Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy? - InformationWeek

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Cloud // Software as a Service
05:45 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?

An app isn't a strategy.

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.

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User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2013 | 2:40:06 PM
re: Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?
Interesting comment by @dealarchitect on how empty the enterprise app stores look. In healthcare, we are finding most payers are first to the game with the first wave of B2C apps available on the major app stores. Next phase is in the works. Provider side is a little slow, but is starting to recognize the value of B2C and B2E apps.
Loren Davie
Loren Davie,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2013 | 2:02:39 PM
re: Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?
A commitment to quality ("four stars") is admirable, but isn't really a strategy either. Even the idea of "mobile strategy" is creating an artificial container around the problem, and the opportunity.

The smartest thing in this article is this: "Mobile will blur the lines between store and online". The future of the Internet, be it mobile, desktop, tablet or form factors that we have yet to envision, is that it will be ubiquitous, and it will be contextual.

To truly form a strategy, organizations need to step back and start asking themselves: "at this point of contact, what will the user be trying to accomplish? What is their state of mind? Where are they physically located? What kind of person are they? What do they like or dislike?". These questions add up to context. It is in this context that a strategy for an organization's online communications (be it mobile or otherwise) can be expressed. How does the organization wish to treat a specific person, in a specific context?
User Rank: Author
4/16/2013 | 1:53:59 PM
re: Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?
Very true, Greg. It's (relatively) easy to create an app. But companies really committed to it are tracking usage, tracking what features are used and not use and figuring out why, measuring what share of downloaders will update the app when an update's issued. Tending an app is a lot more complicated than building it.
Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/16/2013 | 11:48:52 AM
re: Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?
Excellent points, Chris. The number of underwhelming apps far out numbers the "drool" apps. I can't count the number of apps I've downloaded, only to delete them a short time later when they don't live up to expectations. And we see many financial companies with dozens of apps, each developed by a separate business unit, and most of the apps are blah.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 6:11:25 PM
re: Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy?
Was there any discussion of any industries that are doing this better than others? Or maybe, given your thesis, industry performance isn't as important as what individual companies do?
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