Here’s a quote that should not surprise anyone today:
‘As perceptive CIOs seek to transform their rigid, legacy-ridden infrastructures into agile, efficient, service-driven delivery mechanisms, they must adopt a pragmatic approach to managing the risk of consumer IT while embracing the benefits,’ said Steve Prentice, vice president and research director at Gartner. ‘Otherwise, the CIOs risk being sidelined as the ‘enemy’ by their constituencies.’
What is surprising about this statement is that it was made in 2005 – two years before the release of the first iPhone. And of course the iPhone is the most first most visible example of consumer technologies which have infiltrated the enterprise. And as Gartner had predicted; this trend has accelerated. The quote was from a report which predicted that ‘The growing practice of introducing new technologies into consumer markets prior to industrial markets will be the most significant trend affecting information technology (IT) during the next 10 years, according to Gartner, Inc.’
With the initial releases of many technologies recently initial reviews by enterprise IT professionals have been ‘not ready for the enterprise’. Think about the initial releases of the iPhone, iPad and now Windows Phone 7. All have had the same reviews. Yet, consumers had purchased these and looked to integrate them with their professional lives.
So, do I mention this trend just to give kudos to Gartner for getting it right?
No, my point is that as business leaders we need to look around us. Keeping an eye on the emerging consumer trends can help us to understand where we may be headed with enterprise technologies. If you have teens or college kids, take a look at what they are doing – they are typically on the leading edge of what’s happening – particularly when it comes to social and mobile technologies.
Have you seen the Salesforce.com product called Chatter? Chatter is basically Facebook for the enterprise. It’s an online collaboration tool; taking advantage of the things that make facebook work. It acts as a gathering place for ideas and collaboration; without having to schedule conference calls or web meetings. It’s an idea which was conceived and matured for consumers which SFDC has adapted to the enterprise.
So look around. One of the major trends in mobility is mobile technologies that are context aware.
Context Aware is Critical
Think about how your business could benefit from being aware of the locations of your employees and/or customers. Think about Four Square. Four Square is part of a fast growing segment of mobile social networking. The service allows users to ‘check-in’ to restaurants, bars and other locations so their friends know where they are and what they are doing. Four Square is building virtual mobile communities with the goal of keeping people connected – both virtually and physically. Think about the potential of the Four Square business model – being aware of where users are frequenting – and potentially using this tool to drive coupons and incentives for groups of like minded individuals to gather in certain locations.
Now, apply this type of concept to your own business. A mobile sales employee could ‘check in’ at customer sites, reporting on their activities and interactions. This could feed into your CRM system to provide a better real time view of all interactions with the customer. Or a mobile field service employee could view the locations of where peers may be located and have visibility to their spare parts trunk inventory.
The customer model is just as appealing. If your customer is ‘checking-in’ to your retail locations, they can be presented with coupons and offers at the point they enter your location – or even if you know they are nearby. Perhaps they weren’t planning to actually stop into your store that day – you can ‘nudge’ them in meaningful, non-invasive and ways that offer true value to the consumer.
Of course, these technologies come with caveats around privacy and user acceptance. So it’s your job to ensure that the user feels that the benefits outweigh any other factors which may come into play.
Four Square is just an example. Keep your eyes on the new technologies which continue to emerge as it may provide your business with the inspiration for your next competitive advantage.