversions, and an improved brand impression.

Baby Steps Are Okay

The first consideration when crafting a mobile web strategy is determining where to start. While it would be great to completely redesign sites from scratch, this often isn’t possible due to time, budget, and other constraints. Rather than wait for the perfect opportunity to redo the site (which rarely occurs), make incremental updates whenever and wherever possible. Read more of this post

Tweet Your Business Requirements

Introduction

My Twitter feed would explode if, as a business analyst (BA), I was required to tweet all of my project requirements. For this and many other reasons, tweeting requirements is unlikely to become a best practice any time soon. First, there is the very public nature of Twitter, and second, the brevity that Twitter requires at 140 characters or less per tweet.

Everyone knows that business analysts write extensive (read: lengthy) Word documents and Excel spreadsheets full of requirement statements to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the subject matter at hand. In some organizations, the bigger the document, the more highly regarded the business analyst—even though few (if any) of their stakeholders actually read the material they’ve written. To be clear, I consider stakeholders to be both the business and technical project partners who consume requirement and rule statements for validation or production. Feel free to tweet me back @justincullifer if you disagree with my claim that stakeholders are not reading the material.

Considerations

A colleague of mine shared that, in a former position, he managed a team of a dozen or so individuals in a product management organization. Business analysts were a part of this team, responsible for eliciting and capturing requirements for technology projects. His BAs produced the customary requirements documents from which developers coded and testers tested. He shared that one of his brightest BAs used to include, in every requirements document over the course of several years, a statement that said, “If you read this, call me at [phone number], and I will give you $20.” Her phone never rang. While a comical anecdote, the more serious implication is what many of us have known for a very long time: lengthy requirements documents are nearly impossible to consume and retain.

Attention span varies from person to person. Some of us have the ability to work heads-down, fully immersed in the subject matter at hand. Others work in patterns of on-and-off focus time intermixed with breaks for conversation, reading news, or catching up on email. Still others find it difficult to focus for any significant length of time and therefore devote little time to any one item. We can take a lesson from network news media and social media, who accommodate those with the shortest attention span by delivering sound bites, headlines, tweets, and wall posts. Perhaps BAs should consider this approach, as BAs must deliver informative statements in a timely manner.

This returns us back to the hypothetical use of Twitter for the delivery and consumption of requirements and rule statements. If BAs are limited to 140 characters, they are going to try really hard to make the very best of those 140 characters. Here are some ideas about potential content:

  • They might mention the user role to which the requirement or business rule pertains by using an @ mention. For example, @Librarian must always obtain a @Customer driver’s license number prior to issuing a library card.
  • They could specify locations by leveraging the cross-hair “add your location” feature.
  • Attaching a static wire-frame using the camera’s “add an image” feature may prove particularly useful when tracing requirements to visualize user interface pages.
  • A link to artifacts, videos, or models using a bit.ly link would surely maximize the 140 available characters. Now, now—no cheating! Linking to lengthy Word documents or Excel spreadsheets would break our imaginary set of rules!

In this fictitious world of tweeting requirements, the onus would be on the BAs to make the most of their brief statements. To simply tweet hundreds or thousands of tweets negates the remarkable nature of this concept: concise and targeted requirements. Concise and informative headlines, tweets, and wall posts are exactly what media outlets have found that people are accustomed to and respond to in today’s connected world. Is it possible that leveraging Twitter might be the next leap in the evolution of BAs focused on delivering requirements that have been fully vetted for clarity and accuracy?

