Blaine: We all recognize that the mobile revolution is a big driver of many digital transformation initiatives. I’m very excited to be joined today by Glenn Gruber, Senior Mobile Strategist at Anexinet. I’ll let him tell you more about Anexinet in a second. He is also Co-Founder of The Emerging Technology Council and a conference Co-Chair of the nGage event series where I first heard Glenn speak. It was there that I realized what a great guest he would be for VANTIQ TV, so thank you, Glenn, for joining me today!
Glenn: Oh, Blaine, thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. It should be a good conversation.
Blaine: Absolutely. I know you’re very knowledgeable in this area and we have yet to have our first ever mobile expert on VANTIQ TV – obviously a very hot topic, so thank you again.
Why don’t you start by telling us more about Anexinet and what your role is there.
Glenn: Sure. Anexinet is a company based in the Philadelphia area. Basically, we provide strategy consulting and also delivery around all different elements of digital transformation. We all know that there is a lot of different elements to that journey that need to come together for it to really work. There’s the frontend piece, there’s cloud, there’s mobile, the legacy apps, new stuff like machine learning and analytics, you name it. It all needs to get together.
That’s actually one of the cool things about Anexinet is that we have all of those competencies together to really help create a holistic approach to taking people down that path. I’m a senior mobile strategist, so I’m on the enterprise mobility team. I’ve been with the company for abo ut five years now.
Blaine: So, your focus is on mobile, but Anexinet is not only about mobile. It’s about all elements of the technology transformation mix?
Glenn: Yeah it’s customer engagement which includes omni-channel analytics and interactions, cloud and hybrid IT, new things like machine learning and advanced analytics, as well as the enterprise mobile component of it. It’s really a pretty cool firm. I’ve been enjoyed my time over the last five years. They keep me challenged. That’s all I can ask for.
Blaine: Thanks! Makes sense. So to mobile, then, how did you get to be their mobile guru? How did you get to where you are today?
Glenn: I’m not the mobile guru. I’m one of many. We’ve got a really large team which includes both the strategy group which I’m a part of as well as about 70 or 80 other folks on the design development testing and architecture side.
You know, it’s funny you ask how I got here. A couple of weeks ago, I was out to dinner with my daughter and one of her friends. I was taking them to see Anastasia, a traveling Broadway show, here in Rhode Island. They’re just sitting and chatting. They’re freshman in high school at this point.
They’re already worried about what they are going to do. It’s kind of like they feel like they need to decide now. I really try to tell them to not get too wound up about that right now because it’s not really a straight line type of thing. My story is exactly that.
I actually started out in college as an accountant because my dad, my uncle, and three my cousins are all accountants. It seemed like that was the family business. That’s where I was going to go. And initially, I worked for Cooper’s for a few years and then went back to go get an MBA at Columbia. My father thought it was going to be finance. It ended up being marketing and management. My summer internship was with Kyocera.
That’s really what brought me into the tech world. I always kind of liked tech, but I was not a computer science major or anything like that So, over the past 20 years, I’ve worked for a bunch of startups. I’ve filled out the S-1’s and also, sadly, the bankruptcy forms at the end of the dot com bust.
About 10 years ago, I started to get into mobile. That’s about the time that it was completely transformed by the iPhone and modern smartphones as we know it. I kind of got lucky just that my path got me engaged in that, right at that major inflection point.
That’s how I got started with mobile, and then five years ago, I started at a company called Propelics, which is now part of Anexinet. We were recently acquired this past year. It’s been a great ride. I’ve really gotten an opportunity to work with some terrific clients, seen all sorts of different businesses and how they struggle with enterprise mobility and how they build that up and become successful.
Blaine: Great! So, let’s dive into that, then. What’s particularly exciting you these days about the intersection of business and mobile technologies?
Glenn: One of the things I’ve always loved about mobile was the opportunity that it brought for business process reengineering. There are so many things that we used to do in a certain way. When you start to consider all of the information that we know through different systems and services, sensors on the device, that can really make those business processes a lot better, more streamlined, and more productive. [They] get us out of things that add extra time for no extra value, like having to fill out paper forms and then go back some time later and eventually type those into another system and all the normal problems with that.
I think that that business process, reengineering stuff, is really interesting to me. Now, I think that when you look at some of the other technologies that are now available to us, especially which can be done on the mobile device, like machine learning has the potential to reshape so many parts of the business, digital twins and AR, chat bots and voice, all of those things are interesting on their own. But then, when you consider that all of those components are available to us on the mobile device, whether it be a smartphone or tablet, there’s so much potential still to be had. All of that is really intriguing to me.
