Friday, December 30, 2011

Netflix Phenomenon and Mobility

Three weeks ago, I attended a two day workshop called the mGov Strategy.  This workshop's purpose is to provide input to OMB's mobility strategy for the US Federal Government.  Steve VanRoekel, OMB CIO, sponsored this workshop.  US civil servants from various lines of government joined the workshop. OMB split the working group into five sub-groups.  The sub-groups were:
  1. Acquisition - How can US government address acquisition of mobile technologies and services? Can the US government streamline the acquisition process.
  2. Security - How to safeguard government information and technologies from hackers.
  3. Privacy - How to protect mobile user information from inappropriate use especially when they interface with US government mobile sites and apps.
  4. Citizen apps - How to develop a mobile presence to engage US government's biggest customer US citizen.
  5. Infrastructure - How can US government address the evolution of mobile technologies and associated technologies like cloud computing, social computing and others.
As the member of the security sub-group, we discussed several policy and technical approaches.  The thing that caught my eye and basically sums up any future technical advancement is the ability to do use any application from anywhere and anytime.  I call this the "Netflix phenomenon"

Even though Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, won't win the CEO of the year award, I still give him credit in taking the movie watching experience from a cinema theater to any possible device which is accredited by Netflix.  I admit that Google introduced this feature with YouTube however Netflix took it to a new level.  I can now start a movie via  my laptop, pause it and then resume it on my iPad.  I like this DirecTV commerical which captures what I am talking about.

To develop this type of an IT service, enterprises need to invest in the following technologies and architectures like:
  • Cloud computing - IT departments need to centralize their business applications and act as cloud brokers to outsource some of their applications to third party clouds like Amazon EC2, Google Cloud, Rackspace and others.  I believe unless OMB makes significant investments in IT infrastructure, agencies will have to act as cloud brokers. It's a cost effective mechanism.
  • Smarter Pipes - Where is Mario when you need him?  With all of the data and information streaming back and forth between clouds, user devices, government needs to influence how IT networks should evolve.  Since mobile users are constantly starving for the fastest network, vendors have to realize that simply scaling up the networks is not a sustainable model.  Vendors and research institutes need to look at how data should traverse the network and optimize it.  A good example is that vendors need to develop information caching mechanisms at the network level.  
  • Smarter security - One of the best phrases used by the mobile users in the government space is, "brick". Users can call and email on a brick but nothing else.  Security personnel should realize that clamping everything defeats the purpose.  IT risk management should be a key in developing a smarter security posture. Single sign on is key as well. No one wants to sign on with multiple usernames and passwords to do their work.
  • Usability - One of the best parts of using Netflix is how intuitive the user interface is.  Ease of use is a key phrase to describe Netflix's user interface.  We need to identify and prioritize what functionality is needed or desired on a mobile app.
  • Flexibility - Use sound architecture principles like loose coupling, simple interfaces and architectures.  Simpler is better.  
  • Standards based architecture -  Eventhough there is an over abundance of  standards especially XML (frankly I am sick of how folks are misusing it), we still need to emphasize it and design appropriately.  Having a 50MB XML payload in SOA enabled information exchange is NOT smart architecture.  I am not going to expound on the 50MB XML example since it is aggravating.
Even though Reed Hastings didn't make alot friends with Qwikster or jacking up the monthly Netflix fees,  he did build a pretty cool service called Netflix streaming.  As I write this blog, my youngest son is watching Power Rangers in Space via the WII and my oldest two are watching a Dreamworks movie via the PS3.  My third one is having fun the old fashioned way. She is attending a birthday party. Thanks Reed and now bring down the monthly fees.