Webinar: An introduction to Mobile Open Source

So, what’s your Open Source strategy? Open Source is one of the most misunderstood topics, yet one which has already created significant commercial disruptions, like Android, Symbian Foundation, WebKit, and Sun’s Java.

Want to learn more about Open Source and how that applies to Mobile? We are hosting a FREE webinar on March 31 at 16:00 CET. This 30 minute webinar (followed by 15 minutes Q&A) will offer insights on open source economics, who’s who in mobile OS, licenses vs governance models and how to leverage open source in your strategy. [update: webinar is now completed – watch this space for a repeat of the webinar]

This webinar will offer a 10,000ft view of mobile open source, including:

– How open source maps into the mobile industry
– Why does the industry use open source and what are the related business models
– The diversity of community cultures and governance models
– What are the four roles your company can play in OSS?
– When to use open source and when not to
– Why open source is a radical change to how you manage software

Click here to register for this free event. [Update: the webinar has now completed – watch this space for a repeat of the webinar]

Places are limited to the first 50 registrants and are on a first come, first served basis. [Update: we ‘ve already had 30 registrations, so places are running out fast!]

This is a ‘teaser’ webinar with selected extracts from our one day deep-dive 360° workshop on everything that is mobile open source, from economics and business models to license best practices, software management guidelines and 20+ case studies of real world lessons from open source use in the mobile industry.

– Vanessa

Why the LiMo Foundation needs to go back to the drawing board

[The LiMo Foundation has been one of the driving forces of mobile Linux. Andreas Constantinou goes behind the scenes to find out why LiMo is still catching up with Google and Nokia and why LiMo’s effectiveness will be limited – unless it goes back to the drawing board]

plansThe launch of the LiMo Foundation has been one of the most important and momentous landmarks in the history of the mobile industry. It was launched by the cr̬me de la cr̬me of the handset OEMs and network operators with a Linux agenda, and marked the promotion of Linux into the commercial arena of mobile operating systems. It also seemed to not just preach, but also practice openness with a publically available 200-page documentation on its governance model. Many believed that this industry consortium would make a real difference Рincluding myself.

But that was January 2007. Things are somewhat different in 2009. Today LiMo has only achieved a minimal software denominator across its 33 ‘LiMo-compliant’ handsets,  while market-leader S60 is opening up their roadmap and codebase and Android OS devices are coming out from from HTC, Dell, Huawei, Garmin, Fujitsu, Archos, China Mobile and O2.

LiMo has amassed impressive political capital, but seems to have done little in advancing mobile Linux operating systems (or fending off the Linux volume decline).  At the same time, the battle for software control has moved from the middleware layer (where LiMo focuses), up to the application and service delivery layer where Android and Symbian Foundation focus.

LiMo needs to go back to the drawing board.

The foundations of LiMo
From six founding members in early 2007 (Motorola, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung, DoCoMo and Vodafone) the LiMo foundation has now grown to over 50 members. The annual fees run at $550K for board members, $275K for non-board members and $40K for associate members. The two higher price tiers allow members to ship devices with LiMo code. LiMo is thus handsomely funded to the tune of over $7M annually.

The Foundation is working on ‘commoditising’  a set of middleware software components which have been contributed by its members; the first release (R1) includes a range of components, including telephony, networking, certificate manager, media manager, ODBC drivers, HTTP/WTCP components, telephony framework, messaging framework, app launcher, GTK+ and window manager. The sum of R1 modules form 3-5% of the software that goes into a mobile handset, but LiMo compliance applies (for now) to a much smaller subset of R1.

LiMo’s common code is a set of modules being built through member contributions. This gives LiMo an advantage in selecting among several competing contributions (in some cases, up to 4-5 contributions) for each module.  Indeed LiMo claims to have built a target library of important middleware building blocks through member contributions.

The common code is contributed under LiMo’s Foundation Public License and is royalty-free. The additional (differentiated) modules are can be contributed under common open source licenses or under a RAND-type (Reasonable and Non Discriminatory) license.

