Today, we visit with Bob Egan, CEO & Founder, Sepharim Group, a mobile enterprise consulting firm, who is the original Gartner wireless VP and a member of the team that created the IEEE 802.11 WLAN standard.
If you know me, you know that I consider there to be three original industry analysts. These are the guys who were covering wireless when the rest of us didn’t know what CDPD was.
Bob is probably the “grandfather” of the wireless industry.
Bob Egan been covering it and consulting for companies for longer than most of us have been working. Yes, there are a lot of newcomers, but they can’t ever learn what Bob has lived through. (Stay tuned for Q&As with the other two of whom I consider THE pundits.) – Laura Borgstede, CEO, Calysto
Thank you Laura for your kind words! – Bob
ps. With yet another birthday coming up, I’m not sure how I feel about being the grandfather!!
Here is the entire interview with Laura and her team! Enjoy!
Considering your background as a Wi-Fi pioneer, is there anything that has surprised you over the years?
What’s surprised me the most is probably the expectations for consumer adoption of Wi-Fi versus the reality of the market. When I first started working on Wi-Fi in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, we started building very small external adapters that hung off of laptops, not integrated like today. I really thought that was going to be good enough technology at good enough price points, that within three or four years, by 1996 or 1997, everybody and their mother would have Wi-Fi. The reality was that it didn’t happen until the mid-2000s when we really started to get significant wide adoption, totally integrated within devices. It took about 10 years longer than I thought to create the kind of market for Wi-Fi that I fully expected would happen in a much shorter period of time.
How did the Sepharim Group come about? What’s behind the name?
The Sepharim Group was formed in 2002 and my original thinking was to establish a practice around the challenges, the complexities and the opportunities that large companies had as they started to think more and more about making investments in the area of mobility.
As for the name, I have a boat named “Seraphim,” which are the guardian angels. Turns out that domain was taken, and when I was searching around for similar domains I came across “Sepharim.” It was an accidental misspell, but “Sepharim” are the guardians of the guardian angels, although it’s not widely known. What I heard from the market and what originated the concept of the guardian of the guardian angels is that we pride ourselves on helping our clients think forward and move forward — sail fast and move forward faster.
What’s your market focus?
A business use of mobility; how companies invest and develop their mobile competency as they adopt mobile technology and solutions and attitudes throughout their business, whether those initiatives are employee-facing, consumer-facing or partner facing. Most of the work we do is with larger companies, but the principles apply to both large and small organizations.
Why do clients come to the Sepharim Group?
Clients come to us to help them organize the chaos. We work really hard to help people get through what I call the perfect storm — the combination of mobile, social, big data and the predictive analytics that make big data worthwhile.
It’s first about a strategy around mobility. There is always the big question: what’s everybody else doing? How should that impact what we need to do, not only to stay in the game, but to up the ante?
And when you talk about strategy, there are components such as bring your own device or BYOD. Another one is COP (sounds like cope), which is corporations buying devices or corporately owned/personally enabled.
It’s also about application management and the impact on the infrastructure, on security, on audit and compliance, regulatory impacts, and on budgets.
We also talk a lot about mobile-oriented architecture. It’s unlikely that one business unit in a large organization is responsible for the entire investment in mobility. There’s a mandate for an organization to decide what areas of a company can take advantage of a particular investment in mobility, whether it’s for employees as general workers or against specific business initiatives within a particular line of business. But if you make those investments correctly, those resources become shared resources across multiple business units. These are great complexities for organizations because getting people to buy into a new budget allocation for a new technology or business area like mobility is not straightforward. Mobility is not just about technology, it’s about business investments, business attitudes, business desires. Those are things that can create efficiencies within an organization and also extend the brand and drive revenue from an innovation standpoint.
What questions are you always asked?
There are three recurring questions:
What should we do?
How can we avoid failure?
What are our competitors doing? We do competitive analysis at the business level, but we also do competitive analysis at the solution level: What are our peers doing? What solutions fit best?
What’s the “elephant in the room” that companies may try to ignore, but should be talked about?
When you look at users’ experiences with the capabilities of mobile devices, the distinctions between the ecosystems — what Apple is doing with iOS, what Google and Samsung are doing with Android, and what Microsoft and Nokia are doing with the Windows phone — are becoming less cavernous. We’re moving very quickly from distinctions by devices to distinctions of competitiveness against much more tightly coupled ecosystems.
Around 2000, from a mobility standpoint, there were no intersects. You had to choose your devices all from the same ecosystem. Now we’ve gotten to a point where it’s all about gadgets. We’re seeing those three ecosystems – Apple, Google and Microsoft — intersect around gadgets.
And we’re quickly moving to gadgets plus applications.
Gadgets + applications interconnecting across ecosystems?
You can do email on multiple devices. You can pretty much do sales force automation by all the major players, across all those ecosystems, with the same capability. The same with social networking like Facebook and Twitter. Slowly we’ve gone from email to some level of business application transparency to social networking.
And now that app ecosystem continues to expand to if you can think about an application you want, chances are, within those ecosystems, you can find it. So, gadgets plus applications are becoming major intersects.
What I think is happening and that’s not being talked about is that we are going to see these ecosystems tighten up. We’re going from a race that was focused on device capabilities, and then application capabilities, to a race that’s focused on much more tightly coupled ecosystems, as well as more closed ecosystems.
Whether you’re on your phone, your tablet, in your car, in front of your TV, unlocking your door in a hotel and looking back at your house and controlling things — the difference between how an Apple ecosystem does these things is still very different than with Android, which is very different from Microsoft’s Windows.
A lot of companies don’t want to get locked into one of those ecosystems. Companies ask, “How do I drive my desire to do things, irrespective of those ecosystems?”
I think we’re on the threshold of watching a lot of these solution providers trying to hunker down their ecosystems. And that presents a big gap from the desired wants of the marketplace, of the average consumer, the average worker.
How do you see this turning out?
I think at the end of the day, consumers always win. But I think we’ve got a rocky road between now and then.
On a personal note, has there been any person or event that’s influenced your career in technology?
<Laughter> Believe it or not, I would say it probably started with a book report that I wrote on Robert Goddard, who was the inventor of the rocket. I know that sounds silly, but it was about exploration, it was about doing things differently, and it was about technology. That led to my interest in aeronautical engineering, and I went on to read about Lee de Forest and many other great people at the forefront. I would also say that Marconi, because of his first wireless transmissions, was an also great influencer. These were big thinkers, people who didn’t wait, they just did things; people who were really interested in and driven by insatiable amounts of curiosity. And I would fit myself into that bucket. My thirst for thinking and looking at new things is insatiable.
According to your Twitter profile, you’re not only a Wi-Fi Pioneer, but a Harley rider and sailor?
Yeah. I’ve also flown a lot of airplanes in the bush of Alaska for a while, but I haven’t flown in 10 years. If you’re sailing, you can’t also fly. If somebody thinks they can, they’re being foolish because both of those disciplines really require you to pay attention to what you are doing. I’ve been known to race sailboats, alongside people like Richard Branson in Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve sailed in some very interesting areas of the world, including many of the old villages in the Ionian Sea off of the Greek coast. I don’t sit in the marina drinking beer.
Thank you Laura !!