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Stop committing random acts of mobility

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 12, 2013 11:00 AM

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Mobile is changing expectations. People want access to products, services and information in real-time, all the time, from anywhere, on any device. Large organizations are feeling pressure from consumers, employees, partners, and others to make the leap to mobile to address these desires.

Done right, mobile computing offers brands an unprecedented opportunity to engage with their constituents by capitalizing on these heightened expectations. Unfortunately, doing mobile right is hard. It demands a deep commitment of resources and a sincere willingness to change that can be lacking in enterprise environments.

The sheer magnitude of a meaningful mobile undertaking - combined with a desire to be first to market - have prompted many companies to commit so called “random acts of mobility” - i.e., releasing half-baked mobile offerings that are silo’d, slow and/or muddled. These disposable mobile offerings are at best a waste of time and money, and at worst a cause of significant damage to brand loyalty.

How to Create a Good Mobile Experience
Creating a compelling mobile experience is a lot of work but it’s not rocket science. At the most basic level, you need to define your business objectives, listen to your users, and deliver an app that meets the needs of both parties. Let’s break that down:

Define your business objectives
If you are planning an app that doesn’t support specific business goals in a tangible way, it is unlikely that you will be able to justify the cost of maintenance, updates or extended functionality after the initial release. In other words, it’ll be dead on arrival.

Once you have defined business objectives, you need to build analytics into your app to measure its effectiveness. This is something that should be discussed thoroughly, agreed upon in advance, and built into your app from day one.

Listen to your users
Your users want to love your app. They want it to be awesome and to show it off to their friends. But how can a big brand know what its millions of users want? The answer is simple:

Ask them.

Social media is here - use it. Ask users what they want and - here’s the hard part - actually listen to what they tell you.

Why Mobile Is Hard for Large Companies
It’s hard for large companies to deliver compelling mobile experiences. Why is that? I’ll give you my top three reasons: Legacy systems, desire for control and turf wars.

1) Legacy Systems
Most large companies have data silos all over the organization. These silos don’t play nice with the “real-time, all the time” demand of mobile users. In other words, syncing your customer loyalty data and your POS transactions with a nightly batch script ain’t gonna cut it in mobile.

Obviously, modernizing core systems (e.g., CRM, SCM, ERP) is a massive and risky undertaking - e.g., fixing the plane in flight while performing a heart transplant on the pilot - but nonetheless, it needs to be done to make the leap to mobile.

2) Desire for Control
It is hard for large organizations to come to grips with social media: now that it’s easy to have a conversation with your consumers, your consumers expect you to have a conversation with them. They expect you to ask them questions. And when they take the time to give you feedback, they expect you to act on it. The days of ramming mediocre ideas through the marketplace with marketing dollars are over.

Before undertaking a mobile initiative, engage with your constituents. Simply ask them what they want. You’ll probably find that the majority have at least one big “want” in common. Release a simple app that does that one thing well. Encourage user feedback. Incorporate the feedback into your next release. Wash, rinse, repeat.

3) Turf Wars
It has been my experience that the business units of large companies are incentivized to compete with each other. While this may lead to increased performance of individual departments, it also leads to a lack of cooperation between departments.

This is a major stumbling block when it comes to mobile. Your customers don’t care which department they are dealing with when they are interacting with your brand. They naturally assume that all parts of your company are working together in harmony.

Why doesn’t your online ordering website communicate with your loyalty rewards redemption app? Why can’t your fancy barcode scanner app access supply chain data to estimate the delivery date of an out-of-stock item? That customers don’t appreciate the level of effort required to create these sorts of experiences is immaterial. These are the expectations and if you don’t deliver, someone else will.

Almost by definition, big organizations move slowly. This is diametrically opposed to the demands of their constituents, who are more savvy and impatient than ever. Committing “random acts of mobility” will be seen for what it is - a desperate attempt to remain relevant without making the hard decisions necessary to actually be relevant. There may still be time for large companies to reset course but the window is closing. And there will be casualties.

Jonathan Stark is a mobile consultant, web evangelist, and an advisory board member at Mobiquity, a professional services firm creating innovative mobile solutions and apps that drive business value headquartered in Wellesley. Stark is the author of O'Reilly's Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as well as Building Android Apps.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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