LiMo has garnered an impressive industry backing in its two first years. Besides the global reach of its OEM and operator/carrier members (from Japan to Europe, North America and LatAm), LiMo has subsumed the LiPS foundation and its key members (most notably Orange and ACCESS), and formed ties with OMTP’s BONDI initiative. In short, LiMo Foundation has built an impressive amount of political capital and committed resources within the short space of two years. Indeed one of the main benefits of LiMo reported by software vendor members is the visibility and awareness they gain thanks to LiMo’s industry efforts and the access to operator key execs, which would otherwise require 6+ months of business development efforts.

One of LiMo’s key differentiators is the IP safe harbour that it provides; its members agree to not assert patent claims on common code that is distributed among members or commercially distributed to non-members. According to LiMo, the patent holders of the Foundation collectively own more than 300,000 patents.

LiMo challenges and plans
2008 has been a year of teething problems for LiMo:
– LiMo Foundation Chairman and architect Greg Besio left Motorola while LiMo was still gathering momentum.
– Board member agendas have been polarised and as a result decisions have been taking too long to make
– R1 has provided a very basic platform, on top of which OEMs have had to in-source many additional components which delayed the time-to-market.
–  We understand that LiMo compliance has been at a module-by-module-level; the 33 LiMo-compliant handsets feature a small subset of release 1 (R1) modules referred to as type 1 (T1).
– The barrier for third party contributions has been high, with $40K annual membership fees.
–  Software vendors like ACCESS, PurpleLabs (now Myriad) and Azingo who have been champions within LiMo have all been delayed to market by at least 12 months. Based on discussions with software vendors, we believe that a significant part of that delay is attributable to their activities within LiMo, which typically involve following operators’ moving targets in baking the latest features (flexible UI, Flash Lite, WebKit, touchscreens) into the OS.
This has been a crucial setback to the Linux commercial community as a whole, while Android and Symbian Foundation have already caught up on ‘openness’ and devices launched to market.

Fortunately LiMo is making some sincere efforts to propel itself back into center-stage.
– 11 operators have made commitments to specify and deploy LiMo-compliant handsets.
– LiMo hired an Open Source manager in 4Q08 to realise LiMo’s commitment to contributing back to open source communities;
– moving forward LiMo will also be lowering the minimum participation fees (currently at a high $40K annually, compared to the $1,500 of the Symbian Foundation).
– The release 2 (R2) of the common code is intended to include many more components, such IMS, location, PIM and DRM components. The minimum compliance threshold should be increasing as well.

R2 is an intense multi-party effort; code is being contributed by at least 10 members. Integration services are provided exclusively by WindRiver, while compliance testing and certification are provided by WindRiver and IEEE/ISTO, an independent certification agency.  We expect the first devices that are fully R2 compliant to launch from 1H10 onwards.

Why LiMo needs to go back to the drawing board
LiMo is making earnest efforts to revitalise the mobile Linux industry. However, I believe the issue lies much closer to LiMo’s core focus. The Foundation has been created in order to accelerate commoditisation of the middleware (core building blocks) of Linux-based OSes.

And here exists the following paradox; on one hand there are economies of scale to be gained by agreeing on a common set of middleware across Linux-based phones. On the other hand, middleware has little (if any) sale value; the control points (and sale value) has moved up to the service layer and application environment layer (read: Android and Qt). OEM differentiation rarely comes from the middleware layer, but always comes from the application layer.

Moreover, network operators may be overpromising their allegiance LiMo, but when it comes to buying LiMo handsets, they will only be doing so if these handsets:
a) come with a consumer-appealing industrial and UI design
b) support the latest operator services and
c) carry no recall risks, as often is the case with maturing software.

These purchase criteria are particularly important, as tier-1 operators are the primary drivers of the LiMo ecosystem and its commercial significance. No matter how promising are the pledges of operators like Orange and Vodafone to support LiMo handsets, we have seen such pledges face the grim reality time and time again (e.g. see past cases with SavaJe and ACCESS).

Last but not least, middleware requires hundreds of man-years to optimise, integrate and customise to each hardware platform as well as processor and memory architectures. It is not something that needs transparency or more source code. It needs more expertise. For the same reason, even if Symbian source code was widely available on introduction, it would still take a handset OEM more than 3 years to be able to produce handsets fast enough and reliably enough.

