Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Systems Analysis means the "Whole" Picture!

I was extremely happy with Adobe's release of CS6 and the Creative Cloud. The cloud portion really meant nothing to me, but the Master Collection was greatly priced and we upgraded to a second one (we have many Web Premium copies).

Life was good and for the past month everything was working well... sort of.. There were activation and validation issues almost from the start, but it worked fairly well...

Today, it stopped working... sigh...

Seems that Adobe, when they performed a systems analysis failed to consider a key thing:

- Many companues/individuals have multiple products purchased under one Adobe ID!!! - 

This is a pretty simple thing for a systems analyst to figure out, right? Wrong!

I find this particularly irritating because I've spent over 30 years as a programmer, systems analyst and vice-president of IT with various large/mid-sized companies. This kind of end-result on a new rollout of software, i.e. Adobe's cloud strategy, should have been rock-solid with ALL points considered before going live. I wonder if this was even beta tested based on the performance we're seeing.

Sadly, this seems endemic in many industries now. Analysts are missing large chunks of the big picture and are providing fragmented solutions to often simple problems.

I do wonder how many other companies are going through the same grief in the Adobe cloud as we are?  Two people were down in-house today as their software froze with "Activation Failed" messages.  

 Atlas continues to shrug...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why mLearning May Ultimately Be Irrelevant

As the industry rushes head-first into the mLearning wall, I suspect the hype will never truly catch up with the reality.

Let's look at mLearning objectively. Anything that is used for learning, on any device that is not rooted to a desktop at work is considered "mLearning" or mobile learning. Your PC or Mac at home, if used to access corporate training or services like Lynda.com, are in essence, mLearning devices. Size really doesn't matter in mLearning.

Here are some mLearning devices:
  • Laptop
  • Netbook 
  • Tablet (i.e. iPad)
  • Mobile phone (i.e. iPhone, Android)
  • Workstation (remote from the office, not necessarily mobile in terms of transportability, but definitely remote)
But that's simply describing hardware and how portable that hardware is.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter what your device is or what you use it for as long as it works for you.

mLearning is the serving of eLearning content to these remote devices.  This is something that's been happening for well over a decade with mixed results and in very specific areas. It is not something new at all. The devices may be new (though it can be argued that large PocketPC devices in the early 2000s and PALM readers before that were also mLearning  tools).  Are the devices more prolific now? Yes, but not for learning purposes. They are mostly media serving and app-specific devices relating to media (photos, movies, music, graphic arts and publishing). Can they do mLearning? Sure, maybe...

A Solution in Search of a Problem

With all the buzz running around the Internet and in the marketing hype of companies desperate to differentiate themselves in the mLearning arena,  it is still a solution to a problem that only exists for a very small number of companies and government agencies in the USA and around the world.  Perhaps one day the solution will indeed solve a problem for the general workforce, but today, it is more hype than reality.

I've worked in many industries throughout my career both in Management and as a consultant. Many companies do not have "mobile" workforces. A large majority of employees still go to work for a multitude of reasons. Sadly, most people, left on their own, would not perform very well at non-professional levels. And I'd venture to say that a good number of professionals would also perform badly left to their own devices. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule...

But there lies an bigger problem with mLearning that is rarely talked about and what ultimately may make it irrelevant. What is that problem?

The average worker only takes training because they have to and really have no interest in what they're learning. 

OK, I know a silent gasp probably just happened with many people.  "How could this be?"  "People are self-directed and learn on their own, don't they?" "People are completely motivated to learn. aren't they?" "The people I know learn on their own..."

Yes, in a perfect world that would all be true. But most people have "jobs" and they just don't care that much about their careers. They may switch jobs for more money or maybe a better opportunity, but they are not "life-long learners".

Providing these employees with mobile devices, or access to mLearning sounds great, but unless it is work-specific  and done only on company time, most will never look at it if they don't have to.

I'm not being negative here. I am being realistic. Trainers and eLearning developers work in the "learning" industry. They tend to think people like to learn. Some do, many don't.  Having mLearning at one's disposal is just one more thing that people may or may not use...

Also, if the mLearning is not tracked, then I guarantee very few will take it. Have you ever noticed the amount of lag time there is on your LMS when com,pliance training is due? Everyone waits till the very last day to take it...

Sales professionals who work in the field could and might use mLearning to learn about their competitors, to understand their own products better and to perfect some Sales techniques. Perhaps flight crews could use mLearning to keep up on their skills or new regulations while waiting for a passenger to press that service light.  Linemen working remotely may come across an old switch they're not familiar with and look up how to repair it on-line. And there are many examples where remote workers may need just-in-time training or documentation.

At the same time, there are security issues, firewall issues, bandwidth and accessibility issues, damage and shrinkage problems and much more that could get in the way of mLearning truly taking off.

