Making your mobile IT work is Bob Tinker’s first priority, but he’s proud to say he can read barcodes without a scanner
Bob Tinker has worked his way up in IT. In 1990, while he was an engineering major at the University of Virginia he got a job developing reports for the purchasing department there. Now, he is CEO of enterprise mobility management firm MobileIron.
Among his more exotic skills, he can read bar-codes by eye, and knows what noises animals make in different languages. We suspect he can therefore understand “baa-codes”.
Tell us about your career
Over the course of my career, I’ve held product management, marketing, and business development roles. The combination of these different business areas provided the foundation to figure out what enterprise customers need, how to talk about it, and how to deliver it. Each of these roles was essential and I couldn’t do what I’m doing at MobileIron without this particular combination of experience.
Unusual fact – outside of work, I collect onomatopoeias from different foreign languages. Different cultures have remarkably different onomatopoeias. My favourite so far is a Dutch cow. Even though we all think a cow makes the same sound; a Dutch cow says “Booo” not “Mooo” as we say in English.
Another odd skill from my past is that I can read a postal barcode by eyesight thanks to spending too much time troubleshooting mail systems when I worked at a bank.
Mobile first culture
What’s the favourite IT project that you’ve ever worked on?
One of the things that continues to be so exciting about working in enterprise mobility is seeing our customers use mobile to transform their businesses. A consumer packed goods customer of ours made the shift from what I call ‘old mobile’ to ‘new mobile’. Old mobile was 2,000 BlackBerrys for executives. New mobile is mobile apps, content, and devices for everyone in the company. What this customer found was that this mobile first approach changed their culture. There were no longer two classes of employees; one that had new technology and one that didn’t. The result was that people at all levels felt empowered.
Another great project that illustrates the profound impact that mobile technology is having is a retail customer that replaced cash registers with iPads. Instead of queuing up to pay, customers could complete their purchase anywhere in the shop. Customers found this approach more interactive and customer-focused and the salespeople loved working with iPads, but there was one small problem. When customers can pay for their products anywhere in the store, where do you keep the shopping bags? Once they figured that out, the new system worked great.
What technologies were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was working at a startup called Airespace (which was eventually acquired by Cisco) that did enterprise Wi-Fi, which was the ‘cool’ technology at the time.
I think of enterprise mobility as having gone through three phases so far. Mobile v1 was a laptop with a modem. Mobile v2 was enterprise Wi-Fi, which I got to experience first-hand at Airespace. Now we’re in mobile v3 which is full blown computing with pervasive connectivity and MobileIron is at the centre.
What do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
By then, I like to believe that we will have solved some fundamental problems of mobile computing. One of the last problems with mobile computing that needs to be solved is mobile power and I think in ten years we will have micro fuel cells that will enable a new level of disconnected computing. I also think that the interface model of computers and screens will change. Instead of having two surfaces, one that you touch and one that you look at, we will have some sort of small core computer that also acts as a high intensity projector turning any surface into a computer screen.
Bring on user power
What do you think is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
We are seeing a massive shift in the relationship between IT and users. In the past, this relationship has been almost parental with IT setting rules and enforcing behaviour. Mobile is catalysing this change because IT can’t force certain behaviours the way they could with laptops. This new relationship is more like one of equals. If IT can’t get users what they want, the users will get it for themselves. IT teams need to see themselves as a business enabler which is very different from how they have viewed their roles historically. This is very different and very fun.
To cloud or not to cloud?
Our belief from the beginning has been that a customer should never, ever have to make a technology vendor decision based on delivery method. We have had a cloud offering for a number of years and in August 2013 we launched our next-generation cloud.
Who is your tech hero and who is your tech villain?
My tech hero is Hedy Lamarr. She was a Hollywood star in the 1940s and is much less well-known for inventing the frequency hopping technology that forms the foundation of mobile communication networks today.
My tech villain is patent trolls. They subtract value from the universe.
What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?
My all-time favourite device is the Rubik’s Cube. It’s hypnotising, impossible, timeless, and simple.
My current devices are a Samsung Galaxy 3, a Motorola Android phone, and an iPad. I live the same multi-OS reality as our IT customers.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?
What I admire most right now is not exactly a company. It’s a mobile phone-based payments and banking service called M-PESA-P. It was developed by Vodafone for use in Africa. It started as a way to top off mobile phone accounts by depositing cash remotely. Now it’s become a full blown payments and banking system that allows the unbanked population to participate in banking and commerce. It’s changed lives, changed business, and enfranchised a huge portion of the population.
M-PESA is changing the underlying financial fabric of East African economies and blurring historical nation-state boundaries defined by volatile currency and lethargic banks. It is creating new economic and social structures that ignore national boundaries and politics. The repercussions of M-PESA are mind blowing.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I think I always knew I would be some sort of engineer. I took apart clocks to find out how they worked. When I was six years old, my bicycle had a flat rear tyre. I took the bike down to the cellar where my father’s tools were to try to fix it. I was able to change the tyre, but the bike was too heavy for me to carry back upstairs.