Mobile is a key part of the smartest businesses today in everything from apps to orders to communications and inventory, and if a business isn’t managing all of these ever-evolving mobile tasks, then it probably isn’t effectively serving customer needs.
Mobile devices are expected to handle a wide range of tasks and none of it can happen unless enterprises keep pace with the latest needs. These include having apps that display properly on mobile device screens of all sizes so that customers can browse and place orders, and ensuring that business apps for employees instantly serve up critical corporate data wherever they are doing their work.
For overwhelmed CIOs and IT managers, this is where a targeted expert – a mobile strategist – can be brought in to help make sense of the complexity, the constant change and the central importance that mobile today plays in businesses of all sizes.
In the last few years, companies often developed a mish-mash of mobile apps that tried to serve mismatched needs, requirements and goals, which often led to confusion and paralysis.
“Companies go mobile and do email and contacts, but then the initiatives don’t go much further and aren’t necessarily tackling it in a structured manner,” says Glenn Gruber, senior mobility strategist with Propelics, a consulting firm.
“The role we play is to help move from opportunistic forays in mobile into developing a real strategy for mobile in the enterprise. We help them think through that process and make sure that the mobile and the IT strategies map to the business.”
The key idea, he says, is to “focus your efforts on the stuff that makes the most impact as opposed to who knocks on your door first” with their latest ideas about what to do. “It happens all the time,” he says.
Mobile strategists look at enterprises as mobile ecosystems and dissect how all the parts fit together so that they can best serve customers and employees while taking advantage of the mobile resources that are in place.
One common problem for businesses involves starting a mobile app project for employees or customers without considering how to design user interfaces for the smaller screen sizes of mobile devices, says Gruber. “You get someone who takes a form-based process and what they often do is make the form too tiny and hard to read,” he says.
For many businesses today, random mobile projects are often already going on within their walls behind the scenes, says Gruber. “You’ll find that there are pockets of activity that sometimes you didn’t even know about,” he says.
One team might want to build an app for iOS while another team wants to use Android, both with different approaches. While that creativity and passion is great, it’s not a great strategy for accomplishing things, he says.
“These decisions aren’t always being made to align the type of experience you want to drive or about the type of device you want to use,” says Gruber. “They’re based on what those people know about. So a mobile strategist can help make that fit the company’s goals, devices and security.”
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A recent study, commissioned by Kinvey, which markets a Backend-as-a-Service app platform, found that out of 200 North American companies with more than 500 employees, about 150 now employ mobile strategists to help bring these kinds of mobile road maps together.
The January 2015 report, Meet the Mobile Strategist, detailed the importance of mobile strategists in planning, integrating and pursuing all things mobile inside enterprises, as well as their critical roles in driving the impact of mobile in everything a business does.
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Marty Resnick, a mobile strategist who asked that the name of his company not be used, says those are the kinds of tasks that he loves most on his job, where he is supporting about 15,000 employees and working to serve millions of consumers who connect with the business.
“I call my role a mobile evangelist,” he says. “I meet with CTOs, CIOs and other leaders across the organization about what they want to do and how they can use mobile technologies to do it. We get feedback from end users. When it comes to mobility there are so many things to consider and this helps us focus.”
In January, the company began an initiative that centers on developing business-centric mobile applications to serve employees and customers, says Resnick. “We’re now seeing a shift that this is real. It’s not hype anymore. Having a mobile strategist brings it all together, to really get the organization going in the right direction as opposed to multiple people going their own ways.”
Curt Prins, an independent mobile strategist based in Chicago who has worked as a consultant with start-ups and for large companies such as Target, says that one of the biggest mistakes businesses can make is to look at mobile as just another component inside their operations, along with data, applications and integral business processes.
“Mobile is not in its own silo,” says Prins. “Mobile is what connects all of the silos together. A good strategist looks ahead to how you can connect things together,” such as contemplating how an Enterprise Resource Planning system can be tied in with a mobile app that lets employees connect from anywhere without having to sit in front of a computer terminal.
“Companies that lag behind are going to be at a disadvantage,” says Prins.