Blaine: Absolutely. You mentioned earlier about some of the experience you’ve had working with clients over the years. What are some interesting projects you’ve worked on or some interesting results that you’ve seen as a result of embracing some of these mobile technologies?
Glenn: It’s kind of really always interesting to go on these different engagements. Most of the time, we start with strategy first rather than “let’s go do a project” because sometimes, that’s kind of the cart before the horse. One of the things that we try to work with people to do (because our focus is as often as not on the employee facing uses of mobile rather than the consumer facing) is to try and identify and understand what the possibilities are and then make sure that the IT organization is ready to actually fulfill those dreams that we come up with.
It’s really important for me in working with our clients to make sure that we can get a really good priority of what those opportunities could be and avoid either the first in first out kind of like “let’s take this project forward”, or what I refer to as the Khrushchev method which is to whoever takes off their shoe and bangs on the table loudly enough gets their project funded. Starting with that strategy is really important and it kind of frames the approach for the organization at large in a way that many companies, as they are experimenting with new technologies, don’t often do.
It’s interesting to see where people are. A lot of times, we’re brought in when they’re still trying to figure it out really on a fundamental level. That can be definitely really interesting. I think my last engagement was with one of the largest investment adviser firms in the country. They’re really just at a point where they’re trying to mobile enable those 15-16,000 advisers out there. Getting that together is fun.
Blaine: It’s amazing that they’re just now thinking about how to mobile enable these people. Haven’t they been mobile enabled a decade ago? Or, it’s another level maybe.
Yeah, no. [laughter] It’s not out of the ordinary for us. There’re so many firms that are just getting down the mobile, larger digital transformation journey. They haven’t really done a lot. It’s been a number of years, but there are different times where people are just rolling out e-mail contacts and calendar. Today, you might as well have given them a BlackBerry still. But, that’s where some people are. As much as we think that “we’ve done mobile”, these are billion-dollar companies. These aren’t the mom and pops. There’s still so much to be done.
Blaine: Interesting. So, you brought up digital transformation. I wonder if in that case, though, is it real digital transformation or is it something even more basic trying to do before digital transformation? I tend to think of digital transformation in the context we generally use it here on VANTIQ TV as enabling a truly new business model or a truly innovative way of conducting business. But, I don’t know. Is this transformation when they’re just catching up to something they could have been doing 5 or even maybe 10 years ago?
Glenn: So much of it depends on where each company is at. There are some companies that are still moving from paper processes, which they are running their business on. Before we started recording, I talked to you about there’s another company I worked at for almost a year where the majority of their business (and this is tens of billions of dollars) is run on individual instances across the country of apps running on VB6 and access databases on a computer truly under someone’s desk.
Some firms really have a long way to go. Others are certainly more advanced. They’ve got the sales forces, the SAPs, and the big, digital infrastructure already in place, but they’re now getting to a point where they can start taking those next steps, start being more event driven, starting to bring in advanced analytics, machine learning, and things of that nature. The definition for many people is different. That’s why it’s almost the perfect term for consultants because it means so much to so many.
Blaine: What percent of your engagements or your company’s engagements are about mobile basics versus how many are working on projects that involve event-driven applications, machine learning, digital wins, AR, the list of technologies you listed earlier, where would most companies sit on that spectrum, at least the guys that you’re working with?
Glenn: Initially when they’re engaging us, it is because they don’t really have a full strategy. They’ve built a couple of applications here and there. Maybe they’ve gone and they’ve bought a MDM, MADP for development or a MBaaS. They have the tools, but they still don’t have the strategy. They haven’t thought through for these kinds of roles that we have throughout the organization, particularly those roles that are truly mobile: field service people, logistics, delivery teams, and even your salespeople.
What are the tools that we can bring to them or the applications that will help them do their job better? [We are] bringing together the right device for them, the right applications. Which ones can we get off the shelf? Which ones do we have to build? – completely bespoke and custom to support the unique business processes and objectives of the company.
Blaine: You mentioned field service and sales. To what degree are companies or maybe should companies be thinking about an enterprise-wide mobile strategy versus maybe focusing on departmental or functional area initiatives, like how I am going to mobilize and mobile enable my field service organization or my sales organization? Do you think it’s best done at the functional level or does it actually make sense for a company to attempt to create an end-to-end mobile strategy?
