Does your company have a mobile strategy? What is your approach? Are you testing the water by putting a toe in, or do you have it all laid out until 2022? Are you pursuing an iterative approach, taking baby steps with one small investment after another, or do you invest heavily in a mobile infrastructure built to last (read: built to scale)? Whatever you do, the underlying premise should be that the question is not whether or not Mobile will come to town. The question is, will your company be there in time to catch that train?
Your entire company in the customer’s pocket
Increasingly, users regard mobile devices as their primary communication channel. And I’m not even talking about the phone and email functions of mobile devices, but about communicating via twitter, facebook, and interacting via native and HTML5 apps. If you want to reach customers at all, within five years, it will have to be through a very good mobile experience. Mobile apps (native or browser-based) will be your:
- newspaper advertisement
- shop window
- salesperson, serviceperson and/or store clerk
- cashier desk
They will also perform new tasks:
- offer added value services to products and/or services sold
- community platform for your existing and prospective customers (which generates added value through content)
At a first glance, the question, “do we want to have a mobile presence?” is like asking: “Do we want to be reachable by phone?” Looking closer, it goes much deeper than that, because by developing a good mobile presence,
- you are always in your customers’ pocket and
- you can offer new and possibly unique added value services that are only a fingertip away for customers.
Customers will love you for this. If you’re there the second the customer thinks of you, conveniently accessible, with innovative additional offerings, saying you have a competitive edge will be a vast understatement.
Enhance value chains, preserve context
Fig.: Value chain
Increasingly, value chains stretch across multiple companies and involve non-traditional participants such as community members and influencers. Also, a bigger and bigger percentage of the core substance that is assembled, processed, enriched, and distributed along the value chain is pure information (read: data). In a bricks and mortar economy, where actual physical items are produced and shipped, one of the greatest optimization potentials lies in improving the logistics: waiting is expensive, shipping is expensive, storage is expensive, and the next-generation improved logistics for a particular industry depends on that industry’s mix of the cost of waiting, shipping, and storage.
When, instead of physical items, information is handled along the value chain, then one of the greatest optimization potentials lies in eliminating media breaks. Media breaks are the places in the information flow where the continuity is lost, for example because the information is printed on paper and (partly) typed into another system, or because a buying transaction is not connected to who the buyer is, or how the buyer browsed the store before buying, or what other items this shopper has bought. This is harmful because of
- inefficiency: reentering data into an electronic system that was digital before is costly, time-consuming and error-prone
- loss of context: most of the extremely valuable context information from the flow so far is lost
The latter is an especially grave consequence of having media breaks in your value chain: You lose a gold mine of information.
Gain new insights by mining context information
On the other hand, a good mobile strategy allows you to change the processes along your value chain so that, across all its participants, a continuous information stream occurs which is enriched with all the available context information (most importantly, including identity and location) at each station: who, when, where, what, how much, and perhaps even why. By having one contextual bracket around many previously unconnected data points, you can mine your data for new insights, and become better at offering exactly the right product and service to the right person, at the right moment and in the right place.
Fig.: Big data
To give an extreme example, think how many data points I generate during a four-week trip through France every time I
- buy something
- make a phone call
- open a web page
- change my location
- use an app
- post an update on facebook or twitter
- consume a service
Currently, most of these would be isolated data points not connected to anything else (except, I assume, for Google, Apple, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook). Imagine how much more analytical value you could get out of each of these data points if they were not floating in a ocean of unrelated data points but interconnected through the contextual bracket “Thorsten’s vacation in France”.
(Please note that while I’m fully aware of the utterly creepy big brother scenarios that are implied with these possibilities, this is not the time and place to discuss them. Let me just say that with big data comes big responsibility.)
Plain old optimizations
Of course, by having a better information flow, you can also achieve much in terms of classical optimizations: reduce bureaucracy, improve resource usage and load distribution, gather new data automatically instead of through sending employees with form sheets around (think e-meter), improve quality and security in sensitive processes such as invoicing. I have to admit that these sound a little boring to me in comparison to the exciting new possibilities that result from preserving context information, but each of these points here has the power to transform an entire industry if applied in the right place. So let’s not underestimate them.
