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For CIOs & Senior IT Executives

The Mobile Business Leader
Paul May, the Author

 Article (Web Page) #3 - July 2002


This is the third column (shall we say, web page) in a series of pages (by Paul May) aimed at helping CIOs strengthen their m-business positions with strategic insight and actionable guidelines.

The Intimate Information Environment

In the first two parts of this series we looked at issues relating to mobilising business applications within the enterprise.  The pressure is on CIOs to respond to emerging needs amongst mobile workers, particularly sales people and field force personnel.  Outside the organisation, the wireless hype machine has moved to corporate email-on-the-move as mobile network operators and PDA vendors do battle with RIMís BlackBerry.  Itís little surprise that attention is focused today on mobile applications for the enterprise.  Itís here that we can make the most obvious business cases for mobile technology.

But the backdrop to the mobile movement remains the march towards mobilisation of the consumer.  The exact mix of technologies that will bring mobile connectivity to consumers in different markets and different situations is difficult to call, and the mix will evolve. 

Luckily, CIOs donít have to make heavy consumer connectivity commitments today.  Thereís some breathing space before the volume in any significant consumer segment creates real urgency on this front.  Companies are still experimenting with mobile marketing schemes, and often doing so through partners who shoulder much of the technology risk.

Tending the Information Environment

However, CIOs are also aware that the I in their title stands for Information, not Technology.  Their role is to ensure the information capability of the company.  That responsibility goes above and beyond technology decisions.  It involves mapping and shaping the information environment (see The CIOís Horizons).

Figure 1: The CIOís Horizons

The best software in the world, the tidiest n-tier architecture, the smartest lights-out data centre: none of these matter if the applications that ride on them do not serve the needs of the business.  Business need makes up 90% of the information environment.  (The other 10% is good practice.)

So, how can CIOs start to map and nurture an appropriate information environment for the mobilised era?  As we have seen earlier in this series, there are short- and long-term actions that can ready the organisation for its own mobilisation.  What about the impact of consumer mobilisation?

Face this first: the rate and style of consumer mobilisation is outside your control.  You canít mandate whether any specific segment will embrace any one technology, or any one mix of technologies.  Nor can you delimit the types of requirements they will have.  You can begin to predict, and to experiment, and weíll look at experiments in the next issue of this series.  Today, we want to introduce an issue that is going to loom large on your board as consumer mobilisation takes hold.  CIOs need to be leading the formation of opinion and strategy in this area.  Itís nothing less than a global sea change in the information environment.

Mobile Services To Port and Starboard

Imagine that a business unit in your organisation creates a successful mobile service for its customers.  The team exploits the power of the mobile channel to generate deep, personal relationships with customers.  The service is easy to use, and somewhat predictive in its behaviour.  Not only can it give the user what she wants quickly and easily, it can also make helpful suggestions.  The team is delighted that it has built the service so rapidly and achieved its initial goal of recruiting early adopters from its higher-income demographic.  The technologists on the team stress that theyíve used web services technologies in building the service, so that it will be easier to link with other systems in the future.  The team are keen to add partner offers into version 2.0 of the service.

Now take away the technology, and roll this scenario again.  What youíve got is a business unit that has managed to set up camp on the customerís shoulder.  Theyíve bred a parrot that perches on a few, selected, pirates.  Itís a useful parrot: it tells the customer where to find buried treasure.  The next generation of parrots will descend on all kinds of sea-farers, not just pirates.  And not only will the V2.0 parrot point customers at treasure, it will also offer to provide a rental boat, swimming lessons and an eye-patch.

Now consider that other business units in your organisation will be rolling out their initial mobile services as well.  You might have tried to coordinate them and establish some sharing of technical resources.  But has anyone looked to see whether the various services are compatible with each other at the business level? 

You have some leeway for duplication and overlap in traditional channels.  Generally, as long as you donít contradict your own prices or inadvertently counterfeit your own brand, diversity is a good thing.  It is, after all, why you have business units in the first place.

In the mobilised world, there is less forgiveness.  The personal nature of the mobile channel, and its immediacy, make it a low-sufferance medium.  If you put a parrot on my shoulder and then a monkey on my back, Iím going to be annoyed.  If Iím bombarded with confusing messages from a company, Iím going to block them out of my life.  But not before Iíve told all my friends and acquaintances.  Remember, chances are Iím on the phone at the very moment you annoy me.

The positive way to describe the potential of the mobile customer relationship is to characterise it as a footprint in the customerís life.  This is not quite the metaphor we need.  A footprint, in technologistsí terms, is the locus of a communications capability or the area covered by a piece of equipment.  In everyday language, itís what Friday left behind for Crusoe to find on the beach.  (No buried treasure for them.)  In reality, mobile technology leaves the whole foot, not a print.  Mobile services can put a foot in the door, like the pushy salesman of legend.  Is this the way you want to make your presence felt in your customersí lives?

It may seem way-out, but this is the fundamental issue for CIOs as consumer mobilisation gains hold.  To encapsulate: how will your organisation acquire and retain intimate access to its customers?

Managing the Intimate Information Environment

We suggest five guiding principles for managing the newly intimate information environment (see The Intimate Information Environment Star).

Figure 2: The Intimate Information Environment Star

permission: it should go without saying, but ask your customers if they want to deal with you through the mobile channel.  Donít even think about ensnaring them with passive, prechecked boxes on forms.

reward: for customers with the right profile, rewards in the shape of cash, discounts or even public recognition can cement an ongoing relationship

retreat: always give the customer the option to withdraw from the relationship.  Analyse customer behaviour patterns and be prepared to terminate the relationship yourself - donít carry poor payers in the belief that volume is more important

lightness: drain any excess weight from your service; make it simple, unobtrusive and delightful

touch: create events and physical spaces where mobile customers can engage face-to-face with your company.  Thereís no better way to create a personalised service than to create occasional opportunities for non-mediated contact.  In the long run, it may be the only way to a customerís heart.

These five guidelines will help you establish good practice in this new information environment.  They will also help affirm the CIOís role as a guardian of the businessís best interests in all its channels.

© Verista 2002 - Reproduced here by MobileInfo.Com with permission

About Paul May and Verista
Paul May is a Principal Consultant with Verista (www.verista.com) and the author of Mobile Commerce: Opportunities, Applications and Technologies of Wireless Business (2001) and The Business of Ecommerce: from Corporate Strategy to Technology (2000), both published by Cambridge University Press.

Verista is an independent consultancy specialising in digital channel strategy and management, wireless technologies, mobile workforce enablement and mobile marketing. We work with channel partners, systems integrators, network operators and software vendors to bring the appropriate mix of capabilities to our clients.

Related Resources:
Go to Paul May's First Article (April 2002)
Go to Paul May's Second Article (May 2002)
More CIO Topics 

Mobile Professional Topics


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