The Mobility consultant
must be a bridge builder and multi-tasker
Software developer and consultant Ruben Nørgaard has served as the link between different professional disciplines in several Mobility projects. He describes this as a major advantage, pointing to how the cross-disciplinary approach is key when it comes to working with Mobility.
"Where are we off to?" This was a catch phrase of the Danish TV game character called Hugo in the early 1990s. A little troll figure, and an underlying technology, that was not only a Danish, but also an international success as an example of the new opportunities presented by interactive TV. A few years after Hugo first appeared, software developer Ruben Nørgaard moved from Aalborg to Copenhagen and a company called Gonzoft. Even though he did not come to work directly with the inventors of Hugo, but "only" with people from the same organisation, the entire developer environment at that time was buzzing with the many new opportunities that had emerged in and with interactive TV, Ruben Nørgaard recounts today.
"It was a really great time. I worked closely with manuscript authors and graphic designers who were creating backgrounds and animations. The focus was on all the content, while the technical side was just expected to work. This meant that I learned very early in my career that software and development are just one leg of the process, and have to support the many other legs before the product is ready. If I had served my 'apprenticeship' in the banking sector, for example, where you just needed to get the numbers to add up, my career would probably have been rather different," he says, highlighting the link between interactive TV and the mobile solutions that are his focus area today.
"Like interactive TV, Mobility is about how the user experiences something on the screen. How it feels to use the solution. It is remarkable how little it takes to distinguish a successful from a failed application. Take the example of mobile payment apps, which exist in many different versions. In functional terms, they are all very similar, and they can all move money from A to B, but there is great variation in how they are experienced by the users. An example is Danske Bank's MobilePay, which has around 1.6 million users, outstripping its competitors by far. An understanding of the softer values determines whether an app is a success or not."
Decision-making process of just a few minutes
Ruben Nørgaard says that the user experience of the interaction with a website is naturally also in focus. Yet he emphasises that, despite the similarities, there is also very great variation between development for the web and development for mobile platforms.
"When you bought a telephone ten years ago, you were buying a feature phone. This meant that the phone had some fixed features, and you picked your preferred brand. Today, you have to choose a platform when you pick a phone or another mobile device, and then you add the features you would like," says Ruben Nørgaard, adding.
"Requirements are much tougher now in terms of whether you think an app is good enough to handle your e-mail, for example. This is a decision-making process of just a few minutes. If the user gets tired of your app, he can just delete it and pick one of your competitors instead. This is why the user's experience is so vital when it comes to apps and mobile solutions in general."
Ruben Nørgaard explains that a developer does not have to be an expert in every aspect of Mobility, since this area is far too complex for that. But it does mean that you have to understand terms like user interface and user experience, since as a software developer, you will increasingly work with experts in these disciplines.
"When an expert has spent half a week on creating a background in the right colours, you have to listen to him because he has probably tested that particular background in the market and found out that this is what people prefer. In the same way, it matters to the user's experience whether a button lies to the right or to the left in the interface. For many developers, working with details of this type will be a new experience. During their studies, they will have learned that if the program adds up the numbers correctly, the job has been done. But this does not apply to Mobility solutions, as there is a lot of continuous adjustment."
"So for developers, working with Mobility is not just a question of professional skills, but also a changed mindset?"
"Exactly. Mobility is an area in which all the disciplines meet – usability, graphic design, security, optimisation, branding, etc. And each discipline has its own 'cook' wanting to be involved. You have to be able to navigate this chaos," says Ruben Nørgaard.
After a period of self-employment, some years ago Ruben Nørgaard was hired by a firm of consultants for which he developed software solutions for major industrial clients. Here, he quickly spotted that there was potential to implement Mobility solutions. He could see how several of the company's employees already used tablet computers and installed a lot of different software in attempts to communicate with the factory's old IT systems. This was often in vain, and at best defective.
"But the interesting aspect was that the employees had embraced Mobility. They were ready. But the software developers that designed the systems just set up a server, a database and stationary screens all over the factory for employees to use. In my view, the employees should instead have been able to access the necessary information when and where they wished to. Then they would, for example, have been able to load a production report directly to their tablets as soon as a conveyor belt failed, or they received another type of alarm," says Ruben Nørgaard.
He explains that his manager was very sceptical when he suggested investing in additional mobile solutions. This cost money and did not always give a profit with the first four to five projects.
"But the first projects enable us to learn by doing, so we can then make a lot of money on projects 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9."
Today, Ruben Nørgaard is a self-employed consultant again and part of ProData Consult's network. Here, he is currently working at TDC/YouSee, where among other projects he is helping to develop a new app, of which new versions are continuously being released.
"Release management is a bit of a matter of faith," says Ruben Nørgaard. "Some only have releases three-four times a year, while others believe in continuous integration, which is the model I work by, and which is also how things primarily run in the mobile market. Continuous integration means that you work on your software on an ongoing basis, perhaps tweaking a single feature, and then release the new version immediately. The idea is that it is better to help the user with a quick bug fix straight away, instead of waiting. This is a more agile method of developing."
As Ruben Nørgaard explains, this approach is a good match for how IT is consumed today, compared to ten years ago, when users patiently waited for the next release of, for example, a major Microsoft package.
"There is a far more dynamic market today. If you are working on a large app, for example, the requirements can well change during the process because a competitor has just released a new version of its product. As a developer, this means that we can no longer expect to get a six-month spec for programming and release. You have to keep on trying things out. This also means that you may write some code which then has to be discarded because the project has changed along the way," says Ruben Nørgaard.
"Do you have any final advice for consultants that would like to take the Mobility path?"
"I have found out that it is good to have a second angle to your CV. Naturally, your basic technical skills must be in order, but if you can also offer supplementary skills in one area or another, you will have an advantage when assignments are handed out. For example, on several occasions there has been a lot of appreciation for how I can build bridges between the technical and the softer disciplines within software development, simply because for many companies this can often be a tough nut to crack. If you can find your own little niche, I think you will be well-placed;" Ruben Nørgaard concludes.