January 2015

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Enterprise Computing Landscape

Will Building Operations and Facilities Provide Video Chat Apps a First Foothold?
Therese Sullivan
Therese Sullivan,

BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor

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Distech Controls
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Reliable Controls
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Last month I wrote generally about how mobile messaging and in-app notifications were eclipsing email as a means of enterprise collaboration, and about how these new modes might be a better match for building operations and facilities staff. I made those observations before the December Sony computer system breach. If you listen to Steven Sinofsky, tech venture capitalist, this event will soon be recognized as the trigger of accelerated movement away from existing enterprise networked server infrastructures and toward cloud services and mobile devices.

As I write on December 26th, there are still a great many unknowns about the hack, but the fact of it and some of the revelations resulting from it are enough for me to agree with this one-time President of the Windows Division at Microsoft. Not only were the back-office security measures of the existing architecture proven inadequate, sloppy practices on the part of users of the familiar components of the Microsoft front-office suite - Outlook email and Excel .xls files - were the source of the greatest embarrassment and financial risk to the company. Sinofsky predicts that enterprises, now aware of the magnitude of their own exposure to such a breach, will be rushing to move applications to mobile computing infrastructure as a fresh start to implementing security.

That’s one 2015 trend to watch.  But, there is another storyline emerging from the Sony hack as well: Consumer mobile app developers feel a sense of urgency to monetize their services before the current tech bubble goes ‘POP’. Strastispheric valuations for companies that have never turned a profit and primarily give away software and services for free are due for a correction. Leaked emails between Snapchat CEO and VC Benchmark were a reminder of that. The advertising models that converted large consumer user bases into viable revenue streams in the past, when the desktop, browser-based web reigned, are not working for the mobile web. And that is a problem when attempting to justify high valuations. So in 2013/2014, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat started asking ‘Beyond snooping upon and advertising to our users, what services can we offer that enterprises will buy?’

In November the word got out that Facebook was testing ‘Facebook at Work,’ an enterprise team chat service reported to be similar to slack.com, a service I described last month. This is an interesting pivot for the social media platform most often categorized as the place to keep in touch with family & friends. Could selling a secure, ad-free messaging experience be Facebook’s way into the enterprise?  Could a success here rationalize its $19B acquistion of the WhatsApp messaging service in early 2014 — the showcase example of over-inflated Silicon Valley expectations and valuations?

In any event, the market forces of enterprise CIOs rushing to adopt mobile computing modes to mitigate the risk of more hacks, and consumer mobile app developers looking for safe haven in the enterprise, could converge with quite a clatter in 2015. As with plate tectonics, there will be uplift and new terrain created where the forces converge. All signs point to this being the market for a platform for enterprise notifications and team collaboration. Moreover, while facilities management and building operations were among the last (if ever) corporate functions to be integrated into existing enterprise computing frameworks and data stores, they provide some of the most compelling use cases for mobile messaging in the enterprise. So expect an onslaught of attention from mobile app developers in 2015, particularly for apps that use video chat as made popular by services like Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram.  

The use cases are not hard to imagine.

Photos and data analytics visualizations delivered via video chat might be fast enough to impact conversations and decision-making as they are happening, thus resulting in better outcomes and generally less fractious relationships between building staff, design MEP engineers, automation contractors and purse-string holders. Developers of in-app native communications like www.layer.com explain why these future apps will be so much more than just adding a photo image to an email. “Enabling users to engage with one another in-app and in context is the key to a delightful user experience,” write Layer’s Ron Palmeri. He provides numerous examples in his most recent blog post and one can extrapolate how native messaging will work in a commercial building operations and facilities management context.

Reliable Controls An early-mover in the mobile messaging market like Snapchat — a company that turned down a $3B to $4B acquisition offer from Facebook in 2013—doesn’t need layer.com. However, it did seek to acquire other technologies in 2014. It bought a developer of QR code scanning technology, a company developing apps around Apple iBeacon location services technology, and an eyeglass video capture technology company.  All these technologies are quite familiar to the world of building operations and facilities management.  Jim Young of Realcomm penned the background article “QR - Quick Response Codes - A New Opportunity for Building Owners?” about three years ago. BuiltSpace Technologies Corporation has built a business around deploying QR codes and other location-service technologies using cloud-based software and mobile devices. Likewise, DGLogik has offered QR Code integration within its visualization platform since 2012. (I wrote about iBeacon technology in retail last Christmas season.)

In summary, there is good reason to believe that the greater computing industry is just about to enter a time of major upheaval, and that mobile apps with native chat will be survivors. However, in Geoffry Moore Crossing the Chasm parlance, they’ll need foothhold markets to prove their worth in the enterprise.  There is a strong case that building operations and facility management will provide one of those early footholds.


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