It’s Time for a Mobile-First Strategy, Powered by Cloud

The evidence is overwhelming – we’re moving from the era of desktop Internet access into one where mobile reigns supreme. IDC estimates that 3.2 billion people, or 44% of the world’s population, will have access to the Internet in 2016, and that more than 2 billion of these people will be using mobile devices to do so. In the U.K., the communications body Ofcom reported last year that 33% of users already see the smartphone as their primary device, with the laptop at just 30%. Desktop and laptop PCs aren’t dying, but they’re no longer the core tool for accessing the Internet. The smartphone and the tablet are taking over.

This is a big concern for business, not just because mobile is becoming a key channel for reaching customers, but because employees increasingly reach for a smartphone or tablet at work. Whereas workers born in the 20th century might regard a laptop as their primary business tool, millennials expect to connect, communicate and collaborate on other mobile devices – and Deloitte predicts that they will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. What’s more, there’s evidence that organizations that embrace mobility will be more successful. A 2015 Forrester report suggests that so-called “mobile mature” organizations show higher revenue growth than mobile laggards.

It’s time to put mobile first. Adopting such a strategy externally can help businesses build deeper relationships with their customers, while internally it can help those organizations become more responsive, innovative and agile.

This also has a flipside: Companies that fail to embrace the mobile revolution – missing the opportunities and instead sticking with what they know – run the risk of being outcompeted and outmaneuvered. Taking on a mobile-first strategy is not a risk-free endeavor, but failing to do anything could be the biggest risk of all.

Engaging with Customers

There are many reasons why mobile devices are taking over. For some, it’s a question of convenience; their smartphone or tablet is almost instantly accessible and always on hand. For others, a smartphone or tablet is the most affordable or practical option. Mobile devices are also a better fit for an “on demand” culture, providing information, entertainment, experiences and useful functions, anytime, anywhere. This presents companies with an opportunity. Not only can organizations build relationships with customers in their “mobile moments,” but mobile apps create rich veins of data that businesses can mine for insight. If businesses provide customers with tools they can use or experiences they’ll value, they can get closer to those customers and learn exactly what they want or need.

The world’s leading sport franchise, Real Madrid, for example, now offers a way for its 450 million supporters to engage with the organization directly from around the globe through mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows. Fans can use the app to access the stadium virtually – before, during and after each game – while searching data on all the club’s games and players, past and present. They can also stream match footage, past and present, to their device of choice. This brings fans the Real Madrid experience wherever they are, but also ties into the club’s Fan Engagement Platform, which captures and stores every interaction Real Madrid has with a fan, whether that’s a mobile check-in at the stadium, an online merchandise purchase or a profile update on the Real Madrid website. It even collects mentions of the club from the leading social media networks.

The benefits go both ways. While the club’s fans get unprecedented access to their favorite club, the club gains insights about fans, allowing more personalized services and offers. For example, when fans check in at the stadium, the club can automatically provision personal QR codes for in-stadium offers, or just message a thank-you for investing the time and money to see the game.

“This relationship is not a one-way relationship anymore, and we have to learn from them, because in the end the club belongs to people,” says Jose Angel Sanchez, CEO of Real Madrid. “We are building a way of understanding who these people are, where they are, and what they want from us.”

Analysts see this shift as crucial. “Mobile will act as a catalyst to transform business in the Age of the Customer,” says Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Thomas Husson, noting that “the gap between customer-obsessed leaders considering mobile as a catalyst for business transformation and laggards considering mobile as a stand-alone channel will widen.” Among enterprises Forrester surveyed in November 2015, only 18% were using mobile to transform the customer experience, but Forrester expects that during 2016, more than 25% of companies will use mobile as a fully integrated part of their overall brand strategy.

This is happening across a wide range of industries. Banks, for example, have seen mobile capabilities become a key factor in the selection of a new bank by customers looking to switch. This has led established banks to invest in increasingly feature-rich mobile apps, while newcomers like Atom Bank in the U.K. focus on a mobile-first approach. As David Hodgkinson, KPMG’s U.K. digital and mobile banking lead, says, “Banks must adapt or die. Mobile banking is clearly supplanting all other channels as the main portal between the bank and the consumer.”

Media companies, too, are embracing mobile-first experiences. In the U.S., NBC News has gone beyond mobile apps to look at harnessing notifications. The organization uses Microsoft Azure Notification Hubs to push breaking news to its millions of users and stay ahead of the competition. It also uses Azure to process NBC News-specific lock screens across mobile devices, keeping NBC News at the forefront of the mobile experience.

Push notifications are an ideal way to help us better engage with our customers.
Ling Khor
Senior Product Manager, 7digital

It’s a similar story for 7digital, a London-based digital music and radio platform that provides access to the world’s broadest catalog of licensed digital music. 7digital offers customers streaming capabilities through its own mobile app and delivers hand-picked music recommendations and editorial content using push notifications. The notification requests and tags allow 7digital to personalize the recommendations and content and help fans follow the artists they love. “Push notifications are an ideal way to help us better engage with our customers,” says Ling Khor, senior product manager at 7digital. The technology “helps us reach out to customers who may have the app installed but may not be using it on a regular basis,” he adds. For Khor, this mobile experience has a tangible impact on overall sales.

