Mobile is hot, but so was “e-business” in 2000
At the height of the first Internet expansion in 2000, when every division, department and product manager finally realized they needed the Internet, corporate CIOs saw website proliferation run rampant across their organization. The average Fortune 500 company had at least 22 different websites. I know, I lived it. Custom website projects crawled like weeds across large companies with the rationalization that each division (if not each product) had a “different business” and a “unique message” for their very own website project.
This decentralized large company land rush to web properties was as predictable as it was utterly stupid.
The result: no consistent look and feel for the brand, ridiculously redundant IT costs, zero economies of scale in web delivery and worse yet, a confusing customer experience. Users had their personal data sprinkled across many of the same company’s websites, with multiple login credentials and nonsensical “home pages.” Not surprisingly, you needed to have at least nine home pages with your average Fortune 500. That’s because their Internet approach was simply a digital overlay of their outdated organizational structure, rather than a personalized experienced wrapped neatly around the YOU.
Now welcome to what mobile looks like for most big businesses.
What is Old is New Again
Confused by both the number and purpose of most apps being thrown at you? You should be. For 2012, mobile strategy is one of the top three areas of CIO and CMO investment, according to multiple expert sources like my kids and my clients in retail, media, luxury and travel. Every business wants to get there, fast. The question is, will mobile strategies repeat the mistakes of website proliferation which cost corporations billions in worthless websites that were eventually consolidated into a more sensible, personalized, and scalable brand experience?
Consider this: L2ThinkTank recently reported that in 2011 a transition took place wherein luxury brand shoppers spend more time navigating data on their smartphones than they do on the browsers. Google also reported this year that for the first time searches from mobile exceeded searches from the browser. We are quickly becoming a mobile nation with a vast data consumption appetite that is expanding. Unfortunately, the current path of mobile app proliferation may be a repeat of the past website land grab. The impact to consumers: Figure it out yourselves for the next five years until corporations learn how to effectively learn how to manage this space, too.
The biggest mistake I see corporations making stems from their deep trust in their ad agencies to “make us an app” for a very specific product or a very specific event without thinking about scaled personalization or reusable innovation. Sound familiar? This approach results in a typical $500,000 mobile project that has a very finite life and is limited in terms of the long-term experience for the consumer. Also, almost nothing from that project becomes reusable technology for the next “custom” app that gets dreamed up. This custom-addictive (if not highly expensive) pattern is a result of both technical and cultural blind spots within corporations.
The cultural blind spot resides in the CMO and ad agency belief that the user experience is a one-time emotion, a spectacle … a moment that needs to be captured in the app (even if the app is about something as practical and functionally driven as replacement parts for a Whirlpool). So far in Mobile 1.0 (yes, we are still very much here), design dominates the project at the expense of real data efficiencies, centralized personalization and technical iteration for scaling reusable assets. This leads directly then to the second blind spot.
Most of the mobile websites I see are being developed with an increasingly archaic approach known as “screen scrapes,” which is akin to the dysfunctional and unsustainable approach of web 1.0 where every department made its own website based on an overlay of their processes and products. Screen scrapes take what doesn’t work on the browser experience and passes it directly over to the mobile experience; it’s just done in a smaller, less interactive and more annoying way for the user. This tactical approach also comes at the exorbitant development cost that the word “custom” implies. Lesson for CMOs: Do not recreate the mobile experience with the design architecture and data approach of the explorer experience. You will disappoint in the long run. Lesson for CIOs: Scale your organization’s innovation potential for the long run in mobile by moving to APIs as the means to future proof against the ever-changing presentation layers of iPhones, Androids, Mobile Apps, and whatever else comes along.
Long Term Mobile Means API Building Blocks
In 2011 a trend is happening as reflected by companies like Expedia, Klout, Burberry, and Facebook. Real mobile apps, ones that please both the CMO and the CIO, are being developed at significantly less cost and complexity with this emerging technology enabler calls APIs (application programming interface). Consider these APIs as the different building blocks of a company’s digital assets (like product info, videos, customer data, etc). Each asset area can be made accessible uniquely and creatively through the API. These building blocks can now be dynamically arranged, scaled, and tracked through unique presentation layer combinations that can achieve the most logical goals of the business: Know thy customer, save them time and please them.
Having a mobile strategy that can keep up with the speed of the customer and the rapid pace of device proliferation means building a broad strategy for a company’s APIs. Without an API roadmap in mobile, an organization runs the risk of repeating the expensive mistakes of Web 1.0. Lots of flash, no function. Lots of apps, no scale. No scale…no success. And who wants that as an outcome for their mobile strategy in 2012.
Drew Bartkiewicz is vice president of Strategy for Mashery.
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