To approach these issues, mobile strategists can help IT leaders look at how their employees and customers are using mobile devices and services in their own lives, as well as evaluate their own personal mobile use patterns, according to Prins.
One way mobile strategists can help companies get started with their mobile strategies is by identifying and tackling small, easier-to-solve problems first before taking on more complicated tasks such as moving an ordering system to a mobile platform, he says.
IT managers can identify five or six small projects that can be accomplished quickly to get employees on board with a workable agenda, he says. “Those are simple projects that can be easy wins. Don’t start big. Start small and don’t scale up until you see success.”
Companies can also “pay attention to what other industries are doing and steal their ideas” about their approaches to solving their own mobile problems, says Prins. “Maybe a mail order business wants to streamline its returns process through an add-on feature to their mobile app which already takes orders. Those kinds of steps can help a company out immensely.”
Gruber, of Propelics, says that it’s also critical to survey your employees, managers and line of business workers early in the process to learn about the mobile tools they want and need to do their jobs.
“At a high level you can start to see all of the opportunities where you can use mobile” and how they can align with the company’s business objectives, he says. “Then you can see from the technical side if this is something you can do quickly or if you need a new system to support it. Now you’ve got an actionable punch list.”
Ben Hedrington, a mobile strategist who worked for Best Buy from 2002 to 2013, says that having huge percentages of online traffic is a default expectation for mobile today and that enterprises can’t afford to ignore.
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At the same time, he says, businesses are still in the early stages of thinking about all things mobile in their operations. “Things pop up in three or six months and then we don’t know what’s going to pop around the next corner.
The reality is that your business strategy needs to be mobile and you need to do it in a standard role. If you are looking 12 to 18 months ahead in your business, mobile needs to be a huge part of that.”
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By leading the charge on these kinds of issues inside enterprises, mobile strategists can help enterprises jump start mobile development projects that are beyond the reach of IT establishment, several industry analysts told eWEEK.
“What we hear from companies is they get it, but that IT departments don’t really have the resources to execute and develop a mobile strategy,” says John Jackson, a mobile analyst with IDC. “IT’s charter is to keep the systems of record standing up and that’s a full-time job, while mobility, for all of its disruptive impact, is something you need to get to. And IT people often can’t get to it.”
At that point, “because there is material competitive advantage to be gained with a mobile strategy, it makes sense to have a strategist” who is working on these initiatives, says Jackson. “It is just now becoming a mainstream function. You’re starting to see people with these titles proliferating right now.”
So how can they help?
“Our research shows a consistent 30 percent failure rate for apps that have been deployed by enterprises for employees,” says Jackson. “That’s an astonishing high rate. Having a mobile strategist could help reduce or prevent that. Having an advocate in an official capacity to drive these strategies forward makes sense.”
Maribel Lopez, principal analyst with Lopez Research and a co-founder of the Mobile Research Council, a community of Fortune 1000 companies that work together to provide advice on creating mobile strategies, agrees.
“In marketing and sales, you might want to do something with cameras, beacons, apps and location … to connect them with basic legacy systems like inventory,” says Lopez. “Mobile strategists help companies think about what they do that’s new and different and also about what is transactional. It’s about making sure that they don’t have 15 different platforms to do things, where they’ve wasted a lot of time and money and none of them work together.”
To find the right mobile strategist for a company, Lopez recommends a search for mobile advocates. “I would try to find somebody inside the company who has already done something mobile that wasn’t sanctioned,” she says. “They’re probably passionate about it.”
Another place to look is within the open source community, where it is often a great place to find online discussions about related trends, tools and ideas, says Lopez. “You can find someone who can build a system for you.”
Whatever enterprises do to drive their mobile strategies, says Lopez, they should just get started and release the new tools and features to users to engage them and gain their interest. Most importantly, don’t take forever to build mobile apps and strategies, which will hold up the progress of users that want to get started with tools that will help them do their jobs, she adds.
“You need to start small and rapidly iterate on any apps or services that you deliver,” she says, “not the 12-month road map with every feature known to man.”