Mobile Apps Are Revamping the Enterprise

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2014-03-27
mobile apps

Over the last few years, mobile technology has emerged as a foundation for the digital enterprise. It has introduced new tools, features and capabilities, while revamping and reinventing the way business takes place.

At the center of this universe is the mobile app. Not only have these apps allowed organizations to take a more focused approach to business and IT, they're also increasingly fueling productivity, profits and, for enterprises that use them well, a competitive advantage.

"Mobile apps and app stores are gaining influence and momentum within the business world," observes Jason McNicol, a senior analyst at ABI Research. "In many cases, they create a more flexible framework and a better way to control and manage enterprise content."

In an era of BYOD (bring your own device), consumerization and rapid change resulting from social media, cloud computing, big data and more, mobile apps are increasingly the glue that holds everything together. "They help build a highly scalable and more affordable approach to operating the business and managing enterprise IT," he explains.

Although many organizations have begun developing mobile apps to better interact internally and with business partners and customers, the road to success is frequently paved with more than a few digital potholes. There are usability and interface issues to address, content to manage, security and privacy controls to develop, and an array of practical considerations to factor in.

"Most enterprises haven't taken full advantage of mobile apps, which create new and often more efficient communication paths," says Patrick Flynn, a professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame University,

Mobile technology is radically redefining the enterprise. Smartphones and tablets are now ubiquitous, and a growing array of tasks take place in real time, without consideration for geography, IT platforms and operating systems.

"Mobility and mobile apps are breaking down IT and business barriers," ABI's McNicol points out. Although many organizations now develop their own custom apps, others are turning to software vendors or using commercially available apps—such as Salesforce, Evernote and Dropbox—to add and extend features and capabilities beyond a traditional PC-centric environment.

What makes mobile apps particularly attractive, McNicol says, is that an enterprise can deliver highly targeted features, functionality and workflows to workers where and when they need them.

"It's possible to offer an application to the entire enterprise, a department or specific subgroups in finance or marketing," he points out. "The approach taps into the strengths of the consumerization and BYOD trends while, in many cases, delivering greater control over usage and content." While mobile apps do not entirely replace the need for conventional software, Web-based tools and mobile browser support, they greatly enhance existing capabilities.

Taking an App-Centric Approach

One organization that has adopted an app-centric approach is Societe de transport de Montreal (STM). The fourth largest public transit company in North America, a public corporation, boasts revenues of $1 billion annually and oversees 68 metro stations and 228 bus lines carrying more than 1.3 million passengers daily throughout the Montreal area.

"We generate half of our revenues from riders, and government subsidies are linked to ridership, so a primary objective of STM is to increase ridership," notes chief marketing officer Pierre Bourbonniere. In fact, he notes that the Canadian officials have set an objective of increasing ridership by 40 percent by 2020.

As a result, STM has introduced robust mobile tools that tie into its RFID-enabled smart card, which upward of 80 percent of its riders (about 2.5 million overall) use to manage their trips and purchases. These include basic timetables, maps and route information, as well as a loyalty program called Merci that revolves around promotions and features rather than points. Riders receive highly targeted discounts, coupons and promotions that match their lifestyle and needs.

"It's a one-to-one marketing program that focuses on being relevant," Bourbonniere explains. "The program is designed to provide benefits for everyone—riders, merchants and STM."

STM introduced Merci for iOS and Android in 2013, and it plans to offer the app for additional mobile platforms in the coming months. Once a customer downloads the app and enters a smartcard number, STM connects it to his or her account and taps into transactional data and records of travel patterns to generate relevant offers.

"We know a person's age, gender and where they live," Bourbonniere explains. "We have mission-critical travel information. If they choose to share information and preferences based on 36 fields we have created, we're able to interact far more intelligently and provide a high level of value."

For example, STM can send suggestions about passes and tickets that will save money. It can also suggest more efficient ways to travel. "A person might not realize that by leaving the house 15 minutes earlier, it's possible to save time by avoiding packed stations and subway cars on the morning commute," he explains.

STM can also push out coupons for restaurants, movies and more, based on a person's behavior, preferences and geolocation data. Merchants sign up with STM and pay a fee. Then, when a rider is in proximity or when it's the right time (think coffee, dry cleaning or takeout food), he or she can convert the offer into a barcode and redeem it on the spot. Merchants can even offer different promotions to different groups based on a variety of factors, including whether they're already customers, as well as their past buying patterns.

The mobile apps and tools—which are powered by SAP ERP, business objects and HANA—have transformed STM. Bourbonniere says that 42 percent of the app users have already increased the number of trips they take each month.

While the initiative cost STM about CAD 1.5 million, it is reducing the overall carbon footprint for the city while boosting revenue, including CAD 10 million in fare revenues and a projected CAD 12 million for outside revenue over a three-year period. In fact, the redemption rate on the one-to-one marketing campaign has consistently approached 20 percent for many offers.

In addition, STM is gaining further insights into the business through mobility-fueled big data. "The technology is completely redefining the way we run the business," he explains.

Tapping into Apps

As the app-centric enterprise takes hold, organizations must re-examine the way they build and use IT resources, ABI's McNicol points out. Among other things, it's critical to design mobile apps and enterprise technology to interact with an array of other IT services and apps—particularly cloud-based services—all while building in critical privacy and security controls.

Although there's an overriding need to make sure the technology fully enables business functionality, including through APIs, "IT must maintain a sense of control over the environment," McNicol says, adding that it's critical to collaborate and cooperate with other business leaders and departments in order to maximize results and button down security.

It's also critical to adopt a lifecycle approach to apps and stay tuned into today's fast-changing environment, McNicol says. Within this context, usability and functionality are critical. "In today's consumer-focused BYOD environment, apps that aren't usable and user-friendly—and don't offer compelling features—won't be used as intended." This means monitoring how they're being used, where and when they're being used and when they're crashing.

Finally, McNicol notes that app stores and mobile application management software are key components that take time and effort to design. "It's important to think through an entire mobile strategy and understand how, where and why applications make sense," he advises.