Of all the new technologies that we have experienced, especially in this century, the one that has created the most disruption in how we live and do business has to be the smartphone. When you combine the features of the smartphone with other technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printers and scanners, and object-recognition cameras, the potential for even more disruption and change lies in wait like a tsunami.
As with most disruptive technologies, the ability to download applications (mobile apps) to phones has evolved rapidly and unevenly. Early adaptors claimed an advantage over competitors by moving to a multi-channel architecture. This was achieved mainly by taking their existing website functionality and adapting it to these new channels of tablets and smartphones with the focus on user interface. There were barriers to enter this market, and it was limited mainly to large corporate bodies.
Now these frontrunners are at a disadvantage for a number of reasons:
- the price barriers have fallen away, making the development of a custom app available for small and medium businesses.
- they have to align their multiple channels into an “omni-channel” architecture. And this means a truly seamless and integrated experience for the user who can elect to transact any way they want without having to cope with multiple variants of displays, passwords, processes and procedures.
- their strategy is based on their original business model, which needs to be re-geared for the mobile world.
- whereas the earlier focus was on the technology and how to fit new channels into the business environment, with maturity comes the realization that it is all about the customer and customer experience.
- There are really only 2 mobile platforms now, iOS and Android, although there are still Windows and Blackberry phones and their users out there.
Conversely, businesses that were slow to take the leap into mobile are at an advantage. There is a whole industry out there that can assist both with strategy and mobile application development, as well as providers of analytics on how the mobile market is developing on a global or regional scale together with business analytics for one’s own app.
The Time to Act is Now
Now we are in 2017, and you need to take action, if you have not already done so. The growth of this market is explosive. Predictions vary from one research body to another, but they are all consistent in identifying a rapid and sustained growth for the next 5 years.
In February 2016, Cisco predicted that the number of mobile-connected devices per capita will reach 1.5 by 2021. Some regions are already close to that number. In Ericsson’s latest report, ownership in Central and Eastern Europe is 144% and 131% in Western Europe . What is more, during 2016, smartphone ownership surpassed conventional phones (52%) and will reach 76% by 2022 (Ericsson). What is even more, data usage on smartphones far exceeds voice. According to Ericsson, data traffic grew by 50% between Q3 2015 and Q3 2016, while voice traffic showed only a minimal increase.
The Audiences for Your Apps
While the natural assumption is that the target market for your apps is your customer base, there are other options to consider, such as your workforce and your suppliers. What follows is a breakdown of these audiences, with some case studies that have proved successful
B2E – Business to Employee
Mobile solutions within your business can provide a huge value-add via improved performance and engagement of your employees. When it comes to operations, field services mobile connectivity provides great results, and most workforce management software providers have already upgraded their suites to include mobile interfaces. A typical application is the automation of SOPs (standard operating procedures), so that your field technician has the procedure at the point of failure, and can relay back a root cause analysis and visuals of the problem at hand.
Mobile solutions for the learning organisation are also getting a lot of focus: Deloitte developed a mobile game “mini Deloitte” to align its 30,000 employees with their overall strategy during 2015, which acted both as a training aid and a rollout of the strategy.
The introduction of mobile apps in the workplace has unlimited possibilities. Just one of the examples, the application that facilitates corporate meals is a B2E solution that was developed as a B2B offering for a corporate card service provider.
B2B – Business to Business
Apart from the case study mentioned above, business-to-business mobile apps are a viable development initiative. Much journal and trade publishing has moved to mobile, with stellar results. With a comprehensive content management system and analytics backing such publications, the reader can engage with a focused search engine and knowledge repository that applies to his or her line of business.
A traditional product catalogue can be revamped completely when provided via mobile, especially when you have a large product line. Additional information about a product, such as reviews, comparisons and user manuals can be accessed. The addition of click-to-call enables the client to get instant feedback and can shortcut the ordering process. You can also use the client’s order history to recommend future purchases or notify when a new product has arrived. There are commercial off-the-shelf solutions in this niche, such as Handshake and Onsight.
When deciding on whether and why you need a B2B app, bear in mind that the ideal B2B mobile app must simplify interaction between your client and your business and become their preferred conduit for doing business with you.
V2B – Vendor (Supplier) to Business
While this is also a B2B option, the focus here is on your supplier improving their service delivery to you. Often you will find that your supplier is perfectly happy with their business model, while you are less than satisfied. This is where pressure can be applied on the vendor to introduce a mobile app that will reduce your pain points. A classic example is the courier industry. Traditionally, courier companies regard only the deliverer as the client, and not the receiver, which leads to inefficiencies and failures in the value chain. Mobile apps have been developed that manage proof-of-delivery and logistics and increase your confidence in the delivery process.
B2C – Business to Customer
This is the hot and overheated marketplace where all the development is focused. However, what is not so hot is the drop-off once customers have downloaded your app. Some sobering figures:
- 25% of customers who have downloaded an app use it once.
- The rate of churn after 90 days, as researched by Localytics, was 75%
So before you dive into developing a B2C app, you must seriously examine your customer journey and customer experience to make sure that your app will remove or reduce pain points for the customer and genuinely enhance their interactions with you. The use of augmented reality for B2C apps has created new levels of engagement. While the ultimate hype in augmented reality centred around Pokemon Go, retailers such as Ikea have used augmented reality to improve their customer experience.
While, as Statista reports, the most popular downloads from the Apple store are predominantly games (25% – Android choices are not that different), there are some niches that get a lot of attention. With the developing market in wearables, personal fitness ranks around 3%, where data aggregated via the wearable is synchronised with the mobile app in the user’s smartphone.
Options to Consider when Moving to Mobile
If you have not invested much in mobile to date, the options may seem overwhelming. However, it is advisable that you start somewhere. The mobile face you present to the market affects your search engine optimization on Google, as it is used in its algorithm.
The market of commercial off-the-shelf solutions has developed, and, before opting for in-house or third-party development, do your research on what is out there. Most of the products offer a white-label option.
If you do decide to develop your own custom app, it is probably advisable to outsource or co-source the development, even if you have a large IT business unit. The reason for this is that, while there is an overlap in skill sets and languages used for conventional and mobile development, there are gaps, and it is advisable to use a third party for your first attempt, with the requirement that skills transfer is part of the deal. A Forrester overview on what is required to build an engaging mobile experience discusses what changes are needed to your architecture and the key differences between PC and mobile support, which will help to clarify the challenges .
You will not regret your decision to move to mobile. It is not an easy change. It will disrupt your business, whether via a B2E, B2B or B2C initiative. However, that is preferable to having a competitor or a complete upstart like AirBnB upsetting your applecart!
References  Ericsson Mobility Report on the pulse of the networked society, November 2016. Available at: https://www.ericsson.com/assets/local/mobility-report/documents/2016/ericsson-mobility-report-november-2016.pdf  Build Mobile Experiences That Drive Engagement, July 2016. Available at: https://www.forrester.com/report/Build+Mobile+Experiences+That+Drive+Engagement/-/E-RES71801