Appolis, Inc.

The Bottom-Up Innovation Cycle

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There has been a lot of noise in the last week about the Apple-IBM collaboration agreement. It is certainly newsworthy and has all the appropriate levels of intrigue. The originator of the PC, teaming up with their former competitor and successful implementer of the personal mobile device, will bring that technology to the Enterprise. It’s pretty much guaranteed to generate headlines and it certainly will accelerate the acceptance of the purpose-built Mobile App into the Fortune 1000. And of course it brings up the questions of “Why should I trust my Mobility Strategy to a smaller player now that the big boys have entered the game?”

But looking at my experiences as both a Technology Leader at the Fortune 1000 level as well as the Start-Up/SMB market, it reminds me that while these 2 “800lb Gorillas” will make a big splash, historically this is not where the innovation comes from.

Indeed, Innovation is almost always a bottom-up process; driven by extreme need and extreme lack of resources, where risk is not the top concern but the ability to “WOW” the customer is. This why we so admire the David vs Goliath anecdote as it has been duplicated in the innovation cycle countless times as the upstarts replace the establishment.

In mobility it is already proving to be no different. Game changing innovations at the App level are happening far more often in the smaller development companies by customers that are demanding low cost, high value solutions that are providing a competitive edge in markets that sometimes have been stable for years. Looking at Inventory Management and Logistics one could certainly make that case today.

No greater example than the portable hand-held scanner.


This is a device that has been largely unchanged since the introduction of Windows CE 3.0 nearly 15 years ago. And while the devices have gotten (somewhat) smaller and lighter over time, for the most part these are still systems that are designed for the Large Logistics Organization (you know, the ones that just plunked down 7 figures on an SAP or Oracle ERP system, designed a custom wireless network for the warehouse that needs a PHD-Level Network Engineer, and Handheld scanner using a descendent of that 15 year old operating system and costing about $3k each once accessories and support are factored in.

In the meantime we have seen the rise of eBay and the Amazon Store, with the “small” distributor that may be using a Warehouse that varies from just a couple hundred to a couple of thousand square feet, and can’t really afford to equip and train someone on a customized ERP system (or frankly can’t afford a customized ERP system).

But they can get an iPad Mini or an iPod touch that most of their staff will already be familiar with. And running with an appropriate logistics App connected to a cloud based back-end, they can be up and running in days at a cost that is an order-of-magnitude below the systems that are still based on decades old designs.
And this likely will not be coming from Big Blue. Indeed it is already coming out of fast-moving start-ups who are deploying technology of this type on a daily basis.

So yes, I’m excited that IBM is getting together with the iPad/iPhone as it will bring a certain sense of legitimacy to the App-In-The-Enterprise market. But the real innovation is already occurring today in companies who are discovering the power of smartphones and tablets for supply chain applications. And for those who can’t wait for tomorrow they should be looking at what is getting deployed from the Bottom-Up.


Michael Kohlman, VP of Operations

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