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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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From Beer To Bureaucracy, Mobile Strategy Matters

You aren't tracking your Buds with a smartphone?

While watching football on Sunday, I discovered that by visiting, I can learn where in the U.S. a bottle of Budweiser was made and who the brewmaster was. My life is now more complete knowing that my beer bottle can do party tricks with the help of my smartphone.

For Budweiser, the marketing message is that Bud is a local and fresh beer, the company's attempt to check the rising appeal of local, craft beers and to build a closer connection with customers.

Connection, or gimmick? Regardless of what you think, the challenge for IT leaders is this: Are we using mobile technology to build new ties with our customers? Is there data we have, and that we could expose via a mobile app, that might change how would-be buyers think of us or how loyal customers are to us?

[ There are a lot of questions to answer when you dive into mobile. Read Do You Need Mobile Middleware? ]

Not impressed by TrackYourBuds? At the InformationWeek CIO Summit last week at Interop New York, three IT leaders discussed how they're using mobile in very different industries -- healthcare, insurance and government -- in hopes of getting closer to their customers.

Getting hospital patients hooked on digital records.

Picture the typical hospital "media" setup -- an old TV on the far wall, used with a remote-control channel-clicker not seen since the days of The Rockford Files. It doesn't exactly convey the image of a technologically cutting-edge facility.

Aurelia Boyer, CIO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, saw the opportunity to do more than upgrade patients' viewing experience. She saw a chance to get patients more familiar with their electronic medical records. So her team is running a pilot test at two of its hospitals that puts a tablet computer in every room, on which people can access entertainment but also their medical record.

New York-Presbyterian patients have for several years been able to download a copy of their record when they're discharged, but the numbers doing so haven't been as high as the hospital would like. Boyer's team hopes that if more patients see and use their digital record during their hospital stay, hospital clinicians will get those patients more involved in their care while in the hospital and they'll be better informed once they're discharged. Patients haven't been eager users of their electronic records, so the pressure is on healthcare providers to light a spark. "In healthcare, consumerization has been really late to the game," Boyer said.

Helping people save digital memories.

Insurance company MetLife introduced in August a consumer mobile app for iOS and Android called MetLife Infinity that lets people upload precious data such as official documents, photos and videos to share with only select people, either now or at some future date. One possible use is a life insurance holder who wants to release a cache of information upon his or her death. But users don't have to be MetLife customers, so people can use it for whatever ideas they dream up. The app is about changing what people expect from a financial services company.

But it's also about changing what the company expects from IT, said Gary Hoberman, MetLife senior VP and CIO of regional application development. The company's IT pros are trying to not just implement what business units ask for, but to also be in a position "where we're bringing our own ideas forward," Hoberman said.

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MetLife also shows a common theme for mobile development: It must move fast. MetLife completed the entire project in nine months. And that's on the high end of its mobile projects, since it involved complex storage and policy issues.

Mobile app for New York transportation.

The New York City Department of Transportation's first big foray into mobile development came in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when it had to quickly craft an iPad app for employees in the field to document damage, using the tablet's camera and geolocation services.

But NYCDOT made sure the Sandy app was more than a one-off. It used that mobile development platform to launch iRideNYC, an app that layers onto a map the city's bus and subway routes, station locations and even some real-time data on train delays. And it offers locations for CitiBike (its bike-sharing program) and calculates walk times. The Web app uses a responsive, HTML5-based design that formats to the smartphone, tablet or PC screen of the user accessing it.

Most recently, NYCDOT used the platform to develop a mobile app that helps inspectors track whether restaurants have posted new bike messenger rules. Back to that speed factor: NYCDOT was able to whip up the app in three weeks.

None of these mobile efforts is an easy win. New York-Presbyterian, like all hospitals, still faces an uphill fight getting people to get more involved in their healthcare. iRideNYC is handy, but is there enough data there for locals to come back regularly, and enough marketing resources to let visitors know it's there? And while MetLife has put out an impressive app, is it too big a leap for people to make MetLife their digital archive, rather than an app vendor such as Dropbox? Infinity is brand new, having launched in late August, but it doesn't yet have any reviews in the iTunes store.

And Budweiser? Well, I tried the app and learned some things about its brewing and distribution, but I didn't (yet) go out and stock up on Buds.

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