Consumer technology: Mobility

By Mark Helme

Date 19 December 2010 Tags ,

We’ve been talking for a few months about how to manage the consumerisation of IT, and what that means for the IS organisation (balancing choice and the need for security for example).

It does seem to us that there is one well established consumer technology still underutilised by corporations, both internally and in the way they deal with their customers: mobility.

Although creating the 3G network came with a $100bn tax bill (yet to be recouped) mobile continues to advance apace. Smart phones have larger screens, better web browsing capabilities, and longer battery life; faster network speeds and ‘all you can eat’ data packages mean that mobile usage encompasses more than just voice and text services.  However, the way forward is not obvious. Just putting a brochure on-line didn’t exploit the capabilities of the internet (think of Amazon’s feedback, reviewers, and recommendations); just putting on-line services onto a mobile device isn’t exploiting the peculiarities of mobile either. It needs rethinking to make a big difference.

What messages can we suggest for corporations? Some of our customers are seriously investigating what this technology can do for them, and we’ve also been talking with our friends at the Mobile Marketing Association who tell some interesting stories from the front line in Europe and beyond.

These are some of the things which are enabling some companies to rethink and roll out their mobility offerings.

  • The Deutsche Post (now owner of DHL and the largest logistics company in the world) is seeking to extend their physical core products to the internet and mobile devices to tap into new customer groups and simplify their lives. They have developed applications for Smartphones which for example allow “mobile stamps” to be purchased, enable facilities to be located quickly (where is the closest post box?), and email to be printed locally and then delivered in the traditional way. Within the first 4 weeks of its availability, the application was downloaded 110,000 times in Germany.
  • Lufthansa, and to a lesser extent BA, have made significant investment in weaving their passengers’ use of mobile devices into their operations. Smartphone applications support many of the sales, check-in and change processes. Lufthansa also enable boarding cards to be downloaded to a phone, to be scanned at the airport (37,000 a month and growing fast). Additional services target the passengers after landing (and checked-in passengers lost in duty free may be texted to remind them to go to the gate).
  • Some mobile banking services have been available for a while, but investment in secure mobile banking applications has moved beyond the mere sending of a text to announce the arrival of the pay check.
  • Mobile devices enable passengers to provide real time feedback whilst travelling. National Express’s train and coach customers can inform them of on-board problems such as heating or lighting not working (and anecdotes exist of heating fixed on the same trip).
  • Fanta in Germany ran a campaign where 10 digit codes printed inside bottle tops could be sent in by SMS and the sender given free texts…

Note that in some of these cases – particularly the Deutsche Post example – the investment in systems and process design is considerable to enable the innovation to work. Being able to download a mobile “stamp” – in reality a code, require back office systems and new processes to be designed. Soliciting fast feedback without building an improved ability to respond would be self defeating. It is also clear in the Fanta example that co-ordination between entities as well as back office systems was crucial. What happens if the number isn’t accepted or the texter tries to do it too many times?

Marketing is one function where companies are deploying mobile, as smart mobile devices, promise to make individual, tailored marketing a reality; allowing brands to engage with the consumer in a bespoke and personal way. The attraction of mobile is that it promises to move away from the broadcast model and to start treating customers as individuals, dependent in part on location. Typical efforts of Customer Relationship Management have been directed towards software solutions, tracking systems and collecting data, but this is essentially after the event and passive; mobility enables direct reach to the consumer, and location awareness has become increasingly attractive to brands.

However, leading companies systematically seeking ways of exploiting this technology along the whole range of touch points they have with their customers need to be aware that customers want to be able to access the data their suppliers have about themanywhere and at any time, and they increasingly think of that data as theirs; this adds great complexity.

The attraction of mobility is not just the internet on a mobile device, and is not limited to the dissemination of information, no matter how individually tailored. Exploiting mobility means embedding it across the organisation, and not just treating it as icing on a cake.

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