Network, We don’t need no stinking network!

by Brian Katz on May 31, 2012 · 2 comments

There was a spirited debate tonight set off by my last post about BYOD and the fact that while the device might be important, it is really about allowing the employee to do work anytime, anywhere, and on any device (the 3 Any Strategy) by delivering them the information they need using a terrific UI and UX. Your users are looking for the same frictionless experience that they have when they use their devices at home.

Todd Smith started it off by declaring the network was really the device that we were talking about in BYOD. Gal Shpantzer got involved and brought up the security of the device. What became interesting was what happened next. Todd declared that the device should not store any data and that all data should reside in the cloud. We quickly turned this into a discussion of the always available network, which Todd stated was more or less already upon us and which the rest of us disputed (David O’Berry had joined the conversation at this point as well).

The network is very important to the 3 Any Strategy, you do need a way to deliver the information to the endpoint after all. The question is whether it’s fair to say that the network is ubiquitous and no data truly needs to reside on the device. My answer is of course not. There may be a time in the distant future when this is possible for most people but in the near future not a chance.

There are many reasons that we will not see this happen any time soon. We can start with the network itself. One of the tenets of the 3 Any Strategy is the fact that you can do work at any time. That means you need a minimum of a 3g network (have you ever tried to use a smartphone app over an edge network? It’s torturous). Obviously we would prefer a 4g network but let’s stick to the basics. As much as we would like to think that all carriers’ coverage is excellent everywhere, we all know better. Have you ever tried to send an email from Yankee Stadium over the cellular network in the middle of a game? Good luck with that. How about when your plane lands and 250 passengers turn their smartphones on at the same time? It’s not very easy to get a good data connection even as you disembark the plane at the terminal. Try doing the same thing when you are standing underground in Grand Central in the middle of rush hour regardless of who your service provider is. It’s not a question of signal strength but of bandwidth in most of these cases. Have you ever tried to do anything over the network at a large tech conference, oh the horrors. Now, one way to combat this is to use WiFi access points. This can work really well sometimes, especially when they are open access points that are free to use (now as @Shpantzer was in on the conversation I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that you should protect yourself whenever using public WiFi…apps like Cloak and PureVPN can help with this). These aren’t ubiquitous either though. You do not have a guarantee of a good connection when you are mobile all the time.

This leads to the fact that you need to have data that is available offline. When you are an enterprise and are developing an app for your employees your goal is to give them the best experience possible while allowing them to do their jobs. If you have a sales force that can’t get to their data because of a dead spot, over-subscription to an access point, or just plain quirkiness saying “Oops, sorry, it made sense when we planned it on a whiteboard” just doesn’t cut it. You design your app to work offline when it is warranted. You give your employees the ability to manipulate the information in whatever way they need to, through the way you designed your app. As I discussed in this post about building an app, know whether you need to have data available offline. Design your app based on the requirements and then work with what’s available in the environment. If the data for your app  needs to be accessed while online only and it shouldn’t be stored on the endpoint, then there is no reason shouldn’t store it in a cloud (public, private or hybrid) and that is the requirement that you build to. On the other hand, if the requirement is to be able to access the data at any time and work with it while disconnected from the network then that’s how you build your app. You certainly have to keep security in mind when you build apps to access data from any endpoint, but in the end you must balance that risk with the ability to let your user get their work done.

If we look back to where we started this post, Todd is correct that the way we access data  online and offline will change as the network changes around us in the future, but David’s experience is similar to mine so I’ll let David close out this post with his reply to Todd’s tweet.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Colin Steele June 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

A common phrase these days is “anywhere access.” Despite what some vendors and analysts will tell you, that does not mean “access everything from the cloud.” Maybe someday, when 5G wireless is as ubiquitous and strong as AM radio signals across the prairies at night, but not today. For now, there are times when the cloud is inaccessible, so “anywhere” must include on mobile devices themselves.


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