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Q&A: Propelics’ 5 Steps to Adopting a Mobile-Centric IT Strategy

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You may have seen our recent Q&A with Propelics’ Eric Carlson. Beyond answering our questions about what it takes to build a successful retail strategy, Eric also shared with us five steps he sees as vital for companies who are looking to adopt a more mobile-centric IT strategy.

Eric has a ton of expertise in building mobile strategies for Fortune 500 organizations across many verticals, and his company is devoted to empowering their partners to take advantage of all the opportunities mobile presents. (Check out a recent CIO Journal feature on our work together with Family Dollar for one such example.)

So ready to formalize your mobile strategy but not sure where to start? Here are the five steps Eric recommends for getting IT and business lined up so you can prepare for mobile success:

1. Canvas for use cases and mobile scenarios.
Before you get started building mobile apps or allocating budget to build and support them, methodically determine what the most important use cases and mobile scenarios are within your organization. Often this will provide clarity about where to start. You will usually find at least a few groups within your organization that are eager and culturally ready to use mobile to replace outdated, broken processes.

For example, many retail businesses begin their path by looking at mobile use cases for associates “in-aisle” due to the closeness to the customer, but we’ve found that many of the ripe use cases are with district or store managers who are typically saddled with manual data collection and entry and outdated toolsets. Start your mobile programs with groups like this that are clamoring for change. Adoption will be higher and the user feedback more tangible.

2. Start with “time saved” as your business driver.
When every mobile app idea starts to sound like a good idea, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The most important guiding principle is to tie mobile initiatives to business drivers. However, even that can be too nebulous of an objective. As a tip, first go after use cases that directly tie to productivity and those that save time and effort. These may not light up the ROI meter at first inspection, but can drive time savings of 30-120 minutes per week for a store or district manager. This can create fundamental change within the business, allowing these important resources to spend time in more important areas.

Example implementations of this may include store audits/walks, store performance business intelligence dashboards, employee onboarding, training, approvals, manager surveys, etc. Those may not be central to the vision of your enterprise mobile strategy, but they are use cases that drive simplicity and begin to lay the foundation of future, more innovative and process-changing applications. Once you’ve seeing results from apps that drive productivity, you can focus on apps that drive top-line growth or save on the bottom line – which typically drive greater process change. These could be customer-facing apps that arm store associates in-aisle or applications that drive more fundamental process change.

3. Take security seriously.
When it comes to mobile development, you need to have information and network security conversations upfront, not deferred as an afterthought. In fact, this should be one of the very first things you do when you kick off a mobile program.

First, spend some time to understanding requirements for data security. This can vary widely from industry to industry. Obviously, when it comes to finance, healthcare and other highly-regulated industries, these requirements may be prescribed. In that case, your job is to make sure you’re meeting compliance requirements and protecting company and customer information sufficiently.

But security matters even in less regulated industries. However, these topics and perceived risks will be new for many teams and will take time to sink in. The best thing you can do at the outset is outline clear security standards that can be followed no matter who across your organization is building an app.

4. Define standards.
Similar to security, it’s important to develop a range of standards that can be applied across apps. To enable this, some companies create a “mobile center of excellence,” or a “mobile innovation council.” The name doesn’t matter, but it’s important to define standards when designing your mobile strategy.

This includes determining prototyping tools and design language, brand look-and-feel, application architecture, web services, security and support. Not every single aspect needs to be defined before you begin, but don’t wait too long. When it comes to mobile app standards, if you don’t define them early, they will be defined for you. This is also a good time to implement an API strategy, which can enable groups across your organization to tap into relevant data sources with ease.

5. Devise a support plan.
Building a new app is an exciting time, but if the user support team doesn’t understand it nor has the ability to help, you’ll run into a slew of challenges. Many companies find supporting mobile apps to be more difficult than their PC counterparts. Between the multitude of devices, end-user privacy and location settings, distribution decisions and challenges, network connectivity, VPN and proxy configurations and web services availability, not to mention app defects, it’s hardly smooth sailing.

It’s important to not only arm support teams with the apps, devices and troubleshooting information to make them effective when answering user inquiries, but also to architect your mobile apps to inform the user of what has gone wrong – and to automatically track and relay those issues to the product and support teams. That way the guesswork is taken out of the process.

As you can tell, adapting your IT strategy to be mobile-friendly often requires a good amount of change – but by following a methodical step-by-step plan in building toward a long-term vision, you can increase your success rate significantly.

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