You probably have an app. We have an app. But do you really have a mobile strategy for how those apps fit into your business model? Is there a plan for keeping the creative energy focused on your apps so customers drool instead of mock? How are you building the in-house skills and collaboration to meet expectations that get higher with every smartphone and mobile game that's launched? Are you giving employees mobile capabilities that make them anywhere near as efficient running their business lives as their personal lives?
Apps aren't a plan.
"The mobile experience at any company is driven by the first person who claimed it," said Gaston Legorburu, chief creative officer for digital marketing agency SapientNitro, speaking at the Wells Fargo Tech Transformation Summit earlier this month. Often it's marketing or customer service that grabs that lead role. Or it's pretty much everyone. "In a lot of organizations, you have 27 mobile apps with different corporate sponsors with no cohesive strategy," Legorburu said.
I heard several other things at the Wells Fargo summit that got me thinking about how companies need a new sense of urgency in embracing mobile computing for their customers and employees. Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris talked about how the vendor is now thinking mobile first, and even phone first, when developing new features. It struck me that Salesforce -- whose customer base of sales and market pros is among the most mobile at any company -- is only now putting mobile at its center, even if it's ahead of most other enterprise software vendors.
Consultant and author Vinnie Mirchandani, writing on his Deal Architect blog, reacted to Salesforce's upcoming SDK and API updates this way: "It occurred to me, compared to the highly organized and plentiful shelves of the iOS and Android (Google Play) app stores (and smaller ones at Amazon, Verizon, Microsoft and others), how empty the mobile enterprise apps landscape looks."
Another person who got me thinking about mobile was BigMachines CEO David Bonnette. BigMachines software helps salespeople configure, price and quote deals. By setting price parameters, the software can help salespeople close deals with less back-and-forth for approvals with managers. And it can help prevent salespeople from offering would-be customers deals that are too good to be true -- or profitable.
Bonnette cited a customer that put BigMachines on its tablets to let salespeople close deals while the prospect's still in front of them. He made this point: Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff "convinced everyone to put their sales data in the cloud." The point Bonnette left unsaid: Are companies doing enough to take advantage of that mobile-accessible data?
Mobile State Of Mind
More companies need Walgreens' "mobile first" mindset -- which (stay with me here) doesn't actually mean always making mobile projects the first priority.
Walgreens has gone through what I'll characterize as the "throw an app against the wall" strategy. It wouldn't put things so harshly, but CTO Abhi Dhar says that when the drugstore chain first started working on mobile apps, it focused, like most companies, on cost-effectiveness, since Walgreens didn't have in-house mobile talent. As a result, those apps underwhelmed.
So Walgreens quickly set a goal: Every mobile app it develops will earn at least four stars in Apple's app store. It looked to mobility to solve customer problems it couldn't before. Achieving that goal would require the company to hire or groom talented mobile developers. It moved one of its most senior e-commerce pros to oversee mobile. It put everyone working on mobile -- engineering, customer experience, product development, marketing, finance -- in one space. People are "probably going to have a drugstore app on their phone, probably on the first page of their phone," Dhar says. "Let's be that."
So Walgreens evolved to what he calls a "mobile first" approach to development. That doesn't mean Walgreens always develops the mobile app before a Web app, but it's an expectation that teams at Walgreens consider mobile possibilities at the first step of any initiative, whether online or in-store. "Mobile will blur the lines between store and online," says Walgreens e-commerce president Sona Chawla.
Walgreens still has far to go. You can't use a mobile phone to easily tell Walgreens you've arrived at a store and are open to getting a coupon, or open to seeing updates on new beauty or health products the store has added. But it has the mobile-first mentality that just might make such advances possible.