Too many businesses are missing out on the real potential of mobile by taking a short-term tactical approach, saysJames Leach of Chelsea Apps Factory
When you ask companies whether they’ve got a mobile strategy, quite a few will say yes. That sounds promising, but the problem is that having a strategy isn’t the same as switching on a light – one minute you’re in the dark, the next everything’s bright. There are differences of degree in all this: what one person would think of as having a strategy, to another would look like a few short-term moves without an overarching game-plan.
Whether or not they realise it, a lot of companies that believe they are behaving strategically are still taking a tactical approach – they build an app because that’s what customers or investors expect, or because competitors have done it.
We see this in the results of the Mobile Maturity Survey that we created to help companies benchmark their progress in applying mobile: 43% of people said they had a mobile strategy team that solely owns mobile and they use external suppliers to deliver propositions. That sounds good but what it really means is that mobile projects are hidden away somewhere and the rest of the business isn’t taking notice. It’s labelled a strategy but in reality it’s what we at Chelsea Apps Factory call “scratching an itch”. An issue comes up that demands attention and mobile offers a way to deal with it, thereby letting everyone get on with their lives again.
But if you use mobile like that, you’re letting a huge amount of untapped potential go begging. For example, think of a situation where an app could let a business get the right information to a large workforce of people on the move, enabling them to move from one task to the next without having to go and get fresh instructions. You could roll out an app that does that within three months. If it saves everyone in a 1,000-strong team just 10 minutes a day, that would give the business back nearly 42,000 staff hours in a year.
In a business the size of Amazon, for example, the productivity gains from using mobile devices to process goods through their distribution centres are obviously enormous. But Laboratorios HIPRA, a Spanish veterinary drugs company, gained very similar benefits by enabling its maintenance staff to access the information they need to carry out repairs without returning to their desks. That company is now moving to mobile working much more broadly and also creating a customer-facing app. The returns from individual projects like this can be very large: one app that we created recently for a client saved them 20 minutes per site every day, equivalent to £4m a year of costs.
Very often when companies see the sort of gains they can achieve by making a small productivity improvement across a large team of people, not surprisingly they forge ahead and build the app. That looks like a strategic move but to me it still falls short. The problem is that they’re not thinking enough about the bigger picture: if one app applied to one process can have that big an effect on their productivity, what else could they do if they really exploited the potential that mobility has to transform every part of their business? They’re looking at just the tip of the iceberg.
Why does it happen like that? First, I think that a lot of companies are still wrestling with the value of mobile technology for them and their people. That’s not because they don’t think it has value. They know it does but they haven’t yet worked out how much.
Second, some companies in older, more established industries seem to believe that it’s all about businesses that were born mobile – the Ubers of the world. But that’s not the case. Any business that needs people to have on-demand access to information, data, forms and the tools that allow them to carry out processes can do it much more efficiently if they’re equipped with mobile technology.
It’s not about the mobile and the non-mobile. The world is already digital and it is undeniably becoming mobile. Fairly soon we won’t talk about becoming a mobile business or a digital business any more because they will just be part of being in business at all.
You can achieve pretty eye-catching results from mobile just by acting tactically. But the real gains come from seeing the big picture, not just scratching the next itch.