The issue with LiMo is that it focuses on standardising middleware and not the service delivery layer, unlike Android, Qt and WebKit open source efforts. While LiMo may claim that its members should be allowed to differentiate on top of the middleware, here we have another classic case of an industry consortium outpaced by technology adoption; in the space of the last three years (2006-2009), the value line has moved above the application environment and service delivery layer, most visibly with the adoption of Android and Qt application environments as well as the WebKit browser core.

I would argue that if LiMo wants to be making an impact on tomorrow’s handsets, it needs to refocus its ‘standardisation’ efforts on the browser and service delivery layer; for example, accelerating the development of WebKit-based browsers and browser-based applications (much like WebOS has showed is possible). WebKit is one of the frontiers of the mobile value line (therefore a non-differentiating feature) and can become a common substrate for the delivery of next-gen operator services, with the help of LiMo and its operator backing.

Moreover, by focusing on the service delivery and application development layers, LiMo would effectively reduce the cost and time-to-market for full application suites (what Qtopia struggled with and what Android has addressed so elegantly).

I was a huge fan of LiMo on launch, and I hope I’ll continue to be. But, for its own sake, LiMo needs to go back to the drawing board.

Comments welcome as always.

– Andreas
twitter: @andreascon

(while on the topic of market insights, make sure to check out our hugely successful Mobile Megatrends 2009 series below.)

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Carnival of the Mobilists #165

Welcome to the 165th edition of the Carnival of the Mobilists! This week’s Carnival is hosted by VisionMobile!

carnival

This week has seen a truly diverse amount of topics keeping bloggers busy from App Stores to Net Neutrality and Voice…

Given the fact that the highest selling handsets in Europe last year were NOT Smartphones, Ian Wood at Digital Evangelist asks just what should you be developing for the App Store and discusses the probable failure of the App Store.

Another person discussing App Stores is Volker Hirsch at his Volker on Mobile Entertainment blog. Microsoft has a central market place for Windows Mobile applications in the making and Volker looks at whether the Microsoft App Store is better than Apple.

There are more and more data and statistics coming in showing the extent to which the iPhone is becoming the dominant mobile internet device and mobile software ecosystem. James Coops at mjelly provides a collection of iPhone statistics and data sources on App Store for anyone interested on the topic.

Over the past two years Martin Sauter at the WirelessMoves bloghas written a number of posts on how to do voice calls over LTE and the lack of a simple and straightforward voice solution. In his latest blog post he writes about the Voice over LTE with GAN (VOLGA) forum creation.

Developers, testers, product managers and designers spend too much time creating products in terms of screens with known sizes says Barbara Ballard at her Little Springs Design Blog. In her post Photoshop layout is not your friend, Barbara says that while this methodology was never actually good, it’s particularly bad in mobile. It will cost you time and money.

Have you been following the major debate in Europe about Net Neutrality? Ajit Jaokar certainly has – he provides a balanced ‘unsexed up’ perspective of this debate at his OpenGardens blog as he tries to untangle the various threads of the Net neutrality argument.

Recently Google announced that they will start ‘behavioural targeting’ for web searches. Andrew Grill writes at his London Calling blog about what this move could mean for mobile advertising.

Mark van ‘t Hooft over at Ubiquitous Thoughts also discusses Google and the announcement of their new service, Google Voice. Mark is interested to see how the voice and internet-based components of this service will interact and interface with each other.

Chetan Sharma at AORTA asks what’s your carrier strategy? Go global or go small? Chetan works with a ton of mobile startups and entrepreneurs and one of the questions that he addresses is invariably the carrier strategy. How do you decide which carriers to pursue and if you go for smaller operators or go for the big ones?

Finally, have you ever wondered how to copy PC bookmarks to UCWEB? You have? Well Dennis Bournique at WAPReview provides a detailed step-by-step guide to importing these bookmarks.

The post of the week honours go to Ajit Jaokar and his ‘unsexing’ of the Net Neutrality debate; Ajit untangles the many debates and sub-topics behind Net-Neutrality in one of the most thorough posts on this topic. Chetan Sharma comes at a close second for his analysis of operator strategy for mobile startups, and especially for his analysis for top-10 operators in terms of mobile services revenue. Great work Ajit and Chetan!

Next week tune in to wipJAM for the 166th installment of the best of the mobile blogging- and please keep those thought pieces coming!

– Vanessa
twitter: @visionmobile
(while on the topic of market insights, make sure to check out our hugely successful Mobile Megatrends 2009 series below.)

