Cloudside Chat: Rip Gerber and Frank Wang Discuss the New Mobile Mandate and Advent of “Opti-channel” Experiences
The Cloudside Chat Series Welcomes Vlocity’s Head of Mobile, Frank Wang.
If you want to get on Frank Wang’s calendar, send him a text. As Vlocity’s Head of Mobile, he takes the mobile channel to heart.
Like many of us, mobile is how we connect to the world, get answers, buy things and collaborate. As the leader of our mobile team, Frank is somewhat of a power-user of the mobile channel, so I wanted to hear more about what “makes him click.” Our cloudside chat spanned topics from the Age of Mobile to working at a hyper-growth company to the coming IoT revolution.
Rip Gerber: Frank, thank you for taking a moment to share the latest innovations in mobile.
Frank Wang: Hello Rip. Good to see you again. Yes, innovation never slows down here at Vlocity. Fortunately, my team is very talented, which makes it rewarding and fun to push the envelope.
Rip: You always do that, Frank, bring up the team first. You have a reputation here of being the quintessential team player in cloud technology.
Frank: It’s all to support our customers, helping our customers succeed through their digital transformations, of which mobile is a huge part. Optichannel is a major pillar in today’s digital movement.
Rip: Optichannel? You mean omnichannel, right?
Frank: Actually, it’s both. Omnichannel means every and any experience channel: mobile, online, retail, kiosk and more. But optichannel is like omnichannel with AI – it is the optimal channel for that customer for that transaction at that particular point in time, all based on the customer’s experience desires and needs.
Rip: Omnichannel and optichannel together, the Industry Cloud in action. I’m particularly curious to talk about your “mobile first” philosophy. What does “mobile first” really mean, and is there anything you’re super excited about that you are working on now?
Frank: Absolutely. First off, we have several new customer projects building off of our successes from last year. Vella, our virtual agent app for our Insurance and Financial Services vertical, has been a game changer for some of our largest Insurance customers.
Rip: Vella is part of our Vlocity Insurance app, built 100% on Salesforce which leverages IoT. You built it for the next generation of personalized insurance, running on the cloud.
Frank: That’s right, Vella is like a virtual insurance agent on your mobile device. Like all our apps, it’s built entirely on the Salesforce platform in terms of leveraging the full agility of mobile as a platform to conduct business and create engagement. By the way, Vella stands for Vlocity Umbrella, it’s for customers who prefer the ease of an app when it comes to shopping for insurance.
Rip: It seems that millennials really connect with the way Vella works.
Frank: Vella represents our latest development in mobile innovation. It combines deep industry functionality and microservices architecture, with the secret sauce being how we harness Salesforce IoT data. The app, which our customers can brand any way they like, provides intelligent, text-based support and enables a smart, usage-based, customer-centric approach to buying insurance.
Rip: Basically, it is a product that lives in the world of chatbots...
Frank: ...and AI, OmniForm, Salesforce Einstein, and IoT integration. Moving forward, we plan to expand the innovative technology that runs Vella into the other industries that Vlocity serves.
Rip: You’ve already been giving Vella-like demos to telcos and health insurers.
Frank: Yes, so stay tuned!
Rip: What else is happening in Vlocity Mobile?
Frank: In addition to deploying our mobile apps at big customers in North America, Latin America and Europe, we’ve also been transforming our mobile platform here. You’d could call it a foundation evolution. We have switched from the iOS/Android native app model to what I call a hybrid mobile app.
Rip: And what were the reasons for that?
Frank: It’s better for our customers. It allows our customers to build all kinds of mobile apps with minimal coding. And they can leverage Vlocity technologies like Card Framework and OmniScript™ as well as Vlocity product solutions like CPQ, the Vlocity Process Library, and Integration Procedures. It dramatically reduces the amount of mobile work our customers have to do.
Rip: So our customers can use our platform to deliver their own branded mobile app.
Frank: Exactly. The Vlocity Mobile platform allows customers to build their own branding app. And our platform helps manage the development, testing and distribution process. All omnichannel and agile.
