Aeroprise didn’t intend to revolutionize how the industry thinks about mobile applications. Its key product was Dan Turchin’s graduate project at the Stanford School of Engineering, and it was built for desktop applications. But with a little help from his friends, Turchin soon realized he was onto something new. In an industry still trying to cut away the hype and get down to business, Turchin took his prize-winning project, now known as the Aeroprise Personalization Engine, and did just that. Four years later, with a slew of customers under its belt, Aeroprise’s Turchin spoke to Mobile Enterprise about how personalization will revolutionize mobility.
Mobile Enterprise: How do you define personalization?
Dan Turchin:When we talk about personalization, we’re referring to the fact that there’s not really such a thing as a one-size-fits-all mobile application. Most end users, when they’re away from their desk, really only need a fraction of the functions from their desktop applications; but the hard part about creating the ideal mobile application is that fraction is different for each end user.
The big idea behind Aeroprise is trying to figure out a way to isolate the essential components of a desktop application that are necessary for each end user, based on who they are and what device they’re using.
ME: How does the Personalization Engine work?
DT: It stores mobile profiles for each end user that take into account things like what is this user’s business function and skill set, where does he work, what is she currently doing, is he working on something high-profile right now or can he be interrupted, what’s the problem that she just finished fixing, all sorts of information like that. And when you take all of those bits of information, you can build an application that is targeted toward just the kinds of things that he or she needs to solve the problem.
Through personalization you don’t have a dumbed-down version of an application for mobile devices, you have almost all the functionality of the desktop application. So you can take a simple device, like an ordinary cell phone or a PDA, and give it all the functionality of a laptop because you’re just sending it the functions a user needs right then.
ME: What are some factors you think have been holding back the industry from widespread mobile adoption, and how do you propose personalization fits in?
DT: This fits in with Aeroprise’s value proposition. We see three key problems that have delayed enterprise adoption of wireless technology in the industry.
The first is the complexity of fitting a large client server application on a mobile device. The conventional answer being to get a large platform and spend a few months trying to build a custom application, or try to cram the big application down to a mobile device. We aim to provide an elegant solution to this problem through end user personalization, because now the user can just get what she needs on the go.
The second problem is device diversification. When we talk to customers we tell them, “If you have a device strategy, just stick with it, we’re gonna work with your devices.” With our solution, you don’t need any additional programming efforts to make all these devices work with a large client server application. We call it automatic device optimization.
And the third issue is slow, painful deployments. Aeroprise has worked around this with application adapters that we have pre-built for enterprise applications. As a result, we literally get customers up and running—where they have a mobile application integrated and ready to go—in about an hour.
And all this is driven by that one different approach, personalization, which in turn we believe will drive mainstream mobile and wireless adoption.
ME: The way you tell it personalization will make user adoption and deployment so much easier, why do you think the industry is reluctant to adopt it enmass?
DT: I’ll put it in anhistorical context, we talk about two generations of mobile companies that are addressing this set of enterprise problems, the first generation of companies sold a combination of tool kits and consulting ware—things that were really appropriate for large, custom deployment. In the early days in our space you had UPS, FedEx, customers like that that have highly custom needs and these solutions were very appropriate.
But as the mass market opportunity has emerged and enterprises have started to come forth with problems that they’re looking to solve that are very similar to each other, the second generation of mobile solution providers has come along to address the mass market opportunity. That opportunity is the one for which the personalization approach is a more effective one, because it’s a much cheaper way to solve the same problem. So when Aeroprise talks about the need for automatic device optimization and the need to tailor the solution to the end-user and the need to get it out there in an hour, that’s a mass market opportunity we’re addressing. And I think over time, as more companies across more industries adopt mobile solutions you’re going to hear more and more need for something like a personalization engine.
ME: Can you tell us about some of the issues potential customer’s of Aeroprise face?
DT: Well we had the Dartmouth case study profiled in your magazine, but what’s interesting is that even though their specific problem is defined to such a granular level, this is a problem that thousands of customers across different market segments face almost in the same words. You hear them say it in different contexts like healthcare for instance, their hot button is the fact that their critical problems involve patient safety, for retail organizations their critical problems involve a store being down and customers waiting in line. But if you look at critical IT problems that need resolution when employees are in the field, that’s a pretty horizontal problem.
ME: What’s your vision going forward?
DT: I’ll tell you a quick story that relates to our vision for the company. I was talking to the VP of IT at one of our larger customers recently (one of the largest grocery chains in the world with more than 1800 stores across North America) and he was saying that in the first year of use, his IT staff was able to retire more than 200 laptops, and that Aeroprise has paid for itself in the first 6 months. In terms of our vision for the company, that’s a good success story for us.