How this transforms Analytics
Obviously, when our digital footprint changes radically and hundreds of isolated data points turn into millions of closely connected data points (bearing a rich harvest in previously invisible patterns), this poses a new challenge to Analytics, both quantitatively and qualitatively:
- Are your BI systems ready to handle an explosion of the amount of data (“big data”)?
- Do you have the tools and techniques to discover patterns in an ocean of data?
I believe that SAP is right when they postulate that a convergence of OLTP (transactional processing) and OLAP (analytical processing) is taking place, enabled by database systems that can handle more data, faster. One manifestation of the OLTP/OLAP convergence is that the aforementioned big data footprint will not only be explored and pattern-mined by controllers and their tools, but by operational applications, and directly impact the behavior of these applications. For example, customer behavior (gathered through mobile applications) will directly impact the activities of companies in a highly context-sensitive fashion (adapted to who the customer is, time and location).
A simple example are online ads, where you can directly respond to local click rates by displaying more ads with a high click rate in the area and ranking down the others; stores could calculate prices on the spot, taking into account such real-time variables as
- current buying behavior in all stores,
- current and forecasted demand,
- current and forecasted stock,
- external variables such as the weather, market climate, stock prices, currency rates, and
- the company’s relationship with the customer.
How consumer’s expectations change
Customers are pampered and spoiled, and will become even more so, because the best companies define the level of excellence all other companies will be measured against.
Amazon’s recommendation engine is an example for standard-defining excellence. It works in real-time, takes into account huge amounts of data, and it’s very good at suggesting stuff that interests me, when it interests me.
This has defined my expectations from other online shop systems. When I shop for single malt or red wine, I expect the online shop system to analyze my previous transactions, get an idea of what I like, and make recommendations I’m happy with. I get very impatient with any company that doesn’t offer this kind of service.
Last Christmas, I bought my first iPad. I love watching films on iTunes, but I couldn’t believe how bad their recommendation system is. I find it basically inaccessible, its integration is nearly inexistent, and the recommendations are shoddy. I actually use Amazon to get recommendations now, and will abandon iTunes as my primary source of on-demand films when the first viable alternative shows up, because they don’t meet the standards set by the best company in the market.
This is the kind of impatience you can expect from your customer base: If you’re not one step ahead of the customer and the competition with custom-tailored offerings, at the moment of decision, accessible with a tap or swipe, the customer is gone – and before you know it, so are you.
How to review your IT strategy
When you review your IT strategy with regards to Mobility, here are a few questions you could ask yourself:
- What services, products, and added value could we provide if all our customers had our mobile apps?
- How could we bring our processes to the next level if all the collaborators, external and internal, had our mobile apps (suited to the respective role in the process)?
- How can we gather additional, context-enriched information through mobile applications and by eliminating media breaks?
- Is our Analytics platform equipped to mine this data for patterns? Quantitatively, qualitatively?
- Are we prepared for the OLAP/OLTP convergence, where operational systems respond to emerging patterns in an ocean of real-time data?
- Do we have a foundation in place for a mobility infrastructure that supports mobile device management, mobile application development, runtime, and lifecycle management – at scale, with potentially hundreds of apps and millions of users?
- How can we evolve our enterprise architecture towards mobility in a sustainable way?
- Have we thought thoroughly about how to embed customers, partners, and employees into our mobile strategy?
- Do we start the learning and foundation-building process early enough? (You’ve got to learn how to walk before you can dance. Let’s hope you won’t be taking your first steps when the big dancing competition comes.)
- How can we build the necessary skills and establish the necessary partnerships in time?
Mobility is a highly relevant topic. In many industries, good mobile offerings are already crucial for survival; in others, they will be so very soon. Get it right takes time, and you might have to get started quickly or accelerate your pace in order not to be late. Now’s the time to summon the Augurs, spend some quality time divining the future, and review your strategy accordingly.