You’re ready to catch a plane for an out-of-town meeting, when you realize there’s not enough money in your checking account to get you through the next couple of days. While that might have been a headache a few years ago, now it’s a simple matter of opening your bank’s online banking app on your smartphone, and with a few keystrokes transfer money from savings to checking. Mobile applications have made life more convenient for people in many ways – from finances, to the home, and to personal matters.
But “mobile” isn’t just about smartphones anymore. A recent Forrester Research study says businesses must now go beyond the phone, and adapt their mobile presences to tablets and laptop computers – and make that presence seamless, regardless of what platform is used to access it.
Three entrepreneurs in the mobile space addressed those concerns at a 2013 Enlightened Speaker Series event in Austin.
Consultant Mike Millard ticked off some facts to put mobile in perspective:
“Mobile is a big deal,” he said.
Richard Schwartz, CEO of Macheen, describes himself as a “baker” of sorts. His company “bakes” mobile capability into lots of devices.
“If you think about tablets, laptops, portable gaming devices, e-readers, cameras,” he said, “all of those are starting to look for the same kind of mobility value that the phone can do.”
But, he cautioned, portability and mobility are not the same thing. Connecting to Wi-Fi does not mean one is mobile, because as soon as the user is out of the Wi-Fi’s range, there’s no more connection.
“Look at how the Amazon Kindle Reader works,” he said. “When you get one, no matter where you are, you can buy a book and the book appears on the device even though you didn’t sign up for a carrier data plan or contract – magically that connectivity and mobility was built in.”
That’s the kind of mobility Schwartz wants to see built into a variety of electronic devices. It doesn’t matter whether those devices are tablets for education, or cameras with the ability to instantly transfer pictures, or companies looking for their employees with laptops to have the ability to upload the latest contacts into Salesforce from anywhere, whether WI-FI is available, or not. In addition, he said, companies want to be able to track a stolen laptop, and either lock it down of wipe out its files. “That’s what ‘going mobile’ in the broader picture, from my vantage point, means,” Schwartz said.
Mutual Mobile CEO John Arrow said he sees mobile capability as a way to solve a company’s problems. “When we started in 2009, we didn’t want to start an app company,” Arrow said. “Rather, we knew there were big problems in the world that mobile could conquer – health care is a very important vertical and so is education.”
In the health care field, mobile capability is changing the way doctors monitor their patients, said Millard. Now there is the ability to take information like temperature, heart rate, sleeping patterns and other stats and put it in the cloud as anonymous information with a goal to leverage those numbers against all other diagnoses. In fact, he added, patients now have the ability to monitor themselves. “When you have the ability to monitor yourself, you have the opportunity for better patient care, reduced costs and hopefully when people are comfortable putting information into a data framework, it’s hugely powerful,” Millard said.
The next step is to transfer that data once it gets into the cloud, noted Schwartz. “What can you do so the health care professionals with tablets or other devices have access to the latest information?” he asked. Add in privacy controls and data security, and we have a new health care eco-system that’s mobile-enabled, he said. “It’s not just about the phone, but rather about all the devices that are relevant for getting that information and sharing that information all being mobile enabled so the whole eco-system is mobile enabled.”
Arrow described the category called “machine to mobile” that involves augmenting a piece of hardware with a mobile device. For example, sleep apnea patients take a device home with them that they wear on their face and connect to the machine with a screen that is cumbersome and heavy. After talking with the big electronics manufacturer Phillips, Mutual Mobile did away with the screen and replaced it with an Android phone.
“All of a sudden it became intuitive because everyone knows how to use a smartphone,” Arrow said. “The best part? A doctor can get information back every 24 hours to see if the patient needs to come in.”
He said mobile’s biggest potential in health care is not just replacing costs, but improving patient care by monitoring them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Millard pointed to sonogram machines that cost between $150,000 and $200,000. Now a $15,000 mobile application can replace that by attaching to a smartphone and a printer. “If you think about the order of magnitude,” he said, “do you realize how mobile that is and how much less that costs?”
That’s going to trigger some changes in the way health care is handled, said Schwartz. “All of a sudden if that information is available in real time, what happens if somebody doesn’t take an action, or does the doctor have to be involved in monitoring?” Schwartz asked.
Millard said the Mayo Clinic is already adapting to that situation. “The irony is, the more severe the case, the less likely the doctor is to have to see that person face-to-face,” he said. “What the doctor needs is the data.”
Once that data is available, it can be relayed to the best doctors in the world, and they’ll be able to make a diagnosis. “Now your world is not just your primary care physician and your dentist and folks you go to on a routine basis,” Millard said. “It’s anybody in the world you can go to in order to get a diagnosis.”
Getting away from health care to mid- and small-market companies, the panelists said mobile capability is even more vital for them to grow their business. Salespeople have to be out of the office, face-to-face with clients to generate revenue, said Schwartz. “Coming up with mobile solutions and being productive, no matter where they are, is even more critical for that size company,” he said.
Smaller companies can seek help from mobile marketing companies to help plan a strategy. A BIA/Kelsey report says one critical consideration is making sure a company website can be navigated easily on a small screen as well as on a desktop computer.
“If you do mobile wrong, if you make this vanity play where you check off a box of ‘doing mobile,’ that’s not going to serve you well,” said Arrow. “Rather, it’s just going to be this giant cap-ex investment and you’ll spend a lot of money maintaining it over the next several years.”
Millard suggested mapping out a flow chart from the first contact with the customer to closing the sale. Find out where the “pain point” is located, he said, and that’s where innovative ways to use mobile become apparent.
On the big company side, network operators such as Verizon and AT&T are scrambling to provide more bandwidth for the increasing use of mobile applications. “It’s a bad problem and only gets worse,” said Schwartz. In a typical company, he said only five to seven percent of the laptops and tablets have broadband connectivity. But with more data being stored in the cloud, they’re being forced to connect more devices. “It’s impossible to think about moving 60 to 70 percent of devices and having data plans for each one,” he said.
“Hopefully the industry self-polices and the problem solves itself,” added Arrow, “because if not, we’re going to find our phones are unusable here in Austin in a few years.”
The network problem also brings up the ever-present concern over security. “It’s a global problem, not a local problem,” said Schwartz. Data in the cloud could go from one country to another. “We haven’t had a cataclysmic event – and it’s going to occur,” said Arrow. Fortunately, he added, highly regulated industries like health care and financial services realize they need to lead with security and security must come before utility. Millard said there is a great area of opportunity for companies that can figure out how to secure data.
That requires software engineers, and Arrow said that’s another type of bottleneck. Mobile requires both engineers and designers, and at Mutual Mobile, two engineers are teamed up with every designer. The result is a mobile solution with the user experience paramount.
But the demand for engineers is what keeps Arrow up at night, he said. “Engineers and designers are in such high demand and we can’t grow until we can integrate those people in our organization.” He cited CitiBank, which he said could have as many as 100 mobile initiatives per year. That could mean they’ll consume all the mobile talent available.
Still, mobile is going to grow. Millard urged companies getting into that field to do it right. “A lot of the mobile companies just make apps – you can make a lot of money at that – but it’s a short-term solution,” he said. Instead of just making a template, the real challenge is to become a partner.
“One of the biggest takeaways here,” Arrow summed up, “is that all companies need to add mobile as a competency as they added web, otherwise they’re going to be too far behind.”
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