Psion Goes Social To Promote Open Source Mobility

Mobile device makers uses Telligent social platform to build Web community to collaborate on product development.
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Mobile device maker Psion became a social enterprise as a side effect of a strategic move toward inviting partners and open source hackers into the creation of new products.

"The missing piece for that was a vehicle, or tool, or environment for cross-collaborative, crowdsourced development," said Jonathan Brayshaw, global digital and social business director at Psion. The company built its answer to that requirement using Telligent Community, the version of the Telligent social software platform designed for use on external websites. We spoke in an interview arranged by Telligent, with company founder and CTO Rob Howard chiming in occasionally.

Based in London, Psion has been in business since 1980 and was among the pioneers in developing mobile computing devices, particularly ruggedized versions for use in industrial settings. But the current "open source mobility" strategy the company is pursuing is part of a turnaround strategy of CEO John Conoley, who joined the company in 2008 to repair its lackluster corporate performance. Something seems to be working better now because the company reported a 5.7 million pound profit ($9.32 million) for 2010, compared with a 3.1 million pound loss ($5.07 million) for 2009.

Conoley saw that the "gem buried amongst our business was the rough idea of developing modular products," which was something the company was doing already but has now re-emphasized, Brayshaw said. The Psion Omnii handheld computer can be configured with 28 optional components, or more than 200 combinations, he said. For example, depending on how it will be used, it can be configured with a high-visibility screen or an ultra-durable one, he said.

To promote innovation around new hardware and software configurations, Psion created IngenuityWorking, an online community for hardware and software developers, including open source hackers and Psion partners.

IngenuityWorking members can explore a knowledge base for information on Windows Mobile software for Psion devices, or dive into discussion boards to discuss Linux and Android alternatives for driving the hardware. Partners have access to private areas on the site, where they have an opportunity to collaborate on possible combinations of their hardware and software with Psion's.

Since the launch of IngenuityWorking in March 2010, "we've seen it grow from a standing start to around about 12,000 registered users," Brayshaw said. While that's not a large number by the standards of public social networks, it's "way more than the number of partners we have," meaning it has succeeded in its purpose of broadening the Psion developer community, he said.

"We feel social media makes us competitively unpredictable," Brayshaw said. While competitors concentrate on selling off-the-shelf products, Psion is innovating around the custom requirements of customers and partners, he said.

Psion is one of the companies that has been testing Telligent Community 6.0, which was released this week. Telligent Enterprise, the edition of the social software for internal corporate use, also got an upgrade recently, but Psion does not use that version.

Brayshaw said he looks forward to taking advantages of Community 6.0 features such as a new widget model for customizing the user interface and smart content recommendations, which apply user behavior and interests to promoting recommended content. Among the reasons Psion selected Telligent in the first place was its close integration with SharePoint, he said.

Other features in Telligent Community 6.0 include:

-- Facebook and Twitter authentication, so users can sign in using their social media credentials rather than a separate password.

-- Social search and content discovery

-- Interactive profiles and avatars

-- Social calendaring

-- Mobile access optimized for devices including the Apple iPhone, the BlackBerry Torch and Android phones.

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