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Why B2U is the Only Acronym That Matters: Thoughts on Our Mobile Future from CIO Summit 2014

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Mobile is replacing the web.

That’s the elephant in the room today. When I gave this keynote presentation to a packed auditorium at the CIO Summit in Chicago this March, I explained that too many companies are still trying to ignore the elephant. Despite mobile being one of the most talked about, blogged about and spoken about topics out there, there are too many companies still convinced it’s just another “trend.” This too shall pass, right?

Not likely. According to We Are Social, only 35 percent of the world has access to the internet, while mobile device penetration has reached 93 percent. A recent UN report found that mobile phones are more ubiquitous than indoor plumbing. The statistics are incredible, and only underscore the speed and magnitude of the mobile shift.

The move from the Web and PCs to mobile happened quickly: the iPad virtually wiped out the netbook market overnight and overtook PC shipments in less than five years. In large part, this is because the personal computer was never truly personal. It didn’t conform to our way of being; it asked us to conform to it. Neither the desktop nor its applications have ever been truly human-centric.

Contrast that with mobile devices, which often feel like extensions of ourselves. They’re always with us – in the car, at the movie theatre, sometimes even in bed – and they offer intuitive experiences that cater to individual preferences and habits.

How’s this for intuitive? When my daughter was just a year old, she wanted to play with my iPad. Without any instruction, she swiped to unlock and began flipping through pages of apps, hunting for an icon that piqued her interest, then tapped it with her finger to open. Her generation is a bellwether of what’s to come.

All Hail the (User) Experience Economy

Along with the rise of mobile, the nature of the web itself is changing. “Mobile-first” companies (think Uber, Instagram and WhatsApp) build lightweight websites that do little more than direct you to download their powerful mobile apps.

This is great for consumers, but it’s scary for businesses. Now users’ information isn’t being captured and stored via the open Web anymore. Instead, it’s siloed in apps or walled off within APIs. From a data perspective, this is a big deal.

How big? It’s transforming the way the entire digital economy operates, from search engines to advertising to CRM and beyond. As mobile shifts the epicenter of our connected world from websites to apps, companies must rethink how they interact with customers. The “mobile-first generation” – millennials and younger – will expect work environments to be just as user-friendly as their personal tech. In fact, they’ll expect to move between them seamlessly.

Contrast that with where we stand today. At home, we enjoy elegant apps like Simple, Runkeeper or Facebook’s Paper. At work, we’re stuck with Outlook, homegrown order procurement systems, and even (yes) fax machines. As Geoffrey Moore put it, “Saturday and Sunday, we’re masters of the universe. But Monday through Friday, we’re dweebs.”

The good news? Mobile is changing all this. It’s dissolving the conventional distinctions of business-to-employee (B2E) and business-to-consumer (B2C). As consumers, having now seen technology “done right” in the form of mobile apps that are intuitive, purposeful and easy to use, we now carry these same expectations into the workplace. There is dwindling patience for the convoluted, frustrating user experiences we have tolerated from corporate systems of the past.

Businesses, for their part, are starting to recognize the huge productivity gains of providing employees with apps that truly help them perform their jobs better. All of this is pushing us toward a new paradigm where there is no B2E or B2C, there is just the user – call it B2U. When a B2U mentality is adopted, we can stop creating one class of experience for customers and another for employees, and instead start thinking of everyone’s expectations as the same.

At the end of the day, whether we’re in “work” mode or “home” mode, we’re all individuals who expect positive user experiences. So for companies, adopting the B2U mindset is vital to attracting and retaining users now and in the future. After all, there’s only one “U.”

Want to learn more about the future of enterprise mobility and what exactly it means for IT? Check out our full presentation below:

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3 Comments

  1. The article on B2U is thought provoking and shares a message that can be applied to any organisation who’s in quest for evolving a best-of-breed mobile eco-system.

    Being in-charge for mobility practice at Zylog UK and Europe, I would like to follow future articles in this blog.

  2. This is a really misguided article on a number of levels.

    First of all mobile is not “replacing the web”. That simply isn’t happening. Yes, there are plenty of mobile applications that are cropping up every day, and mobile traffic now exceeds desktop/laptop traffic, but it doesn’t mean that the whole world has quit using desktops and laptops.

