Build mobile experiences that drive engagement

Mobile experiences throw open the door to new opportunities for firms to win, serve and retain customers

By the end of 2020, smartphones will be in the pockets of 91% of global consumers.

But the mobile channel is not simply another device for developers to support – it is the manifestation of a much broader shift to new systems of engagement that help firms to empower their customers, partners and employees with context-aware applications and smart products.

Mobile affects almost every area of the development shop, including infrastructure and operations, security and risk management, and enterprise architecture. Mobile experiences, while challenging to develop, throw open the door to new opportunities for companies to win, serve and retain customers.

Application development professionals are linchpins in firms’ mobile strategy-setting efforts. The reason is simple – everyone wants mobile. Organisations want experiences to engage customers, extend business processes, improve communication, extend the working day, speed decision-making, and so on.

Someone has to figure out which apps to buy, which apps to build, and how to make it happen – and that requires developers. The mobile mind shift is more than just an evolution in development platforms – it is an expansion of the customer journey from standalone interactions to becoming the choreographer of an ecosystem of experiences.

This demands collaborative engagement with business peers and creates a direct relationship with customers and employees. It also means revisiting acquisition and sourcing strategies.

The shift is a complex, multidimensional problem. First, context and immediacy make new types of experiences possible. Imagine eliminating the need to stop at a hotel’s front desk to pick up a room key, or hitting a new personal best time for a 10km run because of the built-in coaching in a running app. The instruments on mobile devices open up a tremendous amount of context about an individual, and that context creates an opportunity to provide value through engaging experiences.

Second, business leaders recognise the importance of technology. Technology organisations that have spent the past decade outsourcing and downsizing their application development skills now face a dilemma. Their business peers are working with agencies and technology boutiques to build the mobile experiences they need to support customers, sales reps and field service personnel. Either technology management organisations engage with a service provider or watch their spheres of influence be eroded by outsiders closely aligned with business units such as marketing and sales.

The other big challenge is that teams must support an ever-expanding range of platforms – and at speed. The average US online adult uses more than four connected devices. As a result, shops need to support the next versions of Android and iOS soon after they are released, not six months later. The implications for development shops are sobering: two to three releases will be necessary for every app every year just to keep up – and they need to do these for every supported platform.

Successful mobile development strategies take a people-centric approach. The end goal of a mobile development strategy is simple – reliably create and maintain useful experiences. But that is easier said than done. Technology strategies are useless without planning for the impact on people – both the developers and the users of the mobile experiences.

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New architecture

Successful mobile engagements require adding a fourth layer to the three-tier web architecture: the aggregation tier. This tier provides discovery to the service tier below it, aggregates data and performs protocol translation to push content up to the delivery tier. Development teams should look closely at the users they are targeting, the objectives they have, and the best strategy to engage them to inform the technology strategy.

So, it is time to plan and execute the mobile development strategy. Such a strategy requires a lot more effort than simply picking a technology for building mobile apps. Organisations must invest in improving agile development capability, building a flexible sourcing strategy, and creating a plan to improve digital experiences. A good service-oriented architecture strategy is a great foundation for the four-tier engagement platform upon which successful mobile apps rely.

A successful, long-lived mobile practice involves a number of steps. The first is the discovery stage. Mobile is changing how the world works and is challenging every enterprise. Mobile devices give companies an opportunity to engage deeply with their customers. It is easy to get bogged down by the amount of development options available – understanding the “why” and “when” is key when making a choice between them.

This understanding enables development leaders to establish the costs of ramping up capabilities in mobile. To secure ongoing investment, development leaders must partner with business leaders to quantify goals and objectives to define the most relevant and valuable metrics to measure mobile success.

The second step is the planning phase. Mobile demands permeate all aspects of the software development lifecycle. The wide-reaching changes necessitated by mobile development require an assessment of current capabilities and future objectives.

Black-and-white questions such as “Should we go with a native application development approach, use HTML5 or go hybrid?” misunderstand the situation. It’s not a question of either/or – it’s which approach best fits the experience in question. To match the needs for mobile scaling and responsiveness, development teams are incorporating an aggregation tier into their application architectures. This four-tier architecture is essential for strategic mobile success.

The third step is execution. New processes and organisational setups are essential to satisfy app users at the release speed they demand. Deciding what tools and technologies are best to support the people and processes compounds the challenge, particularly in view of different app, web, wearable and bot development approaches.

Traditional enterprise independent software suppliers, as well as myriad startups, force app development leaders to base their technology choices on suppliers’ organisational capabilities, goals, strategies and historical delivery while tempering requests for proposals with a faster decision-making process.

Finally, there is optimisation. Mobile development maturity requires feedback-driven lifecycles. Feedback loops informed by post-release monitoring tools help enhance and optimise future iterations of mobile experiences.

This is an extract of the Forrester report “Build mobile experiences that drive engagement” by Forrester principal analyst Jeffrey Hammond.

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