Mobile and Social: Unrelated Buzzwords or Hydrogen and Oxygen for Thirsty Enterprises

November 15, 2011 Balakrishna Narasimhan

Balakrishna Narasimhan (@bnara75)

Today, I was excited to be part of a panel at SIIA’s All About Mobile conference focused on the intersection of cloud computing and mobility. This opportunity led us to reflect back on our experiences with customers during the past ten months since Appirio established its mobile practice and launched a mobile framework.

One thing that has become clear is that mobile is no longer optional, or an afterthought. For almost every one of our new customer engagements, mobility is a critical value driver and often a key reason enterprises are moving away from existing systems. As we looked back to hundreds of customer discussions, we found 4 distinct use cases that our mobile apps often target:

  • Apps that bring relevant CRM data to the user: For example, for a medical device manufacturer, we’re building a location-specific account dashboard for field sales and service personnel that aggregates information on nearby accounts including Chatter, recent orders, payment status and recent incidents. 
  • Apps that bring better data into CRM: For example, for a large high-tech company, we built a mobile survey application to bring real-time customer feedback into their CRM system. For another company, we’re building a mobile application that gives sales people the ability to “check-in” to an account
  • Apps that automate manual processes: For example, for a national provider of post-acute care services, we built a mobile time and treatment tracking application that enables 10,000+ physical therapists to track their time efficiently and accurately, eliminating hours spent on paperwork. 
  • Social apps to do fundamentally new things: For example, for a consumer packaged goods company, we’re prototyping a mobile app that encourages employees to take and submit pictures showing where the company’s products are placed in local retail outlets. The pictures are geo-tagged to the store and automatically posted to a Chatter group for that area. The app engages employees directly in the company’s brand and gives the company an additional source of information on retail placement. 

 A common thread across many of the mobile apps we’re building is to bring in a social component, bringing together employees, connecting employees and customers/partners, improving customer interaction and every permutation. Salesforce’s platform helps enable these social features in many ways – for example, a contextual Chatter feed, an account check-in, or pictures posted to a Chatter group. Customers are also demanding more of these social features in their mobile apps. The reason for this is that social and mobile are not just the two buzzwords of the day but are in fact two trends that reinforce each other. There are a few reasons why:

  • Unlike traditional apps, social apps are well suited for mobile: Social apps, like Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce Chatter, are well suited to touch interfaces. Their primary interface is a feed with simple inputs – “likes”, short comments, tagging, photos or video – and they focus on bringing relevant information to the user. This is perfectly aligned with what users want to do on mobile devices and what they can do with touch interfaces. Traditional enterprise apps are data-intensive and optimized for keyboard-based interaction which does not translate well even to larger mobile devices like tablets. 
  • Mobile apps reach users who want to interact differently: Mobile apps that extend enterprise apps are most often designed to engage a new user, e.g., an executive, or engage a current user in a new context, e.g., a field sales person at a customer site. These users don’t want interact with the application in the old ways, by entering data, running reports, creating activities, etc. They want relevant information that’ll help them do their jobs and they want to be able to share information efficiently. Again, something that a social application with feeds, comments and tagging is well suited for. 
  • Collaboration and information access are high on a mobile users’ priorities: When we talked to our customers about the potential impact of mobile apps, their top 2 reasons were around better access to information on the go. Taking a cue from the most used enterprise mobile app – email – collaboration is also a critical priority on the road. Social apps address both these priorities with a single newsfeed that provides a convenient way to access critical information and people. By building integrations with other enterprise applications, social platforms like Salesforce Chatter or Google+ could become the primary mobile interface for all your enterprise apps. 

 So what’s next? We’re in the early days of a major shift in enterprise computing. Social and mobile are transforming enterprise applications from pure systems of record to applications that truly empower employees. As a CIO, the key is to make sure that you are powering your business with cloud applications and platforms. That means making public cloud applications like Salesforce, Google and Workday the backbone of your enterprise and rethinking your business processes to take advantage of what’s now possible.

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