    It’s great to be able to check your Facebook and Twitter updates while standing in line at Starbucks, but when you sit down to actually get some work done, practically nobody is pulling out their mobile device (other than completely iPad-based salesforces) to write a tech spec, work with a spreadsheet, write software, or any other common office task that you can think of. Until we live in a world where a mobile device can be unraveled to a full size physical keyboard and 13 inch screen, this simply isn’t going to happen.

    I went through the presentation, and quite honestly I’m confounded. I’m not sure what’s the most laughable assertion: that “B2C is dead”, that mobile penetration is 93% of the entire world’s population (6.572 out of 7.095 billion people), or that somehow South America has a mobile device penetration of 124%. Please explain to me how anything can have a penetration rate greater than 100%, and I will show you how your metrics are flawed. This is not to mention the fact that there are tribes in the middle of the rain forests of Brazil that aren’t in contact with civilization. I guess they must have sprung up their own technical infrastructure.

    The most insightful thing I found in the presentation was a quote from Gartner stating that “Apps and applications are two very different expressions of software….. The defining characteristic of an app is its reduced functional presence. Apps do less than applications. That is their goal”. This is well stated, and is pointing out the fact that apps should be an extension of their bigger brother, the application. You schlock it all up in your next slide as you claim that “Simplicity wins.”. You’ve completely missed the point, and even worse you’ve manipulated the intent to try to fit into this fantasy world you’ve created where mobile is everything.

    This whole thing came across as nothing more than an infomercial with a parade of wildly unfounded claims.

    • Nolan Wright

      Todd: I’m glad for the points you raise. At least some of them are representative of the wider debate we see as enterprises move seriously in mobility, so I want to clarify some…

      For starters, you’re right that the claim “mobile is replacing the web,” taken by itself, is going too far. What’s more accurate to say is “Mobile apps are superseding web applications as a preferred way of getting things done.” (That doesn’t fit quite as neatly on the back of an elephant.) Of course the web isn’t going away altogether. But: mobile apps are supplanting web-based applications as the primary access point to the internet (http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/online/in-the-us-time-spent-with-mobile-apps-now-exceeds-the-desktop-web-41153/). Apps even dominate when compared to their mobile web-based peers (http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/01/mobile-app-usage-increases-in-2014-as-mobile-web-surfing-declines/). In other words, the richer app experience is quickly passing the traditional thin-client, HTML-based experience. If you live in IT, this impacts not only how you do front-end development and testing, but also how you architect for data connectivity. To take one example, the need for online/offline synchronization between the client device and data source is not something most traditional three-tier (i.e. web) architectures anticipate.

      To be clear, my argument isn’t: “Mobile devices will replace desktops.” Of course full blown screens and connected keyboards are going to remain crucial to the work we all do. But even so, I wouldn’t agree with you that “when you sit down to actually get some work done, practically nobody is pulling out their mobile device…” Many of our customers have built apps that replace processes which formerly consisted of a paper form being completed and then later (back at the office) being re-entered into a computer. The idea that ‘all real work is done in front of a computer’ is changing faster than you might think.

      The reason that mobile is the preferred channel is (in my mind) simple: experience. Rich mobile apps deliver a superior user experience to web applications. It’s hardly a fair fight. Even simple mobile devices are context-aware in ways the tethered computers could never hope to be. By necessity, given screen real estate etc, they’re also much simpler to use. This is a key reason the strict old distinctions we used to make among B2C/B2E/B2B are losing relevance. Do we really, as consumers, use an app expecting one experience and then come to work expecting much lower/poorer/dumber experience? (If you answer “Yes,” that only means you’re of my generation. Believe me when I say the generations pouring into the workforce now have no such patience.) BYOD was only the beginning of people – all of us – demanding the best possible experiences, regardless of whether we’re in “employee” mode or “consumer” mode. You may have seen Geoffrey Moore’s excellent notion (http://www.aiim.org/futurehistory) of systems of engagement, which is predicated on this idea.

      PS: To your question of how it’s possible for certain countries to have greater than 100% mobile penetration, the answer is people having more than one device each…

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