Consumption of high-quality requirements is critical to the success of every project. Imagine that your project stakeholders (the ones validating the accuracy of the requirements) followed their BAs’ Twitter handles and kept close tabs on newly tweeted requirements as they came across their respective Twitter timelines. The stakeholders could elect to reply to each tweet with corrective feedback, or even re-tweet requirements to other stakeholders for validation. Since tweets appear at the speed of light, the stakeholders would be forced to frequently monitor their timelines, so as not to miss any critical requirements or rule statements and, subsequently, their opportunity to provide feedback or approval. Tools like Tweetdeck may enhance this process, but each would require the stakeholders’ attention. A by-product of this fictitious world is the fact that the BA would have significant influence over their stakeholders’ schedules, which is only a dream of BAs in most organizations. The same concept would apply to consumers farther along in the project’s lifecycle, such as developers, testers, and trainers, who would also need to monitor their timelines for the same material.

In spite of the perceived benefits of tweeting requirements, I realize that organizational barriers will continue to require the production of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets most of the time. Industry trends are favoring the adoption of robust requirements management systems like Jama Contour and IBM RequisitePro. These systems have lower costs of entry and flexibility than ever before, allowing project teams to capture, manage, and consume requirements effectively. Arguably, the downside of such systems (and Word and Excel) is that these systems still allow BAs to freely enter extensive amounts of text that someone, eventually, is going to have to consume. To the points made earlier, BAs must understand that their stakeholders consume information in sound bites and must clearly articulate requirements to accommodate all levels of interest and attention.

Conclusion

Given the concurrent trend of businesses seeking to expedite speed-to-market and respond to customer feedback quickly, I believe that BAs will need to find creative ways to follow more pragmatic approaches to their elicitation, documentation, and delivery behaviors.

Leveraging advanced requirements methodologies, such as Requirements Visualization, enable business analysts to work collaboratively with user experience designers to elicit, capture, and deliver the right requirements at the right time. In turn, stakeholders can maximize their time and gain greater visibility into every stage of their projects. Interactive models traced to thoughtfully produced requirement and rule statements ensure that stakeholders are engaged and interested.

Until your organization adopts a contemporary requirements methodology, consider my tweeted requirements proposition: keep requirements succinct, accurate, relevant, and as easy to consume as possible.

What Does a Tablet War Mean for a Mobile Workforce?

SuperConnect is the newest division of Slalom, LLC. SuperConnect draws on our extensive experience working with enterprises large and small to help you maximize your effectiveness, be more innovative, and better support your most important assets—employees. SuperConnect helps companies and users work better by harnessing the value of four major trends emerging today: Mobility, Enterprise Gamification, Social Media, and Cloud Computing. To learn more about SuperConnect and what we can do for your company, visit SuperConnect.com.

We have all read about the growth of tablets in the workplace and the pending battle of dominance securing market share. Strategy Analytics posted that 25 million tablets were shipped worldwide during the second quarter of 2012. Apple still leads the group with 68.3% and Android picking up 29.3% market share. Although the numbers are impressive in regards to growth, I see less and less articles on how to empower employees with tablets.

Garret Carlson: Sr. Director, Sales & Business Development and Co-Founder of SuperConnect

Garret Carlson, Sr. Director, Sales and Business Development and Co-Founder of SuperConnect, is passionate about building relationships with clients and partners and delivering exceptionally effective mobile applications.

Tablets provide easy and convenient access to email and the web, but there are many stories about the difficulty of gaining access to corporate systems and information. There is no precedent for the correct method of accessing corporate information on a tablet device, so many organizations refer to PC-based authentication. VPN clients, rights management servers, and other directory access protocols are forced many times to the tablet via mobile device management (MDM) tools.

Although this might fulfill the IT policies, it many times slows down the experience for the user. The additional challenge is that many times you’re dealing with C-level officers, board members, and sales people that historically don’t want to limit their experience with the device. This usually means they will take their personal tablet outside the purview of the corporate IT department and its policies, creating the potential to put corporate networks, and highly sensitive corporate documents and employee information at risk. Read more of this post

The Hype Around Data Visualization

Slalom Consultant Keith Favreau

Keith Favreau is a member of Slalom Consulting’s Business Intelligence and Data Management community in San Francisco. His work focuses on report design and data analysis with a special emphasis on the visual and interactive capabilities.

