As the cheeky advertisements on television indicate, there seems to be a mobile application for just about everything. From calorie counters to witticisms from your favorite Jersey Shore characters, no stone appears to have been left unturned. Despite this seeming glut, there are several opportunities in the mobile space, and mobile provides a great opportunity for a CIO to increase his or her visibility within the organization.
When most people in corporate IT start thinking about mobile applications, they tend to think about internal applications first. Perhaps there are CRM or order entry systems that would be great in the hands of field sales reps, or internal collaboration sites that would be compelling on an iPad. These are all great ideas, and worthy of some experimentation with the caveat that building platform-specific mobile capabilities may not be the best investment as the mobile space is still very much in a state of flux. Rather than focusing primarily on internal mobile apps, the true "gold in the hills" for most B2C companies is the consumer space.
Mobile applications present a unique marketing opportunity that we haven't seen since the early days of the web. Marketers still haven't quite figured out how to fully leverage the mobile format, and consumers are far more forgiving than the jaded bunch that seems immune to banner ads, and adept at ignoring anything that smacks of online advertising. Mobile is also one of the few areas where you can get intimate with your customer, travelling in his or her pocket and, if you can build enough trust, even knowing his or her location down to a few meters.
This trusting relationship requires applications that provide some form of value to the customer, through some combination of entertainment, information, or financial benefit; perhaps in the form of discounts or coupons. While this is usually the domain of marketing, the CIO who can provide expert guidance to their colleagues in marketing takes on the guise of trusted advisor and business leader, rather than tech gatekeeper to be avoided until absolutely necessary.
As CIO, you bring several critical experiences to the table that can help your company get the most of its mobile advertising dollar. While marketing tends to be quite capable of working with third parties, CIOs have often spent entire careers outsourcing technical development. You can provide valuable guidance on the application development process, and suggest ways to use existing mobile technology that are quick and cheap, or even capabilities your colleagues in marketing never knew existed.
In addition, you bring knowledge of the company's existing systems and data. Getting a compelling mobile application in the hands of your target customer is great, but if you never garner and analyze any information about that customer, the effort does little other than build mercurial "goodwill." By bringing your expertise to bear early in the application design process, you can ensure marketing's creative brings hard, measurable data into the company. A cute game that excites your customers is nice, but a cute game that integrates that customer into your existing promotions builds a relationship, and "converts" them to your brand is far more exciting regardless of which corporate function you hold.
If you find customer-facing mobile applications might be valuable to your organization, spend a few hours brushing up on some of the technologies, and get a couple people within your IT shop to do the same. In all probability, there are already developers moonlighting on their own mobile apps, who would be extremely excited to brief you on what is going on in the space. Reach out to your colleagues in marketing. If they're worth their paychecks they are probably already making a move in the mobile space, and your expertise will be welcomed early, rather than grudgingly engaged at the last possible moment.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.