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Give your organization the mobile advantage

I love my iPhone. For the last two years, it has done everything for me. Manage my schedule. Play my music. Challenge me at games. And it even takes phone calls! A die-hard app addict, I must have installed every app I could ever lay my hands on. Which got me thinking… Can my phone serve a more practical purpose, than just tilt-n-win games? Is business productivity limited to receiving emails and appointment alerts?

I love my iPhone. For the last two years, it has done everything for me. Manage my schedule. Play my music. Challenge me at games. And it even takes phone calls! A die-hard app addict, I must have installed every app I could ever lay my hands on. Which got me thinking… Can my phone serve a more practical purpose, than just tilt-n-win games? Is business productivity limited to receiving emails and appointment alerts?

While all of us know about the Blackberry email application, the salesforce and Oracle CRM-on-Demand on mobile apps are also becoming popular, some innovative enterprise mobile applications can change the way we market, sell and support our customers. But the phone can be used for a lot more, than just providing the third screen to SaaS (software as a service) apps. Here is a quick snapshot of how mobile can be used to make business management easier, some of which have been implemented by us already.

Being a marketer myself, let me narrate a situation that all of us face on a day-to-day basis.

India, being a huge geographical spread, requires marketers to run campaigns and programs across 200-250 towns at any moment of time. All these campaigns require a huge coverage on the ground, at retail, at neighbourhoods etc. Imagine adding 1000 rural towns as well to this campaign would mean that at any moment of time you need to be present at about 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh retailers. Such a campaign is a nightmare not just for the marketer but also for the agency. A dream turn sour, is it?

However, with a small mobile application this could be easier done than said. A mobile application installed on a smartphone, which every promoter on-ground has, could make life so easy for the campaign roll-out. The app prompts you to note specific details of the activity, take some 10-15 snaps, cover POP/POS (point of sale) put at every outlet, take a picture of the same and upload it directly through GPRS or connect to computer in a rural town and upload it by the click of a button. Imagine real-time data available to you at just the click of your mouse, of a local activity at Sneh Nagar in Nanded, Maharashtra.

Another situation: you are standing in front of an irate customer in his office, with your smartphone in hand. You really need to know the details about his late order. Using your smartphone’s email program, you select an email address; enter the customer’s name on the subject line, and hit ‘Send’. In less than a minute, you have the data, pulled from your company’s back-end CRM (customer relationship management) system. With custom products like this, you send emails from your address list not just to colleagues but to enterprise databases and applications with one click. Email becomes an application interface.

Imagine another situation: a consumer electronics company wanting to know who the final customer is, wanting to reward the last mile and wanting to develop a database to be able to market the next hi-end appliance they come up with, to a certain audience. You don’t even need a hi-end mobile application. What you need is a simple ideas implementation on mobile. The idea revolving around rewarding your last mile for recording the name and contact of the customer, along with the unique product number and SMSing it live to a central number where a small server app integrates all the data which can form a dashboard online. What you get is invaluable – your customer database as well as a loyal last mile that gets an incentive for every valid SMS he sends. Just a simple idea, but it changes the way you are able to speak to your customer or how you are able to be in touch with your retailer.

In short, custom mobile apps can help businesses be present, and support their staff, and in turn their customers, no matter where they are. Integrated well with legacy systems, these apps can open up a whole new interaction channel for marketing and sales teams.

So what’s new with the mobile?

What has changed? Nothing, the spread of easy-to-use mobile phones, but more than that some smart usage of smart mobile phones. An indispensable part of our lives, the phone is the only gadget we carry, after the watch (and the wallet, but my wife handles that!)

Mobile presents no dearth of opportunities for businesses and marketers today. Right from the humble SMS to mobile advertising and m-commerce etc. But definitely, one thing that will change the game for businesses as a whole is mobile applications. Probably mobile, combined with the internet, will make a deadly combination that will change the way businesses are managed.

These mobile applications are set to change how we marketers plan and run our marketing campaigns, how sales team are managed, how customer service is managed and so on — the opportunity is enormous.

An IDC study forecasts a strong growth for the worldwide mobile enterprise application (MEA) market. IDC forecasts that this market will grow to $3.5 billion in 2010, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23 per cent. Industry experts believe that the usage of mobile enterprise applications will grow by 30-40 per cent in the next three years. The arrival of 3G and number portability will further boost the demand of mobile enterprise applications as well as devices.

The adoption level of mobile based applications is increasing in India. Not only large enterprises, but government sectors are also increasingly showing keen interest in using mobile to manage their customers and field-force better.

The Indian Railways has now created mobile access for train inquiry and is also doing a few pilot projects to start mobile ticketing in trains and coach management. The ticket collector will be given a handheld device on which he can issue a ticket in the train itself. Further, he would be able to check the current booking status in the train. Similarly, the Department of Post, in a bid to give competition to the courier operators, is also looking forward to make its employees more efficient with a similar offering.

In the consumer applications market most mobile software works on only one type of device or the phone of the carrier. The competition is similar to what happened in the earliest days of the personal computer industry when a program would work only for a specific PC because each had their own OS, post which MS started to dominate. That issue clearly seems not to be a deterrent in the enterprise app category as more and more companies provide mobile phones and connections (the most common being Blackberry) to the employees, hence can standardize the OS.

While the picture really looks rosy, there are still a few bottlenecks, which definitely will not exist in the future.

The adoption level for mobile enterprise applications is currently very low in India. Out of the total number of mobile phone users in India, 10 per cent have smartphones on which these applications can be run. Of the total number of smartphone users, only about 5 per cent use mobile intranet to access information while on the move. However, with smartphones now becoming cheaper (Rs 7-8k for a smartphone from HTC, Samsung, etc.) and mobile data plans becoming cheaper, this will only surely be overcome.

Agencies and development companies’ logjam exists between developers and their ability to productively deliver enterprise applications and data to mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, and so-called converged devices like Apple iPhone. The logjam is complexity and too many obnoxious variables. To develop applications that reach even a small number of major handset environments means big-time custom plumbing, from the various data sources to the mixture of networks, to the choices on synchronization, to the various security needs, to the many user interfaces and mobile client operating systems. Managing all these variables requires a high degree of skill across many different skill sets. There are not many developers that fit this bill in your average enterprise. With India being a developer hub and a large number of agencies now having mobile application development capabilities, this also will not be a problem moving ahead.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the leadership position for the next-generation smartphone will be ruled by the player who can give access to maximum applications. One of the major reasons for the success of iPhone today is the App store, with over 130,000 applications!

Clearly, mobile applications have changed the way we use our mobile phones/devices of the future. Some people predict the mobile phone leader of the future will be either Apple or Google purely because of the number of applications they will have to offer to the mobile phone user. All this is giving consumers great delight as their phones not just remain a communication device, but also an entertainment, social networking device. Last year alone, $4.2 billion worth of mobile applications were sold, most of which happened through the Apple App Store, according to Gartner. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Apple’s iPhone and its App Store have turned the once-obscure field of mobile applications into a lucrative market, prompting other companies to mimic that model.

Gotta go now. My phone just rang…

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