Blaine: To me, this comes down to setting a prioritization strategy. Oftentimes, you’ll find the head of sales because they’re doing sales, they have a budget, and therefore, they get some stuff done. Sometimes, you get the siloed strategies. But, that doesn’t mean, not to demean the sales profession at all, but it doesn’t always mean that that’s the best use of the limited funds and resources that we have as a company.
Especially as you’re building up mobile, you don’t have a ton of mobile developers. There’s only initially so much velocity that you can get from that team to start to build some apps. What we often try and do is look across the organization, try and elicit what are those possibilities.
And oftentimes, we’ll go in and we’ll run ideation sessions with both management-type people, but also including people who actually do the jobs within those areas and start to catalogue the opportunities and potential. And then, come up with kind of a mechanism to score the value of those based on: how does this impact the businessdrivers of the organization, how ready are we to take on these new business processes, do we have the standards and practices ready to go, how big of a nut is this to go do, is this something that we can do you know pretty much quick win or is this something that we’ve got to build this whole new backend service in order to enable this new idea that we’ve got?
So, kind of making a balance of all that and then looking at that across the organization, you start to identify hotspots of where near-term opportunity is, where that mid-term opportunity is, and also, what should we maybe take on later on and should it not be where we invest our time today.
Blaine: You’ve mentioned IT readiness a couple of times now. How ready is IT for this and are these initiatives generally driven or at least enabled by internal IT departments or are companies bringing in external systems integrators or others who are more expert in the technologies?
Glenn: In a lot of cases, IT is pretty ready. Certain things like mobile device management is fairly well situated and has been in place for a number of years, but that doesn’t always mean that they’re getting the most out of what those systems can do.
Our goal is to come up with a readiness plan that gets the company ready to own all the mobile development and initiatives going forward as much as they want to. There’s always “what’s the standard operating model” for a company. Some people like to do everything in-house. Other people like to farm it out to different folks. We don’t need to change that. We should still make sure that we’ve got some good standards and practices in place to be able to create some scale and leverage through reusable components. And how do you go about doing that?
Our role is to help them develop and deliver against that strategy. A lot of times, as they’re building up that that capability within the organization, they might lean on us or others to help increase that level of maturity. But over time, the idea is that they can take that over and this is a fundamental technology pillar for the organization. It’s hard to outsource things that are really critical to the organization’s success. We like to think that mobile has a big impact of how you run your business today.
Blaine: Yeah. Makes perfect sense. A few minutes ago, you mentioned event-driven systems. The name of this channel on VANTIQ TV is actually called the real time enterprise. Do you.
Are you seeing some of these applications of mobile technologies as enabling more of a real-time look at the business or real time operations of the business?
Glenn: Oh absolutely, especially in field services. You’ve got guys out there doing stuff. Also for people running routes, doing distribution, delivery, and servicing of different clients, as they’re out on their route, stuff comes up. This is what life and business is all about: a customer picks up the phone, they’ve got a problem, and we’ve got to try and help solve that for them.
To be able to take that initial event or call or customer pain point and then figure out to solve that problem who’s out there, who’s close, who knows how to solve that problem, who’s got the right tools to solve that problem and direct, and have the mobile device be the nexus for all of that makes perfect sense. We’re seeing lots of our clients embrace that.
Blaine: I bet. So, you can have a mobile discussion these days without talking about 5G. What’s your theory about the impact of 5G on mobile and is this going to be God’s gift to the mobile revolution?
A couple of things: 5G I think is great. I’ll always take more bandwidth and the opportunity to more easily create coverage areas where I don’t have coverage areas. But on the other hand, today’s bandwidth with the LTE coverage that we have, primarily talking about here in the US, but even around the globe, it’s pretty damn good. The speeds and the coverage is not what’s holding us back. What’s holding us back is just not doing enough at this point.
Blaine: With the technology we already have, with the bandwidth we all already have?
Yeah! Think of the devices that we have. There’s still all these old Motorola and intermeshed devices that are out there that are not connected at all. We did field force automation back in the early 2000’s and a lot of those guys are still using the same devices that we gave them 15 years ago. There’s so much to do if we just did it. That would take us a great way forward. 5G will make things better, but maybe for IoT, 5G will have more of an impact than just standard enterprise mobility.