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Voice, a new platform for innovation

[Why is that that voice, the only ‘killer application’ making up the lion’s share of revenues has seen hardly any innovation? Andreas Constantinou looks at the developments underpinning a new trend; voice as a platform for innovation]

old telephoneIt is no secret that voice ARPU has been on a downhill slope for a very long time; per-user voice revenues have dropping at an alarming 5% annually over the last 5 years. Yet operators have been hoping in vain that data services will over-compensate for this decline. They haven’t.

Fortunately, a new wave of innovation is taking shape, with voice is becoming a new platform for building services and revenues. Yet, operators need to face their worst fears (read VoIP) before they can learn how to use their data networks as a means to reinvent voice for the 21st century.

Voice innovation behind the scenes
This article comes as an accidental discovery and a personal Eureka moment. I attended the excellent Emerging Communications 2009 conference in San Francisco, where I found the beliefs of the mobile industry confronted by the fast-paced, brimming-with-innovation world of the Internet and the restless, open minds of the Bay area. If there was one theme for the conference it was voice as the new platform for innovation.

Perhaps the most pivotal announcement of the conference was Skype’s pledge to release its signature Silk codec for zero royalty. Silk is the wideband codec used in the latest version of Skype and has proven performance/bandwidth benefits (based on Skype’s benchmarks) on both networked and wireless environments. I expect Skype’s announcement to gradually reverberate across the voice communications industry in the next few months. It will spell trouble for the voice codec providers (e.g. Microsoft, VoiceAge and Global IP Solutions), but will also improve quality and interoperability on Skype and other VoIP platforms that span mobile and PSTN worlds. See also this review comparing Skype for Asterisk and Skype for SIP, initiatives which are both instrumental to opening up the Skype network to cloud telephony innovation.

Wideband (high quality) speech looks set to arrive via the PC space into mobile; the latter has been suffering from the limitations of the GSM 3.5Khz narrowband codec. It takes some sibe-by-side comparative listening of wideband and narrowband speech to understand how poor our beloved GSM quality is.

The eComm 2009 conference has also set the stage for many showcases of voice as a platform for innovation:
– Skype now offers voicemail transcriptions over SMS (although poorly executed – see analysis)
– Companies like Voxeo, Adhearsion, IfByPhone and Ribbit allow developers to develop connected telephony applications on smartphones and the web; in effect opening up cloud telephony to a wider audience of mobile developers and applications beyond the traditional mainstay of the enterprise.
Fonolo allows ‘deep dialling’ into complex IVRs through a simple web interface. The service renders horrid customer support IVR menus into a webpage of menu nodes where the user can click and get connected.
VoxBone offers incoming direct PSTN-to-VoIP numbers in 4,000 cities and 50 countries
– A growing crowd of VoIP providers (Skype, Fring, Truphone, Gizmo5, Nimbuzz, iSkoot, Yeigo, Terrasip, Mobivoip) are trying to push their applications despite the headstrong resistance of the mobile networks.
– Visual voicemail has come into the limelight thanks to the iPhone, even though it has existed as a service with Comverse back in 2002. The Visual Voicemail market is now supplied by Silent Communications, Acision, Comverse, Hullomail, YouMail, and uReach.

Voice Instant Messaging
Perhaps the innovation that’s most likely to create an impact to end users is voice instant messaging.

‘Hold on’ I hear you say… this sounds too much like push-to-talk (PTT), a service that has met with success with Nextel/Motorola but has failed miserably everywhere else. Why is voice instant messaging likely to succeed where PTT failed ?

ABI’s Mark Beccue suggests that push-to-talk (PTT) has failed because most operators have not realised PTT is a business application.

I beg to differ. The reason for the failure of PTT is that it is network-centric, and standards-driven. As such PTT has created insurmountable barriers to entry, as it has to be supported by both network and all the devices in order to work – plus it has no chance of working across network operators/carriers as a result. Add to that the fact that operators have seen PTT as a cannibalisation threat to SMS and pressed hard on the breaks.

