Why You Need A Mobile Center Of Excellence

A division created specifically to marshal your mobile efforts can bring your company long-term rewards. Here's what it needs to succeed.

Ted Schadler, Technologist & Author

May 30, 2013

5 Min Read

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Most firms today treat mobile as a set of projects, separately funded and executed, often with disastrous results. Chaos ensues when marketing goes after a mobile loyalty app, sales builds tablet apps, the CFO funds mobile expense approvals, the CTO does an app in support of the new smart product line, and the head of Asia resellers builds a mobile dealer app.

To balance the needs of your business to build mobile apps against the technology requirements to service those apps, you need some kind of organization to marshal your efforts. Those ready for an enterprise strategy need a mobile "center of excellence."

Research from Forrester's CIO Mobile Engagement Playbook defines a mobile center of excellence as a coordinating force majeure, comprising approximately 25 to 100 technology and business staff under the leadership of a senior executive and a supporting mobile architecture council. Firms like GE have mobile centers of excellence and are executing full tilt to bring mobile to fruition through a commitment to the user experience in design, framework development, analytics support, supplier management and application development. It is also the place where new mobile experiences are identified and celebrated.

[ Can your company meet its mobile app development challenges? Read 9 Challenges To Your Mobile App Strategy. ]

If your firm's commitment to mobility is strategic and enterprise-wide, now is the time to create a mobile center of excellence. As this group comes together and starts functioning, you will find that it quickly picks up momentum as your mobile app adds analytics, social connections, public cloud services and deeper links into content and systems of record. To shift the company's thinking away from small Web or screen-scraped SAP -- systems, applications and products -- this group must do five things:

1. Focus On The User Experience -- Not Just On The User Interface.

The interface should not only look pretty but also work in a natural and responsive way -- which requires a real-time response from servers. "Experience" designers have a rare combined skill set: they know both Adobe Illustrator and JavaScript. Further, they understand that a real-time response to finger taps matters, so they keep the business team in touch with limitations imposed by the middleware APIs and back-end systems of record. One vendor, Microsoft Yammer, has a dedicated "Yam Juice" team with those skills. GE cultivates and rewards experience design skills with interesting work and recognition.

2. Adopt Rapid-Release, Agile Development Processes.

Mobile apps fronting systems of engagement are "products" that demand a rapid response to business requirements and feedback. As such, mobile product owners set the schedule and the pace of improvement, often weekly for HTML5 and quarterly for native apps.

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If IT still uses laborious waterfall development processes, now is the time to make "design for mobile first!" the call to action to adopt agile processes. For example, FedEx moved from waterfall to agile in order to build its package status notification mobile app. The result: Cycle time shrank from a year and a half to three months.

3. Use Systems Of Engagement To Create New Business Offerings.

Once a core capability is exposed through a mobile app, it's also available to be used in smart products or a new service from the company or a partner. For example, South African bank Absa first built a mobile payments app. That capability then drove a change in its business offerings to embed the mobile payment service inside partners' offerings; for example, to sell prepaid home energy and consumer mobile cards. Similarly, firms can redeploy an engagement system to serve a new product or market. Pixar has done this with its RenderMan video rendering cloud service hosted on Microsoft's Azure platform, thus making it available to independent animated film directors.

4. Fund Back-End Investments From Mobile Project Budgets. Dealing with the scale, complexity and time horizons of the back-end rework will require a new funding approach as the investment needed reaches into the tens of millions of dollars. Forrester estimates that the $50,000 to $150,000 that firms are spending to build a customer mobile app today is only 35% of the two-year total cost. The other 65% goes to maintenance and to reconstituting traditional systems. One financial engineering approach taken by a European bank is to fund the capital expenditures by borrowing against the mobile project budgets for the next 12 months.

5. Manage The Ecosystem Of Mobile Partners And Channels.

The rate of innovation coupled with the complexity of the platforms and delivery dictates that firms must corral a stable of solution providers. The mobile center of excellence needs to invest in solution-broker skills to manage these specialists as well as other suppliers in the mobile delivery path. As other business and technology groups will manage many of these suppliers, this will require a strong coordination and liaison focus from vendor management experts.

Ted Schadler and John McCarthy are vice presidents and principal analysts at Forrester Research, serving CIOs.

About the Author(s)

Ted Schadler

Technologist & Author

Ted Schadler serves CIOs. He has 25 years of experience in the technology industry, focusing on the effects of disruptive technologies on the workforce and workforce productivity. His research focuses on workforce technologies and the programs that support them, including mobile devices and their impact on business models, products, and productivity; social business and collaboration tools; cloud email and collaboration tools; and the consumerization of IT. He’s the co-author of Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press, September 2010). In 2009, he launched Forrester's Workforce Technology Assessment and workforce personas, the industry's first benchmark survey of workforce technology adoption.

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