Blaine: Cool! Well, I think that’s a very insightful answer and really aligns with everything you’ve been saying so far in this discussion. Sort of along those lines, I guess you used one of them already, but this is the part of the conversation where I give you the chance to call BS on an aspect of conventional wisdom. I guess you just called BS on the fact that 5G is going to radically change everything. You said, “Hey, we haven’t even begun to change based on the current technology.” But, what other areas? Is there another area where you’d like to call BS on conventional wisdom?
There is still so much for us to do with mobile. All these new, sexy technologies out there like machine learning, AR, and voice, there are really interesting. I’m excited about all of them. But sometimes, it’s that shiny object syndrome: we get enticed by what the next thing is before finishing what we’re already working on or already should be working on.
I just think that you [shouldn’t] jump to all that. it’s also not a binary choice or a mutually exclusive choice. Doing one doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the other.
Blaine: That makes sense. I guess that relates to a little thing that’s been on my mind for a while about mobile which is: does mobile even exist anymore as a category of technology or isn’t everything mobile?
Glenn: It is one of those things. It’s omnipresent. We’re not quite at ambient computing. I always look at science fiction to tell me what we should be doing. In Star Trek, you just kind of say, “hey computer”, and whether it’s your com badge or something on the wall or whatever, you can get the information that you need.
Everything is connected today. I also think that beyond the definition of what mobile is is not just the smartphone, not just the tablet. You’ve got head-mounted devices which are here and still coming down the future. You’ve got wearables like the Apple Watch, “earables” like the AirPods. All of these things are becoming extensions of Mobile. It doesn’t have to be just the smartphone as a device itself to be a mobile thing.
Blaine: Yep. I fully agree with that.
Mobile is about being able to be there when it’s needed, fundamentally. Whatever the location is, whatever the time is, it’s about being there in time and space as needed. And the technology is, as you said, a speaker or a smart device mounted on a wall. Is that mobile? Well, it’s mounted on the wall, so I guess it’s not mobile from one perspective, but if it enables a worker that’s moving around a building or an office to get work done more effectively, then it is a mobile technology.
So, it’s interesting. Interesting perspective. Any technology or business predictions for 2019?
Glenn: I hesitate to do predictions because pretty much almost every prediction that I’ll make will be wrong. I think you can look at a lot of analysts reports and confirm that back that pretty much every prediction that is made is often wrong. That’s why we have the trough of disillusionment because all the promises that were made are not delivered. At Anexinet, we try and stay away from those and we try and focus more on prescriptions. It’s kind of like, “What should you be doing in the coming year that you can actually sink your teeth into and make some real progress on?”
Blaine: Great! Give us some prescriptions for 2019.
Obviously, keep investing in mobile is one that I will always say. Embrace hybrid cloud and cloud-native applications. Focus on building a continuous testing competency because the more we’ve got continuous integration, continuous delivery, continuous testing, and test automation, it is going to be really critical to be able to pull all of that off. Digitizing the business. And by that, I mean things like digital twins and so from the 2D or just taking the numbers of the organization but really creating a 3D representation of what’s happening.
Another one that I would say to go do now is build apps that see. Basically, use the camera not just as a camera taking like a polaroid and attaching it to a file, but now it’s a sensor. And with machine learning, to be able to identify different objects. There’s a million things that you can do. I think that opens up a whole new area for people. Lastly, on machine learning itself, number one, we are ready to just put rocket fuel on this. A lot of the technology is there. A lot of the tools are there.
A lot of people are already doing a lot, but for those who aren’t, get started, but start simple. You don’t always have to go right down to deep learning to be successful. There are smart people at the company, Michael Golub, for one that can talk more about machine learning. Get started, but take a pragmatic approach.
Blaine: Well I think those are great prescriptions. And I’ll tell you on the topic of building apps that see, we are seeing at VANTIQ so many clients now, so many applications and POCs being built around facial recognition, visual identification in real time. Apps that see is becoming a very hot topic around here. All of your prescriptions rung with me, but that would certainly stood out in my mind.
Blaine: Glenn, I think that actually wraps it. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a great conversation.
Glenn: Oh thank you Blaine! It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. Maybe we’ll have you on my squad.
Blaine: I would love to be on it! And speaking of that, for those interested in hearing more of Glenn’s thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter @ggruber66, Anexinet, and also, check out The Device Squad podcast that Glenn just mentioned. You can reach out to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.