Fortunately, a new breed of companies such as Palringo, RebelVoxKodiak Networks and Push to Talk Ltd, is helping reinvent PTT as Voice Instant Messaging (aka voice SMS). [updated: Sony Ericsson Research has also released a voice messaging client called Hanashi.nu]

The use case is pretty similar to PTT; sending instant voice notes as a more expressive means of communication to SMS. Indeed, with voice instant messaging the communication medium is much more nuanced and expressive than SMS, while avoiding the calculated and intrusive characteristics of live calling.

At the same time, the technology (and hence commercial implications) of voice messaging are very different to PTT:
– a voice instant messaging application on the device communicates via IP to any other equipped terminal. S60, Android, Sony Ericsson JP8 and iPhone devices can support such voice instant messaging applications.
– The network is the IP bearer, not the gatekeeper. Cross-network interoperability is a given, by design.
– Flat rate data has become the norm in most networks, ticking off a critical success factor for voice instant messaging.
– The intelligence is on the handset, allowing messages to be sent and received even when coverage is intermittent. User experience matters.
– The operator can still monetise through per-voice-message fees, through distribution agreements and billing mediation. The operator can also offer extend services such as routing the voice message to voicemail if the handset is not yet enabled, and therefore offer an even more powerful service distribution & discovery asset to secure its role within this new market.

More importantly, voice instant messaging can act as a revenue booster for mobile operators. The extension of the per-message billing model is straightforward, and asynchronous messaging is a clearly different means of communication to circuit-switched, live voice. Complementarity, not cannibalism [Updated: Solaimes, a PTT technology provider, offers some innovative examples of using voice messaging services in mobile CRM – see comments].

An even more advanced twist to voice instant messaging is the technology being pioneered by RebelVox, which fuses the boundaries between spontaneous voice messages and live calls. Thanks to what the company terms ‘audio time shifting’, the technology allows you to fast forward through a voicemail message and join the caller as she is leaving the message. Or fast forward through a recorded conference call by only listening to one person’s thread.

Perhaps the most inspiring new forms of voice innovation were described by Martin Geddes of BT at the eComm 2009 conference (see Martin’s recorded presentation); imagine a customer support service which drops you a voicemail message in response to your query (especially critical when you are roaming or when the call center is closed). Or warning the caller that the recipient may not want to be disturbed when their phone is on silent.

What’s more interesting is in how BT and other operators (Orange, Vodafone, O2) are opening their network APIs to third party developers in the form of Network-as-a-Service (see our earlier analysis of the NaaS market). Cloud-based telephony APIs combined with network-based subscriber intelligence and device-based voice messaging will lead into trully innovative new applications. However, for that to happen, mobile operators need to face their worst fears (read VoIP) and appreciate how voice over the data network can really complement, rather than cannibalize their traditional services (pretty much the same learning experience that operators went through with WiFi).

The future for voice is certainly bright.

Looking forward to your comments,

– Andreas
twitter: @andreascon
(while on the topic of market trends, make sure to check out our hugely successful Mobile Megatrends 2009 series. Full presentation below.)

[slideshare id=1071449&doc=mobilemegatrends2009visionmobilenew-090226011714-phpapp01]

Open Source in the mobile supply chain: Introducing community KPIs

[Managing an open source project is not just about choosing your contributors.. Ã…se Stiller, breaks down the complexities of OSS software in the supply chain and introduces a new set of KPIs for evaluating communities.]

CommunitiesAs a software vendor or handset manufacturer, your sourcing process starts with choosing your suppliers. More and more often this choice involves use of Open Source Software (OSS):
– Handset manufacturers are building mobile phones with more ready-made building blocks – and more ready-made blocks are built with OSS.
– More and more important components are coming under an Open Source license. Not just operating systems and application environments (see Android, WebKit, Qt, S60/Symbian, ..) but also low level drivers and critical enabling software.

This is good news for all of those who believe in Open Source as a way to cut costs, improve quality and get away from supplier monopolies and black-box software. With OSS, mobile software companies and handset manufacturers can focus on the real thing; to make money, and not how to squeeze the most out of every license and supplier agreement.

Why open source challenges conventional software wisdom
Open Source in the supply chain introduces some interesting challenges; like
how a software vendor can keep ahead of competition when the repositories are public, and
– how can they stay in control of the product roadmap, when all the usual control mechanisms lose their charm overnight.

There are a number of aspects in which companies will need to change processes and policies to adapt to this new Open Source world, i.e.
– Sourcing process and inbound licensing
– Product planning and product control
– Project management and production control
– Product outbound licensing to customers, partners and open source communities and IP control.