A big concern, of course, is security. When organizations are building relationships with customers through mobile services and apps, and gathering their data in order to gain insights, how can they ensure that this data is secured properly, both while in transit and at rest? The answer lies in the cloud. Not only does the cloud provide a secure conduit for data between devices and cloud or back-end systems, but it can also provide a secure data warehouse where access can be managed, monitored and controlled.

The Nordic fitness chain SATS ELIXIA, for example, manages its mobile devices using Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite. Azure Active Directory Premium provides single sign-on to a range of SaaS fitness apps and Web apps, with secure access control based on the user location and identity. Security reports, audits and alerts ensure sensitive data is protected, while Microsoft’s cloud-based Intune provides full mobile device management capabilities from the cloud, complete with remote lock and wipe capabilities. Employees can access the corporate data they need, wherever they need it, but it stays secure.

Mobility within the Organization

A mobile-first strategy doesn’t begin and end with customer interaction; it can also mean transforming the way your company works. Successful organizations are now harnessing mobile technology to build apps that provide instant access to the most useful information, while also developing workflows that feel like a natural part of working life.

IDC estimates that enterprise and consumer spending on mobile devices, software and services will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.7%, from $1.7 trillion in 2015 to $1.8 trillion in 2019. “Mobility may have started with the simple concept of shifting employees from being deskbound to being mobile,” the IDC report says, “but it has advanced and evolved to the point where organizations are now embracing capabilities unique to both mobility and their industries.”

What does this mean? For starters, it means working to the strengths of mobile platforms: instant accessibility; convenience; the intuitive, touch-driven interface; and integral connectivity to a world of collaborative, cloud-based services. Most important, mobile apps can be designed and precision-tuned for specific industries, business processes or requirements. Instead of creating workflows that work around general-purpose applications, organizations can use apps that fit naturally into existing workflows. This, in turn, ties in with a more flexible approach to

Helping trainers boost their expertise is a cost-effective way to improve our competitive advantage.
Arvid Johansson

IT – something that’s becoming increasingly critical for staff retention.

Across a range of industries, mobile-first strategies are working. SATS ELIXIA, for example, uses corporate-owned iPads and iPhones plus BYOD mobile devices to give its trainers instant access to fitness apps, enabling them to create more effective, personalized fitness programs. The trainers can use the same devices to check their schedules and make appointments for customer training sessions. “Helping trainers boost their expertise is a cost-effective way to improve our competitive advantage,” says CIO Arvid Johansson.

Willemen Groep, one of Belgium’s leading construction companies, supports employees across tablets, smartphones and laptops to manage projects and accomplish business tasks on the go. Office 365 provides tools to access and share up-to-date project plans and manage equipment deliveries and contracts, while bespoke mobile apps developed by the group’s software partner, Spikes, streamline invoice approval processes and reduce payment cycles. Together these enable Willemen Groep to negotiate better discounts. Another app simplifies equipment orders and tracks deliveries, ensuring tools arrive at the right job site.

Mitchells & Butlers runs many of the U.K.’s most famous restaurant and pub chains using a combination of bespoke mobile apps and iOS and Android devices to help retail and waitstaff take orders and send them to the kitchen. Meanwhile, a separate Android app allows the front-of-house team to take bookings and reservations, each one feeding into the back-end systems while the customer is still being served.

The leading London estate agent, Foxtons, provides corporate directory services and real-time business information and team management using custom apps on Lumia smartphones. The smartphone takes the place of the office computer, enabling Foxtons’ teams to spend more productive time out of the office, with everything they need for conducting business on one pocket-size device.

The Cloud Powers Mobile-First

The device is only one part of each mobile-first success story. The glue that holds it all together is the cloud. The fact is that mobile-first works best when apps, services and back-end systems are integrated using private or public cloud services. At every step, these services manage the flow of information between back-end systems and devices, power analytics, and ensure that decision makers get the data they need to make the right choices. Cloud-based services can also play a leading role in securing that information and protecting those devices, whether they’re corporate-owned or working as part of a BYOD strategy.

At Real Madrid, for example, Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform hosts the hundreds of terabytes of content served to the club’s 450 million fans over its website and mobile apps. Microsoft Azure also hosts the data the team uses to deliver a more personalized experience, tapping analysis and insight from Microsoft Power BI. Microsoft Social Engagement collects club mentions and other data from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, and feeds it into the Fan Engagement Platform. Meanwhile, Visual Studio Application Insights gathers rich telemetry on where and when Real Madrid’s app is being used; this data can also be collected and analyzed through Power BI. All this information can be managed by Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

The Way Forward

Mobile-first is the way forward for the enterprise, giving organizations the tools they need to reach out and engage customers on the devices they use most, enabling mobile moments anytime, anywhere. By using the rich data available from apps on these devices to develop insights, companies can deepen customer relationships and be more effective at personalizing offers.

Internally, a mobile-first strategy can also make organizations more efficient and flexible, providing teams with the tools to access and act on new, rich veins of data, in turn fueling business growth. However, all of this relies on the cloud: both its ability to aggregate and control the flow of data, and its power to manage mobile devices and secure the data they contain. Together, mobility and the cloud can drive real business success.