Ultimately, time will tell...

While the vendors all hawk their mLearning solutions, which are mostly a very small part of their revenue stream, and while procurement personnel add "mLearning" to their list of 5,000 other required items for eLearning development tools, the end result is far from known.

Perhaps there will be a sea change in the way business operates. And perhaps nothing will change. Time will tell whether a Training department will have the money and resources to implement costly mLearning solutions without the objections of IT and other operational groups.

In the meantime, it's cool seeing mLearning apps running on devices. But cool often doesn't matter when expenses outweigh the results.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Apple and Adobe Change the Rules

I've been in senior level Management for well over two decades both with Information Technology (IT) and in running our professional services consulting/development firm.  Part of my responsibility was to select vendors, evaluate solutions and determine product viability. I've done this for large scale enterprise systems as well as more localized development tools.

Since 1995, I've had the responsibility for selecting eLearning and media development tools for use internally as well as for our Fortune 500 clients. When doing these evaluations I look for several key components:
  • Vendor viability
  • Product features
  • Product integration with Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • Product integration with other tool-sets (the concept of suites)
  • Pricing structures for small or large purchases
  • Product history
  • Product stability
I have often also been an adopter of new products. This simply means I'm not risk-averse. But I am much more hesitant to recommend new products to customers until I see how the product fares over the first year or so of its life-cycle.  In the past, moving too quickly on a product, specially when it was for a client, resulted in product/companies either going under or discontinuing non-selling lines. While this can always happen to any company, as a consultant, I need to tread that road very carefully for my customer's sake.

Recently, two vendors have spearheaded new trends in product pricing, deployment and development. Those vendors are Apple and Adobe.

Apple led the charge by creating the iTunes App Store and, later, the Mac App Store. All of a sudden buying software, downloading and installing it became quite simple. In fact, it was pretty much effortless.

Adobe, another software giant, reeling from the blow Apple dealt to its Flash player, needed to re-focus and re-vitalize. While this doesn't sound difficult, it can be very complex for a large company to accomplish in a short time-frame. But Adobe seems to have done just that to the dismay of many including myself.

Following Apple's footsetps, Adobe has lowered the price of its products dramatically by going with a subscription model.  This guarantees Adobe recurring revenue on a monthly basis, makes financial predictions and investments clear and allows for a consistent flow of money to pay for development and Marketing. But more than all of this, the end-user, Adobe's customers, benefit greatly from the reduced pricing and ease of implementation.

In the past, Adobe has suffered from quality issues in many of its products (mostly those that came from Macromedia). Quality issues and a lack of support from the giant vendor created opportunities for smaller companies to make small inroads in several product areas including eLearning.  But ultimately, Adobe still controlled two-thirds of the marketplace based on reputation, size and feature sets along with tight integration in their suite offerings.

Personally, I was seeing Adobe more and more as a company I did not want to recommend or use for many of the issues cited above. They passed many of my criteria for making the finalist list, but I had trepidations in recommending them. Then something changed...

Actually, several things changed...

Adobe released the CS6 suite with a new subscription model. While subscriptions are not something Apple does, the model simulated a similar end result: cost-effective software that included upgrades for no extra cost.

And Adobe showed a renewed fervor and excitement in their product lines with great innovation in the fields of graphic imaging, layout and design, and yes, even in eLearning.

Let's take eLearning as an example... The cost of Adobe Captivate 6, in a subscription model, is roughly $240.00 per year and includes all updates. Competitors with similar products are in the $1,000+ range and offer little or no integtation with other products.  Assuming quality, feature sets and development cycles are very similar, pricing becomes a great differentiator. Add to that the very fast workflows that Captivate and Adobe on the whole offer, and you start having  a lot less competition making the finalist list.

This is not to say that Adobe is a perfect company and that all quality issues have been resolved. They haven't and there is always room for improvement. But it does make Adobe an impressive force to be reckoned with and if the competition cannot prove the case that their software is worth 4-6 times as much, then time will tell whether those companies can survive. One thing is for sure, cost-cutting and more rapid development techniques and attention to quality will force all vendors to become better comeptitors in order to survive.

Adobe has lowered their prices and has committed to ex cellence. The key in their future will be whether they can continue earnestly with their commitment and be nimble as the smaller companies in their development. Time will tell...

What I do like about the current marketplace is that the poor economy has forced a game-changing action to have occurred and that means greater competition, more innovation and better pricing for all of us, the customers.

If there's any prediction to be made is that Apple leads with innovative strategies that affect everyone, Adobe is the next largest vendor (Microsoft is larger but in a different space) starts leading instead of reacting and that we all benefit from more robust tools at better pricing.

I'll keep my fingers crossed...