Beyond BYOD: Integrating the Mobile Customer

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There’s starting to be more scuttlebutt about mobile devices as the next major integration challenge for IT.

Google research shows 40 percent of the U.S. population now owns smartphones. And yet, when I read articles aimed at CIOs and other IT leaders, they're almost always about supporting a mobile work force.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the integration challenges the whole BYOD movement entails, but, seriously, we’ve been talking about this since 2000. I seriously suspect this problem is less about the problem and more about playing catch-up.

The real IT challenge — and opportunity —  will be to look at what all this mobile adoption means when it comes to your customers (and I’m using that term in the broadest way possible).

Because here’s the thing: It’s not just your work force that’s gone mobile; it’s nearly half the country, if you’re in the U.S or one of six other nations. Heck, it actually is half the country if you happen to be, say, Australian, English, Norwegian, Swedish, Saudi or from the United Arab Emirates.

And smartphone users are devout about using those devices. In the U.S., 80 percent of smartphone owners say they don’t leave home without their device. One in three of us would give up the TV before the smartphone.

Now ask yourself what that means in terms of your customers and how they do business:

  • How many are doing online price checks while standing in your retail space?
  • How many are texting friends about sales you’re offering?
  • How easy is it to complain in real-time on Facebook or Twitter about poor customer service?

From where I’m sitting, the real question IT leaders should be asking isn’t what mobile OS should I support, but rather:

  • How can we achieve cross-channel integration?
  • How can we provide better service to mobile customers?
  • What apps can we offer mobile customers and how do we ensure that data is integrated with our enterprise systems?
  • What’s our mobile business strategy and how can IT support it?

Certainly, companies are moving in this direction. Walgreens recently announced a new program that lets you print photos at stores directly from your Android phone or iPhone. It’s not just a way to extend the business — it’s actually a business strategy in and of itself, complete with an open API that developers can use to create their own cool photo apps.

So, for instance, a developer could create a birthday app that adds balloons to every picture — and it can still be sent to Walgreens for printing. Or, how about this: an app that adds your favorite superhero to any photo — and sends it to Walgreens for printing. (Notice a trend here?)

We’re well into the era of mobile commerce, but most of what I’ve seen written about integration focuses inward, as if BYOD is some surprising new trend. It’s not.

What’s surprising to me is that we’re still talking about it, because here’s the thing: Marketing, sales — those people are moving on. They’re not worrying about whether you’re supporting Android or Apple. They know there’s only one smartphone that really matters: the one in the customer’s hand.

IT needs to take a page from that playbook. Sure, supporting the mobile work force is important, but don’t be so focused on the BYOD movement that you’re blindsided by the larger trend in play: Mobile devices are revolutionizing how, when and where customers do business.

Supporting the mobile customer will be the real challenge for IT.