Each of these is a topic for an article by itself, but here I will focus on the first topic; how to manage open source as part of the software sourcing process.

Unfortunately the usual complexity in software sourcing will not go away with Open Source, but the challenges will come in a slightly different flavour.

With OSS there will be no more… … but instead we must…
Tedious negotiations over details in the contract Put in substantial amount of time to figure out how the license terms will work with the specific component, product and market.
Nightly panic attacks over liability clauses Sweat over the risk that we lose the rights to use and distribute
Travel to suppliers in faraway places to ask nosy questions about finances and quality efforts Spend hours on understanding the impact of Governance models of Open Source projects

OSS or not, when sourcing we still have the same needs for a future proof-solution, technical requirements compliance, legal bullet-proofing and sound financials. But let’s walk through these one step at a time.

Sourcing with Open Source
The starting point for software sourcing is the identification of the requirements, followed by the Build Or Buy decision (B/B). The following diagram shows how the sourcing previous works with proprietary software (left) and OSS software (right).

sourcing-processpng2

The first action is to capture software requirements; this is no different for OSS than for proprietary software.

Then instead of the usual RFI & RFQ (Requests for Information and for Quotation) the technical investigation of the OSS is managed in-house, and the Total Cost of Ownership is a result of internal budgeting, not the bottom line in a tender.

The licensing of OSS is generally much easier, as all the terms and conditions are known from the start – and that’s a refreshing change! I must admit though that some licenses are tougher than others to analyze, such as GPL. It takes a good technical insight to fully understand the risks.

Another thing to take into account is obligations that will be inherited downstream. The license must be agreeable to all links in the value chain.

Key performance indicators for Open Source projects
Now to the most radical change; the supplier assessment and control.

Forget about traditional Key Performance Indicators as assessment tools, they won´t work. We can however attempt to identify a new set of KPIs for Open Source communities; KPIs that are measurable and offer a standardized way to evaluate the governance model. For this we must ask the right questions about the community and convert these answers into quantifiable values.

First let’s identify what is important to know about a community serving as a supplier, and why. How can we assess the community’s ability to deliver according both now and in the future?

The first two community KPIs we need to evaluate are the visibility of plans and the visibility of code.

We then need to evaluate who much influence can we exert of the OSS project development plans (as we won’t have any supplier contracts and control mechanisms). We therefore need to evaluate a third indicator; the influence over the decision process.

KPIs

Influence as a KPI is multi-dimensional and therefore we need to break it down into measurable components: (the below are a first attempt, feel free to add and suggest better names).

Decision accessibility: What does it take to get into the deciding team?
Changeability: Can we post a change request?
Openness: Can we contribute a new feature?
Priority: What is our importance to the community?

The questions above are only a subset of a more substantial list of questions that we use, but I won´t bore you with the details here.

The last resort – and one of the true benefits with Open Source from a sourcing perspective is the option to fork. This too must be evaluated and the forkability depends on factors like the modularity and documentation.

When we try to measure the forkability what we are really trying to measure is the cost of the development needed for the branch now and in the future, as well as the cost to backport changes from the tip of the tree into our branch.

In proprietary software sourcing this option corresponds to bespoke customization of the product, and the issues are basically the same. With Open Source there is a chance you will have followers that will share the burden, but worst case you are on your own.

Managing the change
OSS software sourcing is a new type of strategic alliance and it takes new ways to evaluate and manage in the supply chain. We are facing a mini revolution and the traditional control mechanisms are becoming obsolete.

In this article I have dealt solely with the impact to the inbound licensing process. Naturally many other working processes are affected and up for re-evaluation in the light of this way to cooperate cross company borders.

Embracing Open Source brings a need for change and change needs to be managed. I´m sure we will see some interesting organizational theories and models dealing with these issues but unfortunately we cannot wait; we must start the change process now not to lose assets, employees or customers.

Looking forward to hearing your opinions and experience on this topic.

Ã…se Stiller

[So, what’s your open source strategy ? VisionMobile’s workshop on Mobile Open Source is an on-site crash course offering a 360° analysis of economics, licensing, governance models, communities, mobile Linux, standards and 10s of case studies and real-world insights.]