A few years ago, it would have been next to impossible toimagine a bank without branches or an insurance company without walls. However,these days it?s difficult to keep up with the velocity of change, particularlyin the mobile arena.
?When you look at the number of connecteddevices?smartphones, tablets and even cars?it?s apparent that there are hugeopportunities and challenges associated with today?s customers,? observes NeffHudson, vice president of emerging channels for financial services giant USAA.
Few large companies have embraced mobile technology aspassionately as USAA. The company has introduced robust apps for iPhone andAndroid smartphones, as well as for the iPad. Consumers can snap a photo of acheck and deposit it immediately at the firm?s bank, file a claims reportthrough its insurance service, and handle myriad other functions that were oncerelegated to paper and physical locations.
?Consumers are using mobile devices in new and unanticipatedways,? Hudson says. ?Developing mobile apps is no longer just an option.?
USAA isn?t alone in its adoption of mobile technology toimprove customer relationships. A growing number of companies now recognizethat customers expect?perhaps demand is a better word?apps and tools thatenable them to tap into information from anywhere at any time.
Consumers are also demanding more advanced transactionaltools that tie into social media services, GPS and other features included withthese mobile devices. It?s a moving target that requires an organization topossess a clear strategy, strong application development skills and an ITinfrastructure to fully support customer mobility.
David Nichols, America?s leader for CIO Services Practicesat consulting firm Ernst & Young, explains it this way: ?Companies facesubstantial challenges in developing capabilities and apps for multipleplatforms and providing the features that consumers desire. There are formfactors to consider, operating systems to manage and interface issues toaddress. Today?s mobile apps must be intuitive, yet remarkably powerful.?
What does it take to build a mobile platform that meets theneeds of today?s consumers? How can an organization determine the features andcapabilities to include, and what tilts an app over the edge of usability?Also, how can a company balance IT resources in a world where mobility matters,but the Web and phone still count?
There?s no template for success, but a best-practicesapproach is paramount. ?Mobility must be at the center of a company?s businessstrategy,? says Fernando Alvarez, president of mobile solutions for consultingfirm CapGemini.
Banking on Mobility
One thing that makes today?s business environment sochallenging is that customers increasingly expect to use a mobile device ofchoice to get desired information or initiate a transaction. If a companywishes to remain competitive, it must provide a robust, streamlined anduser-friendly experience that spans multiple devices, including tablets,smartphones, laptops and other mobile technologies.
?It?s all about the user experience and optimizing contentfor specific devices,? says Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for wirelessand mobility at the Aberdeen Group. ?The user experience for mobile interactionis fundamentally different than it is for desktop and laptop PCs.?
Consequently, an entirely different business and technologyfocus is required. ?It?s not acceptable to simply port a Website or desktopapplication to a smartphone,? Borg adds. ?Apple has set the bar extremely highby creating intuitive and nontechnical interfaces.?
Technology adds to the challenge: Today?s devices rely on anarray of sensors?such as GPS and accelerometers?to create possibilities thatsimply aren?t possible on a desktop computer. Location-based services, socialnetworking and motion detection all add to the mix. When these features areincorporated into a touch-screen interface and combined with a phone, thepotential to interact with customers in new and meaningful ways growsexponentially.