Why the Hype?

Organizations everywhere are teeming with excitement about Business Intelligence (BI), but what is causing the frenzy in the well-established discipline of data analysis? The answer lies in the new wave of user-friendly tools that offer powerful analysis engines and intuitive charting capabilities to bring data sets to life. The current software trend to make databases understandable to the ordinary user is being referred to as Data Visualization. Read more of this post

So They Want a Mobile App

More and more clients want to go mobile and everyone has a great idea for an app, but going beyond the idea stage can quickly become a forest of confusing questions and foggy answers. The first step to making a great app a reality is deciding what type of application provides the best platform and reaches the right people. In this post, I’ll go over some basic terminology and the application types available to someone who is ready to go beyond the idea stage and start developing an app.

When talking about mobile apps a few different words and concepts may be tossed around that seem familiar but vague; one is the phrase User Experience or UX. UX is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a description of the user’s experience while using an application, and sometimes even after they’re done using it. This is a broad topic and there are a few different angles from which we can approach the concept. Read more of this post

Considerations for a More Effective User Acceptance Testing

Slalom Consultant Pranav Jhumkhawala

Pranav Jhumkhawala is a technical manager and a solutions architect with Slalom Consulting, who has wide ranging experience in the areas of application architecture, development and management, implementing solutions for large and complex systems environments that span across multiple business areas, technology landscapes, and architectural disciplines.

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is a significant milestone in software development lifecycle. It is during UAT that the users get to see the system “in action”, in many cases for the first time. Their acceptance and sign off are required to proceed with the production deployment. How formal and extensive is the UAT activity depends on the size of the project, user audience as well as the software development approach adopted by the delivery organization.

Acceptance Criteria
A key first step in the planning of UAT is to understand and establish a well-defined acceptance criteria. There is a general tendency amongst teams to focus on the “testing” and not on the “acceptance” part of UAT. This typically leads to too much attention being given to defects in the system, rather than the functionality and user satisfaction with the system. The goal of UAT is to showcase the functionality that the system offers in order to get an acceptance to move ahead with implementation, rather than asking the users to test the system for us. Therefore, emphasize the user acceptance as the primary objective of this activity and plan the UAT scripts accordingly. Read more of this post

A Better ERD

Marek Koenig specializes in Business Intelligence, SharePoint and Custom Development.

Marek Koenig

The problem that I have with big Data Warehouse projects, is that it’s somewhat difficult to document the system in a useful way. I’m sure everyone has seen an entity-relationship diagram (ERD) before, and there are some definite usages for them. Read more of this post

Mobile Payments: Market Disruption in the Making? Or Flavor of the Month?

Slalom Consultant Jeff Barber

Jeff Barber is a Seattle-based leader in Slalom Consulting’s mobility solutions practice. He's a mobile technology expert with deep experience helping clients “operationalize” mobile technologies.

The topic of mobile payments is trending in the blogosphere. Every day you can read new announcements about the latest partnership, acquisition, or technology innovation that promises to revolutionize how consumers buy and how businesses collect money. How do you discern the real, emerging trends amidst the show and hype of the mobile media’s latest darling?

If you study the evolution of mobile payments from a global perspective, I believe you will see that:

  1. The market is transitioning into a disruptive technology cycle;
  2. The global consumer will lead the way in this new cycle; and
  3. A wake-up call is coming to traditional businesses.

Smartphone and tablet adoption will drive the U.S. market. The emerging market consumer will drive the international markets.

Market disruption

The stage is set for a classic disruptive technology cycle, as mobile technology innovation, social media, and emerging economic forces converge to create a perfect storm of global consumer behavior changes that favor mobile devices over traditional payment methods.

The biggest players in finance, e-commerce, and retail see the writing on the wall. Let the partnerships and acquisitions begin. Here’s a partial list of the 21st-century commerce leaders who have announced their forays into the mobile payments arena (visit me on Twitter for the stories): Read more of this post

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