When I talk to CEOs and even CIOs lately they see the rapidly evolving consumer market with Mobile and Cloud not yet as a strategic issue. That aligns with Gartner research that recently said that the 60% of businesses see implementing ERP as the most strategic activity. Day-to-day IT business is eating up all the resources. At best you get the marketing department that says: ‘We should have an iPhone APP like our competitors.’ It is one of the reasons for APP development companies springing up all over the place. I was just told by a banking customer of ours that they can buy a fully customized investment banking APP for US$30.000! While that is highly unlikely, it is also not in any way a benefit to the business. APPs must be about differentiation, usefulness and cool-factor and not just cheap. They must be highly desirable to the consumer segment that you are targeting.
What about Mobile for the Enterprise applications? Where iOS devices do enter the corporate world it is because executives and management want them for themselves. But what corporate apps will they run on them today? Hardly any. ERP dashboards on iPads are showpieces only and a basic BPM clerk inbox brings little benefit. I see Mobile at least as relevant for inside your business (if not more) than what it can do for your customers. It is risky to enter the ‘ME TOO’ APP game with a low-cost, rush-rush approach.
The 33.000 ft Analyst View
“Pervasive mobility drives demand for mobile apps and end-to-end integration. Demand for new mobile apps tops the to-do list for most app delivery leaders today; in Forrester’s Forrsights Software Survey, Q4 2010, 51% of 444 surveyed North American and European software decision-makers said that they plan to build customer-facing mobile applications. But just delivering these apps is not enough. The age of the customer demands that teams integrate these apps into end-to-end business processes as part of a cohesive strategy for customer engagement across multiple touchpoints. But the hardest thing about this integration is not the technology — it’s breaking down the organizational and budget barriers that stand in the way of the firm acting as one in serving customers.” (Forrester Research – Diego Lo Giudice and Mike Gilpin, August 25, 2011: Update Your Application Development Sourcing Strategy To Drive Innovation And Differentiation)
I do not disagree, but in reality the hardest thing to do is to actually create apps that will evoke positive emotions in your users. And it is not just the design and the coding that is the problem. Let’s step back for a moment to consider the causal map for what I call ‘Leverage Points.’ They define the all-important interactions between customer and business, but they are not just the touchpoints. Mobile creates a whole new world of possibilities for the best and the worst in customer/business interactions.
A business must differentiate between service experience, product experience, and retail experience and consider customer perceptions as the core element of achievement. Steve Towers calls it Outside-In, which is important but just a quarter of the story. We also need inside-out, top-down and bottom-up as managers, executives and performers are directly involved in creating the best in service or user experience. User experience typically refers to the interactions that happen either in a digital environment or with a product, including all communication channels such as print or call centers. Changes or actions at a ‘Leverage Point’ will have the most impact on your business. But these Leverage Points are not absolutes that can be measured by Key Performance Indicators, but they are much more related to expectations that you create with marketing. It is not what consumers want, but it is what you told your customers to expect! And let’s not forget that perceptions, just like decisions, are emotional. Don’t expect consumers to be reasonable.
When do Products Evoke Positive Emotions?
As one important aspect of mobile apps is ease-of-use, many app designs are made idiot-proof, meaning they assume that every user is most likely fairly stupid. That is not good. Like in BPM, constrained interactions that force users and customers to do things in a certain way regardless, will mostly produce negative emotions, especially in better educated (higher earning) users. Even a simple phone-line wait loop will produce negative emotions even if it uses the same words as a person answering the phone. Consider your own reaction when the automated voice says: ‘Your call is important to us (but anyway, there isn’t anyone available to speak to you!)’ So the best and most important function of technology to produce positive emotions is to improve direct or indirect people communications. Not automating interactions, but making them more transparent, less error prone, more productive and responsive. We need to connect employees, customers and prospects in the most positive experience. The other important aspects of technology acceptance are: autonomy, ease-of-use, and reasonable market pricing for the consumer (which is NOT related the cost of coding the APP).
Users (customers AND employees) must feel that the technology empowers them and makes their life easier. As long as it remains simple enough, any kind of undue restriction in interaction – for whatever sensible reason, even security – harbors the danger of rejection. To ensure that we understand AND REACT to user emotions it must become standard AND SIMPLE to allow users to rate their experiences at any time during the interaction. The immediate reply is the most accurate. Judges know that the first thing a defendant or witness says is much more likely to be true than any later utterances. The ratings on the Appstore are better than nothing, but it would be really interesting to see at which point in the interaction the user felt compelled to rate it. You will get more negative ratings than positive ones but they are essential for improving user interaction and experience.
