Too many businesses fret about this smartphone or that tablet. The real change will come from social, local, mobile, and games coming together on any of those devices.
In a recent conversation I had with a CIO, the topic turned to the Kleiner Perkins "Top Mobile Trends" report from early this year. The venture capital firm's report is packed with data and predictions that are great for sparking a debate inside your organization about the role of mobility. Three critical points stood out to me.
First, the report predicts that smartphone and tablet shipments will surpass PC shipments for the first time in 2011. Second, Kleiner Perkins' John Doer coined SoLoMo, which means the convergence of social, local, and mobile. And third, Kleiner Perkins' Bing Gordon set up gamification of apps as the ultimate way to engage a new generation of audiences. Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications, particularly consumer-oriented Web and mobile sites.
Mobile is the glue that connects these trends and makes each trend more impactful. Mobile fuels social because most devices have embedded access to features such as voice, text messaging, and presence that amp up interaction. GPS makes mobile devices capable of delivering local services. Data connections via WiFi and 3G allow devices to be connected to increasingly large and sophisticated data sources--whether that data's coming from enterprise-transaction or business-intelligence systems, or from Netflix.
Gamification draws on social and mobile, and it's moving into the enterprise. For example, Doubledutch has built custom apps for companies that use built-in game mechanics such as leaderboard, badges and check-ins to reward certain behaviors in groups such as sales and field support. Using a Doubledutch app, field employees and salespeople can check in to customer sites to log visits and to access contextually relevant information on the go from apps such as CRM.
Unfortunately, most companies aren't focused on how the emergence of these trends and how the convergence of these trends through mobile devices will affect their business. Mobility for enterprises is still too often a dialogue about "What devices should I support?" "Will tablets like the iPad replace PCs?" and "Should I let employees connect their personal devices to the network?" While these topics are important, they won't answer the key question of how mobile can change the business, including how customers will interact.
Businesses don't need just a mobile device and apps strategy. They need a business strategy that takes advantage of mobile's unique capabilities such as location, presence, and portability. Mobile changes the number and type of devices that would-be customers will use to connect with a business. This in turn allows businesses to collect data from mobile devices and even sensors, and analyze new data points that weren't previously available, including location of activities, equipment status, and environmental conditions. Applications now have access to location but also to other sensory information such as direction, vibration, humidity, and sound. For example, some California farmers are using moisture sensors in their fields, linked to wireless transmitters, to monitor conditions for irrigation. Mobile also adds new methods of interaction and engagement such as SMS, push notification, native mobile apps, and SoLoMo features like check-ins and badges.
Mobile also blends the digital with the physical in a way that couldn't be done with PCs. Augmented reality applications on mobile devices, such as Layar's reality browser, combine location information and real images from a device's camera with information from the Web in a real-time session. For instance, a consumer could point their camera at a mall to receive store directory or a list of promotions on their phone's screen. Blippar, a different augmented reality platform aimed at advertisers, provides an app with image-recognition technology that, when hovered over Blippar-enabled ads, will trigger virtual content, including games, 3-D images, and videos.
What would this look like in a business environment? A service technician could receive a push notification for the location of their next appointment, click to map the location and review the overall account information from the CRM application. On site, the technician could use a smartphone or tablet with a camera to identify a piece of equipment. The reality browser could surface a list of common problems collected from the repair company's collaboration system and offer links to download manuals and view tutorials. As that example suggests, SoLoMo is powered by online software.
Mobile is more than just an access method and a device. Mobile and its related technologies offer a way to enhance business processes and create competitive differentiation. Rather than debate what devices matter, or if SoLoMo is relevant in business, companies should use the Kleiner Perkins report as a discussion starter and spend time assessing scenarios: If their customers or employees embrace SoLoMo apps, how could that fundamentally change key business processes or products? Then, they should create plans to combine these technologies in order to take advantage of those changes.
Maribel Lopez is the founder of Lopez Research and vice president of Constellation Research Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-894-5781.
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