Friday, April 30, 2010

Mobile Expert Interview Series: Leapfactor's Lionel Carrasco

I was in Miami, Florida a few weeks ago and was able to meet up with Lionel Carrasco and do some sailing. Lionel Carrasco is the CEO and founder of Leapfactor, an Enterprise mobility player and partner of SAP. Lionel shared his thoughts and insights while the sun was setting over Miami.

I asked Lionel how he originally got into the mobility industry. He explained that he managed the development, as an SAP systems integrator CTO, of a number of large enterprise mobility projects in the Direct Store Delivery, Logistics Execution, and Sales Force Automation space. These projects were in the USA, Latin America, and Europe. In the course of designing, developing, deploying and supporting these applications, he learned much. He believes this experience will be invaluable to SAP and Leapfactor customers.

I asked Lionel how he would describe Leapfactor. He answered that Leapfactor understands that cloud computing and mobility should come together. This joining together will enable large enterprises to take advantage of mobility in ways similar to consumers. He believes enterprises should mobilize employees, partners, and consumers. He believes enterprises should consider mobilizing their entire ecosystem as there is value to be recognized in all areas of it.

What differentiates Leapfactor from other SAP mobility partners? Lionel answered that Leapfactor is a native cloud based mobile offering that can handle a large scale volume of users, even in on premises implementation models. They do their best to remove the complexity from a mobile enterprise, yet they offer the required enterprise class security and compliance capabilities. He added that Leapfactor does not think from the "inside out." “Looking from the inside out,” according to Lionel, “Makes you think like an ERP running on a desktop computer and simply extending features outside the four walls which limits you.”

"We are thinking of not just one mobile application but hundreds!" Lionel emphasized. "Developers can build them, customers can build them, our partners can build them, and we can build them on behalf of our customers as well."

Lionel emphasized again and again that the economics of mobile applications, the way they are developed, deployed and supported is completely different now than they were even a few months back. I interpreted that to mean not many mobility vendors have recognized or accepted the new paradigms and realities yet. He believes the new business models that Leapfactor is bringing to the SAP marketplace are significant, not only for customers but SAP and the partners ecosystem.

I asked Lionel about his target audiences. His answer was end users, end users, and end users. He believes that end users need to realize value with the very first click of a mobile application, and the enterprise should receive their value second. It is a view that suggests the end users are the secret to an enterprise's success. If the end user likes the mobile application, then the enterprise will realize the value.

Lionel said that Leapfactor is here to create value for the business. The winners will be those enterprises that create apps for the edges of the processes because the core is already taken care of and automated by ERPs. The edges are where the enterprise relates to customers and partners and where the opportunities for mobility lie. He then added that it is also very important to make the IT department the heroes, because they will be able to respond to business demands faster instead of managing the complexity and maintenance budgets.

I asked about Leapfactor's mobile applications. He listed them as follows: 
  • Business Indicators - Mobilized business intelligence for all types of users from the executives down to blue collar workers.
  • Mobile Alerts - When action and acknowledge is required and email is not enough.
  • Mobile Approvals - For any system and process that requires an approval. 
He then shared that one of the most interesting new mobile applications would be released in time for Sapphire. It is a mobile social intelligence application for large enterprises.

I asked Lionel if he viewed Leapfactor as a development platform. He answered that it is a mobile deployment platform that can rapidly scale up and scale down depending on the customer's and software developer's needs. “We added some development accelerators and user interface libraries to increase productivity and reduce complexity for developers, but that does not make us a development platform. We rely on the native development tools of each mobile OS,” he said.

It is a deployment platform that mobile application developers can use to deploy the applications they have developed without the need to build a complete and expensive SaaS infrastructure themselves.

One of the most interesting thoughts that Lionel shared was this, "Applications and lines of code are increasingly disposable. The code is less and less important since mobile applications can be developed quickly and with relatively little investment." Hmmm . . . where is the value then? Lionel believes the value will be in the ability to economically and quickly deploy and support mobile applications – applications that offer immediate value to the end users and that are easily distributed. I think he was only half joking but he said, "Mobile applications can be easily thrown away as newer and better mobile applications are developed." It seems to be the personification of agile.

Lionel sees one of the key roles of Leapfactor is to help other mobile software developers manage deployments, compliance issues, and testing and then supporting their operational environments through the Leapfactor platform.

One of the key values in the Leapfactor platform is its ability to meter and measure the use of mobile applications. This information can be used for any number of emerging business models that may include charging the user based on transaction numbers, volume of data used, etc.

I asked Lionel for his opinion on the role of mobile micro-apps. He said mobile micro-apps are easy to maintain, easy to deploy, and easy to develop. This means developers can rapidly bring value and incremental improvements to users. He added that sharing the consumer approach to mobile applications with large enterprises also offers a lot of value.

Lionel refers to "thick client" mobile applications as "obese" mobile applications. He said it is wrong to include too many features in one code base for mobile devices. Obese applications are nightmares to maintain and take far too long to develop, test and deliver. He added, "Developers need to stop thinking like Windows Desktop application developers and change their paradigms to think like a mobile user."

In my past I have been involved in many "obese" mobile application development projects. I can share that the customer requirements always seemed to change faster than you could design, develop, test, and deploy them.

I asked Lionel for his opinions on MEAPs (mobile enterprise application platforms). He said there is still a need for MEAPs on some projects, but the development is very expensive. He believes MEAPs were mostly designed for older development paradigms, and they need to change to support a more consumer-oriented approach for enterprises of today.

I asked Lionel to look into the future and tell me what he sees. He offered that mobility is already pervasive. He said most less-developed nations have more mobile phones than landlines. He believes that soon all mobile phones will be smartphones.

He also believes that enterprises will begin building management functionality that enables a separation between work and play on the same mobile phone. Perhaps it is a work phone until 5:00 p.m. and then switches to personal settings with personal applications. I find this whole area of thinking very interesting.

What is SAP doing right? Lionel said SAP is focused on mobility in 2010, which is a very good thing. They are demonstrating that they believe it is important, and although they have been slow to embrace mobility and cloud computing, they seem to be picking up speed. They are rallying the SAP troops and the customer base which is all good. Lionel added, “I have had the chance to meet Kevin Nix, who now leads the SAP mobile strategy, and it was refreshing to hear his fresh ideas and real world experiences.”

Lionel believes that SAP's partner strategy for mobile applications is the right strategy. "They realize they cannot do it all and have invited partners to fill the gaps" he added. "Past failures that SAP experienced in mobility were due to SAP following old paradigms."

What can we expect from Leapfactor in 2010? Lionel provided the following list:
  • Leapfactor will show the industry and customers more proof points that Leapfactor's model and technology is the right approach. It will be disruptive to current thinking, but it is the right approach.
  • Leapfactor will deliver more killer apps, but more importantly, customers and partners will do the same.
  • Leapfactor will be adding many customers, small and extra large ones.
  • Leapfactor will publicly release a Developer Kit that has been limited to date to only a few partners.
  • Additional RIM and Android apps will be released this year.
If there is a mobile expert that you think I should interview please contact me!

Read more interviews with mobile experts:
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. ***************************************************