Hardcoded Mobile ‘Client/Server’ is the Enemy of Adaptability
More important than learning from and correcting mistakes in the development of those APPs is to provide the ability for adaptation in interface and processes in market relevant time frames – which means NOW! Forrester recommends for APP design the concept of ‘personas’ or consumer types who will expect a particular kind of interaction. While that is a good approach it multiplies the effort to develop such APPs and it increases the chance of errors. We would have multiple ‘Leverage Points’ that have to service multiple ‘personas’ and those across different channels. Things would get VERY complicated. It will be very difficult to up-front design all possible ‘Leverage Point’ variants for a perfect customer experience. It is in fact the same problem as for designing all possible process variants with flowcharts. It leads back to my writings about adaptability and emergent social interactions.
Until recently, enterprises understood business transformation as implementing packaged applications for certain business problems, i.e. with ERP or CRM. These are however the antithesis for an adaptable environment that will adjust to the needs of the business meaning their customers. Executives see software as a commodity to run the business, much as power and telephone systems. This was partially caused by Nicholas Carr and his book: ‘Does IT Matter?’ Anyone still stuck in that rut misses that the key to success in the digital age lies in differentiation at the consumer front, regardless whether you are Walmart or Apple. These silos are now the biggest problems when it comes to improving customer experience. Product lines have their own call centers, websites, mobile apps, and even development teams and architects. The in-business collaboration and customer interaction gap between these silos allows customer experience to fall apart. Slapping multiple Mobile frontends across them will just make it worse.
Converging Customer Experience starts in the Business Architecture
The driver for business transformation will have to be a business process perspective that uses capabilities, value streams and their customer outcomes as target definitions. For the resulting Business Architecture the key delivery mechanism should today be Mobile that empowers business stakeholders as well as performers to create, execute and adapt processes AT-WILL, while driving towards defined outcomes, process goals and business targets. Any other approach to define and improve processes is still a slow and expensive governance bureaucracy, while the customer experience needs a total CONVERGENCE of process creation and evaluation. As soon as you know that a process is not satisfactory it must be adapted.
Roy Schulte of Gartner Group said that Mobility, Cloud and parallel server technology drive changes in application architecture. Is that a contradiction to the above? Actually it isn’t, because those architectures are not there yet or they are not yet mainstream. Both Gartner and Forrester see the need for more dynamics in process management and support for event processing. I absolutely agree! You may remember that I complained about SOA when it was the big hype? I have been and still am very skeptical about the enterprise-wide, all-out implementation of SOA to connect silos. It is a waste of time and money if it doesn’t improve the user experience. Same for BPM and same for Mobile! In the light of Mobile however, SOA (or REST/ATOM or similar) takes on a role that will offer potential to improve the user experience dramatically. The issue is not technology in terms of IT hardware of software infrastructure as such but technology in terms of business user empowerment. How do you use adaptability and event processing to improve customer experience in a hardcoded Mobile APP?
The Struggle towards Mobile Enterprise Technology
Many see Mobile, BPM and SOA as a marriage made in heaven. The current thinking is that APPs should be coded to SOAP links into lower level business processes that are again SOAP-connected to even lower silos. I see that as a recipe for desaster. Multiple APPs will produce a similar segmentation as multiple silos and all will be entangled into a spiderweb of SOAP links. Any needed change in any layer will produce a change management nightmare. Back to the client/server big-ball-of-mud. A consolidated Mobile process user interface must be natively embedded into business processes, while empowering performers and customers to execute (within bounds) AT-WILL as long as they achieve goals. Overall the target is to create an environment that allows an AGILE or SCRUM approach for Mobile processes driven by the customer. The trick will be to use the ease-of-use aspects of Mobile to provide customer-empowering Leverage Points into your business processes that makes users feel that their interaction with your business has substantially improved.
Beyond the experience issues of differentiation (first to market), usefulness and cool-factor, there are only three key technology issues that influence user experience, both inside and outside your business:
- Performance (responsiveness)
- Adaptability (adjust function to user needs)
While security is incredibly important it is usually seen as a annoying necessity by the user. Some see scalability as a customer experience issue but it is simply a technical means for ensuring availability and performance. Scalability is much easier to achieve for mobile devices than for your typical website. While the cost for the consumer must be reasonable, the business has substantial options with Mobile to build very convincing business cases. If each APP has to be programmed those will however not be feasible and lead to a low-cost, low-value, and thus low adoption scenario.
Cheapo consumer APPs will simply hurt your business! And you might be missing the largest opportunity for IT consolidation ever present.