Mobile Tech: From Channel to Rainmaker

Until recently, a phone was just a phone. Sure, it got cooler when it lost the rotary dial, the cord, the wire and its voice-only restrictions. Still, it was just a phone. Businesses knew that the sound of its ring usually meant money (for what company with silent phones is profitable?) — but few were prepared for the darn thing to totally rule their bottom line.

“Mobility is simply not just about technology anymore,” Scott Archibald, a consultant with Bender Consulting, told the E-Commerce Times.

Mobile is no longer a device, nor is it a channel. It is now the lifeblood of business, and without a transfusion of management approaches, many an enterprise will merely bleed to death.

From Department to Directive

“It does not matter whether a company’s IT needs are primarily internal, or for its customer-facing Web presence,” Aaron Maxwell, president of Mobile Web Up, told the E-Commerce Times. “Companies are being forced to deal with a surge in mobile requirements that were unexpected even a few years ago.”

This brings Fortune 500 companies to an inflection point.

“Call it the corner of mobility and culture,” said Archibald.

Mobility has already changed the way employees interact with each other, partners, vendors and customers.

“Leave mobility unmanaged or try to manage this from a narrow focus, such as IT or HR, and the likely result will be a frustrated workforce — and it will serve to reinforce generational divides among workers,” added Archibald.

The CMO Duality

While few would argue the necessity of managing all things mobile, fewer still have a clue as how best to manage the management. Make mobile a new department all its own? Keep it in IT? Make it a subset of every department?

Enter the chief mobility officer, or “CMO” for short. Not to be confused with existing CMOs which are actually chief marketing officers. Gerry Purdy, principal analyst with MobileTrax, coined the CMO position — the mobile variety not the marketing variety — in his efforts to explain the importance of a C-level authority in charge of mobile.

The position is strategically key to an enterprise’s overall success, said Purdy.

“Just a few years ago, all of the mobile responsibilities were ‘internal-facing’ — where mobile was all about enabling employee productivity,” he said in his blog. “More recently, the IT organization has been tasked by the CEO to create ‘external-facing’ mobility — where the IT organization has to develop and deploy software and services that support the company’s customers accessing the company’s resources.”

The overall revenue shift from traditional modes to mobile is reflected in companies that, until recently, had no need for external-facing mobile, Purdy noted. Those examples are almost too many to count: Bank of America’s iPhone and BlackBerry applications allow millions of customers to access bank accounts, make payments and transfer funds; Delta uses a mobile check-in; retailers everywhere are gearing up to accept m-commerce payments at the cash register. And on it goes.

To CMO x2 or Not?

“With the added responsibilities of supporting externally facing mobile activities toward customers, mobile IT has now migrated from simply being a staff to assuming a central, key role in how the company interacts with customers — directly affecting revenue and profit,” wrote Purdy. “Thus, the new chief mobility officer sits at the table with the CEO to map out how to use mobility to best help run the company.”

Despite the fact that Purdy just coined a name for the proposed position, he isn’t the only one who thinks mobile should stand alone.

“When organizations reach a certain size, it definitely makes sense to create a mobile IT department,” said Mobile Web Up’s Maxwell.

However, the concept of another CMO has not yet caught on; perhaps it is still too new.

“I don’t think mobile is its own department in most IT shops — it’s a subset of all that IT people do,” Neil Strother, practice director at ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Will it be its own department soon? Hard to tell; my hunch is that it will be a subset for a while, or a designated group within IT, but those folks will still wear multiple mobile and non-mobile hats,” continued Strother.

“There are no doubt some exceptions, especially for companies deep into mobile already, like media companies such as ESPN, CNN, Weather Channel or banks,” he added.

Even so, it is clear that mobile is taking a new place at the enterprise table.

“Within our own organization, we do not consider mobile its own department,” Paul Liu, CIO of Freeborders, told the E-Commerce Times. “However, we consider mobile as an area that warrants its own specific support and development processes.”

The correct answer as to whether an enterprise should have this second CMO depends on the company’s specific mobile needs.

“The question is perhaps too broad to generalize, as it depends on whether a company is B2B, B2C, etc.,” Mike Demler, senior strategic analyst at Digdia, told the E-Commerce Times. “The predominant enterprise mobile app is by far still just email.”

To others, the focus should be on yet another aspect.

“From a development perspective, it is more important to have mobile graphical user interface experts within the organization than setting up a separate department dedicated to mobile, as everything behind the presentation layer needs to be consistent,” said Freeborders’ Liu.

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