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December 27, 2011

Windows 8: Shutdown

We have been working on Windows 8 developer preview build for sometime now. Will be discussing some of our experiences in the upcoming blogs. There is a viewpoint paper titled 'Metrofying' Desktop Applications -- the Windows 8 Way, that we published recently that be accessed via the newsletter here.

As you play along with Windows 8 you would realize that while you can close the traditional applications in the desktop mode, there is no way to close a metro application launched from the new start screen. You can, if you want to launch the task manager in the desktop mode and then kill the applications if you really wanted to. While in task manager, you would see that the metro applications only get suspended, but continue to linger on. BTW you may also have noticed that we now call it as start screen and not just start menu.

Given that Windows 8 is mainly targeted at the tablet space, applications not closing is a behavior users are already used to seeing with their tablets and even phones. On similar lines, since typically tablets/phones are always on, I had some issues in trying to get to the shutdown option for the desktop.

You would see the well recoginized Windows image based 'Start' menu, while in desktop mode, but hitting this button actually takes you to the Metro Start Screen. I finally figured out that there are multiple ways to shutdown the machine

1. Instead of clicking the start button, hover the mouse over it till a menu pops up. In this menu, select Settings. In the next screen that comes up towards the bottom you would see the power icon. Click/touch that to bring up a menu, which has Shutdown option

2. Pull the right side edge menu by mouse or by touch gesture and select the Settings option. this brings up the same screen as discussed in previous point.

3. Logoff and on the login screen, click/touch the power icon towards bottom right. From the popup menu, select the shutdown option.

For tablets and phones I can accept the lack of need for shutdown and most of them come with a hardware button to trigger the shutdown, but for a desktop version, I feel that this should be more easily reachable. I hope that in the final build we will see this working better with possibly a shutdown tile on the start screen.  Comments?

December 26, 2011

Immersive Experiences with Microsoft Technologies

In Immersive Technologies Track we are working on some exciting technologies related to data visualization, touch, gesture and augmented reality. The main products on our radar are Phone 7, Surface and Kinect. We recently published a technology roundtable newletter sharing some insights of our work. You can get to the newsletter from here.

Comments are welcome.

December 15, 2011

Gamification of the ERP

While almost everyone is having only "Cloud-enabling" of ERP at top of their mind, i am personally seeing a trend which is what we can say "gamification" of the "serious" ERPs. For the uninitiated, Gamification is (as per wikipedia) the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, and by taking advantage of humans' psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring. Can we do something for ERP as well in this areas?

Why the need for Gamification?

People are no longer looking at an ERP as a "monotonous" task facilitating tool. One of the reason for this approach is the competitive offering which are brought in not by any other enterprise application vendor but by the fact that personal devices (particularly iOS and Android and in recent past Windows) have made everyone have a "playful" approach to personal devices - be it smartphones or tablets. Tell me the last time you actually read a manual to use these devices or the last time that you did something else but fiddle around with apps when you had some free time. It is the "lure of play" that drives user adoption and user appreciation.

Changing game due to mobile devices

This is a new wave which has been created not because users wanted them but  because some visionaries actually made them want it. To top it all some of the organizations are allowing BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) to work policies and that means that segregation of personal and office devices and applications is going to blur even furthur. I will touch that aspect of BYOD sometime else and focus on the "Gamification" as of now!

I had blogged around sensitivity (time paradigm) earlier (blog called - Taking ahead the thought of "Sensitivity of User Interface " in packages -) where I did touch about gamification but that was just scratching the surface. I feel there is a need today to seriously take the competition head on and change the ERP applications. Interestingly, this competition is coming from a different category though the users are the same. The same users who have a "social" life along with their "responsibilities" in office. The same users who spend hours chasing suppliers for discounts while impulsively spending on ebay on a new type of watch whose dial turns dark in sunlight (don't know how it helps).

The point here is that the whole experience is the reason for that "impulse". I am not going into the classifcation of these as "right" or "wrong" but the point is that there is a human behaviour and we have seen it happen to "same" individual under "different" conditions created by two different applications. Some of you can argue that the stakes are higher in ERP transactions and its not like playing Angry birds! But the point is that there is a need to "lighten up" without loosing focus on task at end.

Need to engage the users and bring in some 'fun'!
I think that ERP vendors need to think on these lines and see what can be the "offering" and in what format - that engages the users, make them adopt new systems, start using the system with minimum trainings and above all be their patrons and evangelizers. In last convergence, this is what Kirill Tatarinov (Corporate vice president, Microsoft Business Solutions) said "We're committed to you to make sure that your people, people in your organization run the software that they love, run the software that they come to work to use every day, and that is our commitment to you." (you can read the entire transcript here).

Steve Jobs also mentioned that Kinect is something that is now revolutionizing entertainment, and he expects it to revolutionize manufacturing and other business scenarios in a very similar fashion. This was followed by a demonstration by Lachlan Cash (see image below) who was manipulating the schedule essentially on the same screen that we normally have on a computer but which had a Kinect controller connected to the PC. He was able to manage / manipulate user interface on the manufacturing floor without touching (thats a boom for folks with dirty gloves) the screen. And i must add that this was not without it controls. the system takes a picture of the person doing the gestures and records it as an audit trail for future. So no loss of control while providing the user a "fun" way of interacting with system.


kinect.jpgThis  is a true sense is not gamification, but it sure is tending to it or making the ERP mould towards this. The next step would be have an "achievement badge" or "virtual currency" or a "virtual scoreboard" to tell who amongst the floor guys actually ensured that "no capacity went unused". The idea of "gamification" would be to define a "common goal" and let everyone compete for achieving it. In the process you make the users "love what the do and do what they love"! The aim would be to thus simulate the organization transaction model into a game with its own rules and interactions  and make the whole transaction processing using business applications a "for fun" interaction.

Brain cells working overtime to find answers...

While this is one side of the story, the other side has made me think on several aspects -

  1. Who will make this change? 
  2. How will this be done? 
  3. What will be the kind of people who will do this even when the business application companies recognize the need (this will need creative people) ?
  4. When can we see this happen - how soon and to what extent?
  5. How will the users respond to it?
  6. Why would the business organizations accept this kind of a change - the drivers and benefits?
  7. Where do we need to start in the organization - is it in non-financial areas like shop-floor, warehousing or probably in CRM?
  8. Can this thought process have a game-changing impact on world of business applications?

I would look forward to your thoughts, I am sure there would be many things that will cross your mind on reading this. This to me is an unchartered territory with a huge potential to become a game-changer.

December 13, 2011

Facial Recognition Paper

Facial recognition has interesting implications in future applications. In our paper "Facial Recognition: A Primer" (published here), we discuss basics of this and different algorithms that are available for facial recognition.

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