Monday, April 26, 2010

Mobile Expert Interview Series: ClickSoftware's Gil Bouhnick

I had the opportunity to spend time on the phone this morning with Gil Bouhnick who was calling from warm and beautiful Tel Aviv.  He is the Director of Mobile Solutions for ClickSoftware and a big fan of mobility, so much in fact, that he has four mobile smartphones and rarely leaves home or the office without two or more in his pockets.  Although his office is in Tel Aviv, most of ClickSoftware's customers are in North American and in Europe.

Gil's role is in the product management group at ClickSoftware.  He has spent years at ClickSoftware and has been a part of the evolution of their mobile solutions.  Early on, ClickSoftware, a company focused on field service automation and service scheduling optimization, integrated with mobile solutions from companies like Antenna, Dexterra (now part of Antenna) and Syclo.  However, over time they began to recognize that they needed their own mobile software and framework to support the requirements of their field services customers.

I have to think that ClickSoftware felt it would be better to provide their own mobile software rather than refer business to their largest strategic competitors. 

When ClickSoftware determined they needed their own mobile solution and framework, they began working with Microsoft's mobility team and developed their mobile solution around Microsoft environments.  Nearly all of their customers were using ruggedized laptops and rugged handheld devices from vendors like Panasonic, Psion Teklogix, Motorola/Symbol and Intermec, which were all using Windows Mobile operating systems.  Even today, in the rough and tumble world of field services where ruggedized laptops and handheld computers are required, Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating systems dominate.

ClickSoftware did take a good look at Sybase's mobile middleware before deciding on Microsoft's middleware. They believe Sybase was a good option, but they chose Microsoft and continue to be big fans of Windows Mobile due to Microsoft's dominance in the rugged industrial grade handheld computer markets.

I asked Gil about their plans to support iPhones and Android devices, and he shared that they are preparing to release light weight browser-based applications for Blackberrys, iPhones, and Android devices. 

From our discussion, it appears that ClickSoftware is a strong believer in thick mobile clients that can work in connected or disconnected locations.  He used the example of service technicians working in elevator shafts that do not have connectivity, but must access and record information on their handheld computer.  He also described an increasing need for field services applications to support on-device barcode scanners and integrated GPS functionality.

ClickSoftware's customers (there were twenty new mobility customers in 2009) have large numbers of mobile users.  One of their recent customers deployed over 5,000 mobile applications to ruggedized devices.  He said all of their large customers to date are using the Windows Mobile operating systems.

Gil shared an interesting trend among their customers.  He says he is actually seeing an increase in field service workers caring two mobile devices.  The ruggedized industrial grade laptop or handheld computer and a Blackberry, iPhone or Android device.  Why?  Because often the ruggedized work-oriented computer is focused specifically on the field service application and process, and the field service technicians wants a smartphone for work communications and personal use.

Gil explained a unique phenomena they regularly experience with their customers.  He said once a company starts working with a mobile application they nearly always start expanding into all kinds of new and interesting directions.  It is very hard for a mobile user to stop at one mobile application.  He said mobile applications are hard to limit.  Their boundaries are hard to establish.  Field services applications can quickly grow to include inventory management, scheduling, asset tracking, dispatch, CRM, inspection, etc.

I have also experienced this phenomena.  Once the field service team becomes accustomed to working with mobile applications, they can recognize the need for many additional mobile applications that would benefit them.  This was one of the key reasons ClickSoftware decided to jump into the mobile application space with both feet.  They recognized that eventually customers would want mobile extensions to all of their software applications, and they were in the best position to support these requirements.

Field service technicians are no longer as easily impressed with mobile applications as they were a few years ago when all things mobile were magical.  Today, they are downloading all kinds of powerful mobile applications to their personal smartphones in the evenings and weekends.  Today, they expect to see that same level of sophistication from their field services applications.

In late 2009 ClickSoftware released their first standalone mobile solution, called ClickSoftware Mobile. Prior mobile solutions from ClickSoftware were mobile extensions to their enterprise field services applications.  ClickSoftware Mobile contains many templates, forms builders and workflow processes that are useful for the field service industry.  As it evolves, it will become a useful MEAP for many other processes and workflows as well.

Gil says he believes SAP has the right strategy towards mobility today.  He described SAP's mobility strategy as the "App Store" approach to letting nearly everyone offer mobile applications that integrate with SAP.  He said this strategy was necessary due to the challenges SAP had in the past with their internal mobility efforts.

What is SAP doing wrong?  Gil said one of the challenges he sees is that SAP does not know what to recommend when customers ask.  He said all of the mobility vendors continually update SAP on new developments, but he doubts that information is effectively distributed to the field.  There are just too many developments happening too fast.  He said think of the confusion when a SAP customer needs mobility in 3 or 4 different areas that are covered by different SAP mobility partners.  How is the customer going to make a good decision?

What can we expect to see from ClickSoftware in 2010?  Gil says that ClickSoftware has deep expertise in field services automation, which will be shown in many new features in their mobile applications including integrated SMS that is contextually aware.  Customers can be notified of arrival times automatically based on the current location and schedule of the field service technician.  He said their applications are increasingly location sensitive and many new features are being integrated that use GPS coordinates as important data inputs.  He gave examples that included location of other service technicians, the inventories of other nearby service vehicles, and web services that include traffic information and alternative routes to help field service technicians be as efficient as possible.

Another feature that Gil's customers have been requesting is a light weight browser based-mobile application for contractors and sub-contractors.  These workers are often only involved in a project for a limited period of time and come with many different kinds of mobile devices.  As a result, a browser-based approach that enables any contractors with internet connection and permission to access project and scheduling information is best.

When asked about ClickSoftware competitors, Gil said Syclo is likely their biggest strategic competitor.  It is my impression that ClickSoftware is committed to the field service industry and complimentary business processes for most of their business now and in the near future.  He added that he does not compete much with Sky Technologies but finds their SAP "innerware" approach to mobility interesting.

Gil believes that Apple's iPhones and App Store changed the world.  Apple revolutionized how all other mobile applications are developed and deployed.  Apple opened up the world in new and different ways and inspired both developers and users to see smartphones and mobile applications differently.  He believes the new Apple iPad has the potential to make a similar market impact.

I said to Gil, "Tablets have been around for a decade.  Why do you think that the iPad has the ability to revolutionize the world?"  Gil answered, "Apple has the ability to do even the simplest things amazingly!"  It is the ability to produce amazing experiences that can inspire the world.

Additional interviews in this series:
Kevin Benedict
Author of the report Enterprise Mobile Data Solutions, 2009
Mobile Strategy Consultant, Mobile Industry Analyst and Web 2.0 Marketing Expert
***Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility consultant and Web 2.0 marketing expert. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles. ***************************************************