Rip: Benefits-wise, that means boosting time to market and offering huge cost savings, right?
Frank: That’s right. And who doesn’t like that? We also release new features and improvements to the new platform every month, and regularly sync with Salesforce to keep everything optimized.
Rip: What’s coming up next for you and your team?
Frank: We continue to enhance our platform to support the building of all kinds of apps for specific business use cases, especially for B2C apps. At the same time, we are bringing more capabilities to our platform such as social collaboration, Braintree payment, device integration to card readers, and connecting with printers. We are also enhancing the partner/developer work experience by adding more tooling capabilities.
Rip: How is Salesforce making a difference?
Frank: It’s huge. Big picture: It’s enabled and enriched all kinds of front-end technologies such as browsers, smartphones, tablets, watches, doorbells, security cameras, drones, and self-driving cars. Not to sound like a commercial, but it makes everything connected. By partnering with Salesforce, the cloud is the brain, and after collecting all this data it becomes smarter, helping to make customers’ lives easier. Customers can simply use their mobile app to run their entire business.
Rip: How different is the process of developing mobile-specific software from creating other digital applications?
Frank: Well, it depends on what kinds of applications developers are building from. It’s not always a seamless process. You hear stories about some developers struggling to make mobile-first design decisions. And it’s no wonder: having already created web apps for a browser, they then tried to make it work on mobile – it just doesn’t work like that. A smaller screen requires different code – and it can get messy real quick if you try to take shortcuts.
Certain things to consider when developing mobile-specific apps are “screen real estate,” device-specific features like FaceID, GPS, push notification, touch-area, finger-gesture, natural intuition, simplicity, and design and flows. Developers can’t just pull all the information from the web to mobile. It doesn’t work like that. I still remember the first lesson I learned when building a mobile app. A PM (product manager) told me if a user needs to touch the screen four or more times to get to the desired location, the user will likely need instructions to get there. And we definitely don’t want that. That’s not fast, frictionless and flexible. So yeah, simplicity is power.
Rip: Now I’m wondering what else are you excited about? Any rumblings about other disruptors in the larger culture of technology and business?
Frank: It has taken the smartphone 10 years to reach its peak – from the day Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, everything has changed. The next 10 years will be about AI, in particular, deep learning from things as different but advanced as self-driving cars to gene therapy. The beauty is that the user interface can be everywhere from glasses, clothing, and gestures to voice-activated smart assistants like the Amazon Echo. All the computing power is in the cloud.
I aim to leverage what we are learning from building mobile apps with deep learning capabilities to create superior enterprise software. Did you know that author, futurist and Google Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2029, computers will outsmart human brains? It’s a tremendous opportunity to use those second brains (Einstein and Watson) to help us accomplish greater creativity or tasks. I am personally excited to be part of this revolutionary future.
Rip: You’re doing it right now, Frank! Thank you for putting Vlocity at the forefront of that revolution. You’ve seen a lot of revolution already...
Frank: You probably don’t know that I was born and raised in China and studied college in Canada. I started my career as a software engineer at BusinessObjects, which was later acquired by SAP. Then I moved to the Bay Area, where I’ve worked on business intelligence, collaboration, data integration and HR software. SAP was a great learning platform, but I joined Vlocity because it was founded by experienced, forward-thinking industry experts. Plus I get an opportunity to build software that satisfies the customer’s need. I consider myself very fortunate to work for an innovative startup with a winning business model.
Rip: Sounds like you love working here.
Frank: Vlocity is a fascinating place to work. We are a mixture of a startup and an established company...full of energetic and passionate people who want to make a winning impact and get the job done. I especially love knowing that our software is making a significant and positive impact on the lives of customers.
Rip: Thank you, Frank. Truly appreciate you taking the time to share your unique knowledge...can’t wait to see what’s next from Vlocity Mobile!
Frank Wang, Director of Engineering, Head of Mobile at Vlocity.