App Maker Spotlight: Chris Reichard
[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles of app makers, highlighting ArcTouch’s talented team members. Like many members of the maker movement, the app makers we spotlight here crave getting their hands on the latest tech or finding creative new ways to apply existing tech to their projects.]
It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating industry than space. But Chris Reichard, a former robotics and space flight engineer at NASA through Lockheed Martin Space Mission Systems, believes he’s now landed in a more relevant place. The mobile industry, he says, “touches everyone and the innovation never stops.”
Reichard recently joined ArcTouch as the executive vice president of enterprise mobility solutions. While NASA certainly jumps off of his LinkedIn profile, Reichard impressively established a mobile center of excellence at oil and energy pioneer Schlumberger. There he assembled and led a team of more than 75 strategists, designers and engineers to build out a suite of applications, helping mobilize Schlumberger’s 100,000+ employees around the globe. Reichard says we’re just on the edge of Enterprise Mobility 2.0, where employees expect to have the same kinds of experiences with the apps they use for work as they do with the apps they use on their own time.
We sat down with Reichard to discuss his impressive professional history — from his days at NASA to how he cracked the mobile challenge for Schlumberger — along with his new charter at ArcTouch to help enterprises deliver great mobile experiences for their employees.
Since you worked at NASA, I have to ask: What do you think of the expression, “It’s not exactly rocket science”?
For starters, I really enjoyed working in the space industry. I worked in the Dexterous Anthropomorphic Robotics Laboratory on the Robonaut program, located in one of the most exciting buildings on the Johnson Space Center campus in Houston. Besides the robotics research lab, the building was also home to the astronaut training center, which housed full-scale mockups of mission control, full-sized Space Shuttles, several modules of the International Space Station — and even experimental space crafts like the X38 crew return vehicle. It was a fascinating place to be.
“Our mission is to create beautiful applications that employees love to use — and provide a true business advantage by increasing productivity and stimulating market growth.”
I had to prove to myself that I was actually capable of literal “rocket science.” I went through the exercise of deriving the equation for rocket propulsion through a fixed nozzle, beginning with F=ma (force equals mass times acceleration).
When I finished, I was so proud of myself that I framed the calculation and I still have it in my office today. It’s a great reminder of my engineering beginnings and the highly disciplined and structured engineering principles I learned in my early career.
So, most things in life aren’t “exactly rocket science.” But for those that are, I can find the solution. The calculation on my wall proves it.
How and why did you make the transition from NASA to a career in mobile?
I was fascinated with robotics, electronics and software — but for me the space industry just moved a little too slow. My entrepreneurial craving led me to a biotech startup where I used my robotics experience to help crack the code of the human genome through DNA and genomics research. It was the challenge of cutting edge science and engineering that drew me into biotech — along with the lure of being part of a startup with a clear focus and a mission to make an impact.
It’s hard to trace exactly where I transitioned to mobile. I feel like I’ve been doing mobile my entire career — long before “mobile” was “mobile.” The robots I worked on were remotely operated through tele-controls or autonomous using machine learning and cognitive systems to understand their environments. As mobile became an industry, and artificial intelligence and machine learning became more mainstream, my skills transferred gracefully from one cutting-edge technology to the next. Couple that with my passion for startups, and I found myself in some rather interesting career opportunities, full of excitement and surrounded by highly talented professionals.
In your last job, you created and led the mobile solutions team at oilfield services giant Schlumberger. What are you most proud of from your time there?
By far I am most proud of the diverse team and the culture of success we created. We operated like an internal startup. In the beginning, everyone had to be willing to wear many hats, filling whatever role was critical at that point in time. But as we grew, each person began to settle into their specific role and provide deeper expertise on the path to success. Leaving that team was difficult — it taught me so much about the value of individual contributions to a team, diversity of thought, trust in others, respect and empathy. We loved our work, we cared about each other and we shared each failure as much as we shared each success.
Your position as the head of ArcTouch’s enterprise mobility practice is a new one. Can you explain your charter?
Sure. Consumer apps have defined how we experience mobile since the first apps launched in the Apple App Store in 2008. The enterprise has lagged behind, but mobility has now reached a point of maturity where employees expect the same delightful, high-performance experience from apps in the workplace that they are used to in their everyday lives. The dilemma is that the enterprise is often under-resourced and overburdened with other responsibilities, so they struggle to deliver effective employee applications.
Starting as early as 2010, many companies began to realize the business landscape was changing and mobilizing their workforces was becoming a competitive necessity. In a scramble to do something, anything, they cobbled together the best attempt they could to create and deploy their first mobile apps — but even the apps that were individually successful didn’t scale to meet the wider needs of the enterprise. These companies are now regrouping for Enterprise Mobility 2.0 and hiring experts like ArcTouch to help deliver high performance mobile apps at scale — providing experiences that are intuitive, smart, secure and actually make a difference for their workforce.
Simply put, our mission is to create beautiful applications that employees love to use — and provide a true business advantage by increasing productivity and stimulating market growth.
Our recent study showed that many of today’s enterprise mobile apps are failing at user experience. How can we help internal dev teams change that?
Historically, it’s been very difficult to convince enterprise technology leaders that user experience (UX) is a critical component to an effective enterprise mobility solution. Companies simply weren’t willing to pay the price and invest in user research, proper UX design and an agile development process. And as a result, employers are unsatisfied with the enterprise mobile app user experience. This is rapidly changing. More and more of my recent conversations have started with prospects asking me, “What is your user experience and design process?” It’s great because enterprise leaders are now including UX and mobile strategy in their project budgets, just as they do for development and QA.
From your experience, what’s the biggest mistake enterprise teams make when it comes to their mobile strategy?
More often than not, enterprise mobile initiatives fail to properly staff their internal teams. They may have a couple of great developers, but rarely is a full team assembled complete with a product manager, UX researcher, designer, developers, QA, user adoption manager, etc. The developers do the best they can to create a usable app. But it quickly falls short of expectations from employees because it doesn’t measure up to the delightful experiences they are accustomed to with their consumer apps. You can’t expect a couple engineers to deliver an effective mobile initiative in isolation. And hoping they can develop something usable is not a strategy.
You’re just getting started with ArcTouch, but overall, what’s your impression of the team?
Passionate. The people at ArcTouch love the technology and projects they are working on and it shows in the world-class work we’re doing for some of the world’s most important companies.
How will you measure your own success (or failure) in your new role?
It’s quite simple: Do the enterprise employees love the apps we create for them? Do our apps make their workday more productive? Do we bring joy to their lives? These happy employees and their management teams will come back to ArcTouch for more and more and more. That’s success.