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Competitive advantages of mobile apps for customers, employees

With more and more people -- both corporate employees and the customers those corporations do business with -- turning to their smartphones or tablets as their primary device of choice, it is imperative for CIOs to set a mobile strategy for their companies. That mobile strategy should tap mobile cloud: back-end, cloud-based features that extend mobile devices' storage capacities, help handle identity and access management tasks for the devices, provide synchronization and integration with core business systems, and connect with third-party services via API gateways.  

In this webcast, Kurt Marko, analyst at MarkoInsights, explains the importance of mobile apps and the competitive advantages of mobile. Watch this webcast to learn of the many benefits mobile offers for businesses, and understand the approach of "go mobile or get left behind."

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the first of four excerpts of Marko's webcast presentation on the advantages of mobile cloud. It has been edited for clarity and length. Part 2 examines mobile cloud app development challenges and how the cloud helps. Part 3 discusses MBaaS features and vendors. And Part 4 provides recommendations and action items

Kurt Marko: The topic today is mobile cloud. But before we get to mobile cloud, we have to try to take a few steps to understand why mobile is in the enterprise in the first place. There is a very symbiotic relationship between mobile and cloud. In fact, Intel is fond of quoting a stat about the number of mobile devices that drive the sale of one server. And it's in the range of around 400 or 500 smartphones and 100 to 200 tablets. In other words, for all of those devices, when you hear the sales of billions of iPhones, those are generally connecting to some sort of service. And that's typically a cloud-based service.

Obviously, in the case of smartphones, many of those are consumer services, but for the digital enterprise, it's critical that as consumer behavior moves to mobile that they have a strategy for doing the same. So that kind of leads us into the mobile app imperative and why companies do need a mobile strategy.

Smartphones and tablets are really the preferred device for everyone these days: whether they're customers, employees, business partners. More and more of the time online and in front of a screen is being spent on a mobile device. So, if you want to capture those eyeballs, so to speak, your business has to have a mobile strategy and to mobilize its digital assets.

One of the problems: Early on companies were thinking that mobile websites were an added solution to the problem. And they are indeed OK for text-based or information-sharing sorts of applications, but even there you'll find many news organizations and broadcasters have found that people find that engaging with the mobile web is not as compelling as the native app experience. People spend more time in apps than on their mobile browser. And that higher engagement means more business and more productivity: more business for you if your channel is a mobile sales channel and more productivity out of your employees if you have mobilized some of your business processes.

There are a number of reasons for that. We won't go into great detail. But the apps provide a cleaner UI and a richer feature set, and include access to a number of the unique mobile capabilities of the device, including location awareness, the use of cameras and other sensors, and offline access. For a number of reasons -- you can look up the stats -- but you'll find that the percentage of users who consider their primary device to be their smartphone is climbing and well in excess of 50% now, particularly among young people.

That kind of leads to the conclusion [of] "go mobile or be left behind if you're in business." And mobile provides a competitive advantage. And increasingly, that's going to switch to be a competitive disadvantage if you aren't mobile, since mobile will be considered a baseline by your customers, regardless of the industry that you're in. With customers, particularly in businesses with a lot of customer-facing activities like retail, hospitality, customer service -- I could add financial services to that list -- mobile is extremely popular. All we have to look at for evidence is the rising share of mobile sales during the holiday season: It grabs a greater and greater share of retail dollars every year.

With customers, it also provides, if you're doing outbound marketing, better ad targeting, user engagement, and customer reach. I could also add integration with different social networks and social sharing, which allows you to kind of extend your reach to a customer's social circle. For employees, mobile provides competitive advantage and increased productivity and efficiency, the obvious examples being mobile or nomadic workers or field workers like sales and service occupations, but even for your typical office worker who is "day extending" by handling email or checking on their project task list. Obviously, email is quite mobilized by the native apps, but having mobile collaboration capabilities or mobile workflows for managers can ease the friction between the work-and-home-life balance and allow your employees to do a little bit more throughout the day.

And generally, for all users, mobile provides a competitive advantage, regardless of the target. The use and the availability of detailed application instrumentation and analytics that at least savvy mobile developers incorporate into their apps provide very valuable usage and customer data that when mined can be used to prioritize new features in the app, new products, find pain points the customers are experiencing, [and] just provide information that you wouldn't have had otherwise.

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