Staying competitive: The costs of rapid technological advancement

There is no doubt that consumers benefit from today’s unprecedented rapid technological innovation in mobile and web. But, there are costs that business incur as a result.

Here’s an overview of some of the costs that you should take into account when building budgets as well as mobile and web strategies. Some have argued that the trend of B.Y.O.D., or Bring Your Own Device, has mitigated some costs to corporations and organizations. That may be true, but after reading this you will probably agree that the costs listed below reach beyond the cost of the actual device. These are all things you have to take into account to stay competitive in today’s hard charging environment.

Hardware turnover.  The advantage here goes to iOS devices. Android devices can become obsolete within six months because cell providers are allowed to provide phones and tablets with customized versions of the Android OS. They essentially lock you into a forced hardware upgrade because you’ll only get one or two minor OS upgrades per device. Your company will have to balance that software it can run on various device operating system versions. Whereas iOS devices, on the other hand, get access to the latest updates. Also, like the traditional PC upgrade path, with mobile devices you may have to upgrade to gain access to greater memory or CPU capabilities.

Code updates. You’ll spend a significant amount of time keeping up with the latest capabilities. It takes time to learn how best to adapt to the latest coding patterns, UI design patterns, and technological advancements.

Reverse compatibility. Some business have a requirement to maintain their code on older versions of browsers and operating systems.  The further back you have to support OS versions the larger the support costs. The larger the gap between the latest versions of SDKs, APIs, devices and browsers and legacy versions the greater the cost.

Security. It can be very challenging to secure smartphones and tablets from physical intrusions and viruses. These breaches can give criminals access to your internal systems. Tracking down security leaks and fixing breaches can be very expensive and time consuming.

Replacement devices. You’ll need to decide whether or not to carry insurance on each device, or take the chance that a device will never get dropped, broken or stolen. Replacement costs are extremely expensive if you have no warranty and no option from the cellular carrier to get a subsidized upgrade.

Poor connectivity. This may seem like an odd cost to list, but poor connectivity can cripple the productivity of a remote workforce. The more reliant an organization becomes on internet connections, especially for real-time systems, the greater the cost that can be incurred when users encounter connectivity problems. Poor connectivity means slow, intermittent or a non-existent internet connection.

Cellular data costs. Another byproduct of being increasingly mobile is dealing with how your architecture handles data transactions between clients and servers. Chatty applications, or applications that move a lot of data back and forth, and heavy web pages, or web pages that are physically large when loaded into a browser, can result in significant internet and cellular data charges.  For example, if your application is 3 MBs and it is accessed 1000 times per day by your workforce, that adds up to 3 GBs of data usage per day.

What do you read for technical news?

It was just a few years ago that I regularly scanned a list of mainstream developer and IT rags on a weekly basis: ComputerWorld, Visual Studio Magazine, SD Times, JDJ, and the list goes. Then one day early last year the thought hit me and I was a bit stunned to realize that I’d stopped reading online magazines. The vast majority of my technical info was now coming from blogs, online help docs and dizzying amount of internet searches. So, what happened? I have some theories that I’ve been thinking over the last year, but I can’t really nail down anything for certain. So, it’s most likely a combination of these five concepts below.

Rapid Change. My first thought is that technology has been changing so rapidly that simply digesting the changes and understanding them takes a huge chunk of time. Huge. I’ve blogged about this a number of times. This trend cuts across the entire tech industry. The upside is that innovation happens overnight and fixes as well as new features come out quickly. The downside is it’s harder for everyone to stay on top of all the changes across updates to features, libraries, SDKs, smartphone operating systems and browsers.

Super busy. My second thought is:  in addition to staying on top the über release cycle of web and mobile technologies, I’ve been so busy with project work that I simply had to narrow the scope of what I was reading. It’s a balancing act and there’s only so much time in the day. Superfluous information seemed to just slow me down, or worse it felt like a distraction from the day’s objectives. And in today’s online environment there is such a huge flow of information. So, there has to be a way or mechanism for focusing and filtering the fire hose of inbound data.

Irrelevant Info. My third thought is that every time I try to go back and read mainstream rags that I find myself sifting through a bunch of stuff that isn’t relevant to my immediate or near-term needs. Like I mentioned above, a good portion of it often seemed to be superfluous. Don’t get me wrong: online magazines offer well written and well thought out information. But, I felt the extra information, or perhaps even information overload in some cases, slowed me down. If it takes time to sift through article after article looking for a specific topic, my inclination is to go back out to a search engine and narrow down my search parameters.

Online Search Engines. Search engines have done an excellent job of (rapidly) indexing online technical content. I don’t need to mention them by name because you know all the players. At work we’ve often joked about a pattern we call “coding by search engine.” The pattern goes something like this:  copy a class name or error message, paste it into the search bar and then skim through the results. If you have to go more than one page deep in the search results then stop and redo the search. Mostly gone are the days of sifting through reams of paper documentation or digging around in some esoteric corner of a vendors website. I don’t think most customers will stand for that anymore. I think more information is instantaneously available at our fingertips now than any other time in history. It is astonishing, really.

Forums. My final thought is the voice of the developer community has never been more important. Online forums, such as Stack Overflow, have become to be perceived as definitive sources on technical questions of all kinds and about all different sorts of programming languages. I’ve been in many conversations where, right or wrong, someone interjected with a comment about something learned on Stack Overflow, or similar sites. These sites are well indexed by search engines, the community can vote answers up or down, and many brilliant and knowledgeable players contribute their knowledge. These are excellent, speed-of-light resources that are freely available.

So, there you have it. This is my two cents of what I’m reading these days and why I think I changed what I read. Leave a comment or email me about how you get your technical info injection. I’m really curious to hear your experience.

* Clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office 2007.