A Wall Apps Pioneer Weighs In On the Topic

October 13, 2009
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Robb Bush, an innovator at i2 Technologies in the ’90s, and now with SAP, offered his perspectives on Wall Apps:

Bruce,

I read with great interest “The Future of Work: Wall Apps.” I have also enjoyed the thoughtful commentary. However, I do not think I am either a dissenter or a proponent in general—it depends on the definition.

From my perspective, I can see the definition of Wall Apps in at least two different ways (each of which may have its own proponents or dissenters):

1. Wall Apps as a “bigger dashboard.” These represent a display that can be seen by many people in an environment and are generally read-only. That approach has some pros, and cons, as illustrated by other commentary.

Yes, this type of Wall App can be more of a “billboard” than anything else. However, with some real-time data, it can be a valuable “scoreboard” that can be used in practical areas such as call centers, and even industrial environments.

2. Wall Apps as a “High-Definition App.” This type is highly interactive, but exploits the larger viewing area, higher resolution, and other methods to make the business interaction more game-like, participatory, and faster than a small 1:1 application



Robb Bush, an innovator at i2 Technologies in the ’90s, and now with SAP, offered his perspectives on Wall Apps:

Bruce,

I read with great interest “The Future of Work: Wall Apps.” I have also enjoyed the thoughtful commentary. However, I do not think I am either a dissenter or a proponent in general—it depends on the definition.

From my perspective, I can see the definition of Wall Apps in at least two different ways (each of which may have its own proponents or dissenters):

1. Wall Apps as a “bigger dashboard.” These represent a display that can be seen by many people in an environment and are generally read-only. That approach has some pros, and cons, as illustrated by other commentary.

Yes, this type of Wall App can be more of a “billboard” than anything else. However, with some real-time data, it can be a valuable “scoreboard” that can be used in practical areas such as call centers, and even industrial environments.

2. Wall Apps as a “High-Definition App.” This type is highly interactive, but exploits the larger viewing area, higher resolution, and other methods to make the business interaction more game-like, participatory, and faster than a small 1:1 application trapped in desktop monitor.

“HD Apps” open up many more possibilities, and it is becoming more and more cost-effective to realize.

For example, when I was recruited by i2 in the mid ’90s from the consumer and “info-tainment” software world, I could immediately see game-like design solutions to the challenges posed by very complex Sourcing, Manufacturing, and Supply Chain problems. As a result, we developed the first data-driven 3D value-chain designs and applications – showing logical, physical, and temporal flows in real-time. This just happened to work much better on large, or multiple screen displays. Sometimes we used up to 11 screens of varying sizes, working all on the same application data and working synchronously.

However, back in 96-98, to pull this off required some powerful machines, custom programming, multiple advanced graphics cards, projectors and/or very exotic flat screen displays. While it was ‘state of the art’ then, the same power is now readily available in commodity machines and console hardware!

In addition, think about how most teens “see” applications and GUIs. They don’t! They see, and more importantly… expect, something far different.

Anyone that has raised ‘connected kids’ in the 21st century quickly understands this. The “Future of Work generation” has never known a world without the Internet, always-on accessible information, and increasingly compelling and immediate ways of interacting in engaging multi-dimensional environments and real-time communications. This is more prevalent in highly-networked console Games, and not limited to what is called Web 2.0. Watching kids use “computers”—you quickly see that the Future of Work is not trapped on a monitor sitting on a desk, but it is on larger wall-sized HD displays, and on handheld devices (But, that’s another story. To get started, just think differently of the handheld-mobile as a new “controller,” or an auxiliary “viewer” between virtual and physical, and we’re off!).

In the near term, the most productive Wall Apps may not appear just in management suites, but in busy industrial environments that any employee can walk up to with a familiar hand-held wireless controller, 3D navigation conventions, and real-time communications via wireless headset. They will be able to quickly understand plans, scheduling, inventory, and be able to collaborate across the value chain in a way that makes sense to them, immediately and intuitively.

So to wrap up, bigger dashboards or scoreboards on-a-wall can be very useful, depending on the execution and situational context. And yes, they could easily be call “billboards” if existing only for show.

However, if we think about making “HD-apps” and inform our design-thinking on the tools and the expectations that are already in practice daily by the future workforce, then we really will be heading toward the future of work. And, it may not be too different than the future of play.

Best regards,
Robb