Use it (mobile and internet technology) or lose it (your business)

Written by Liz Galpin Friday, 01 April 2011 15:13
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I can remember going from one travel agent to another when I first started living in the UK, picking up masses of holiday brochures and spending a lot of time talking to travel agents about where we should go for our first skiing trip. One was spoilt for choice – travel agents were everywhere. That was 1989, and not only did I discover that skiing wasn’t my thing, I also had no idea that the internet was just waiting in the wings, ready to gobble up all those travel agents. I was working for Cambridge Assessment (UCLES) at the time, and can still recall a conversation with the then IT Director, who felt that the internet was nothing more than a ‘plaything for anoraks and will never be used as a serious business tool’. That was in response to suggestions that we may wish to start using the Internet as a medium for selling past papers for GCSEs and A levels. I’m now quite pleased that I stood my ground during that argument and do wonder whether he has changed his mind on that particular matter……

A few years on, having moved on and joined a consultancy company, with the Internet as a well-established tool for activities such as booking holidays on-line, I had the opportunity to put in a proposal to Autoglass for  a web-based back-end system, to be used to track and schedule windscreen fitters. The Autoglass call centre software was to be integrated with the web-based scheduling software, so that customer care reps could offer customers a choice of available slots in which the work could be carried out, based on fitter availability, allocation and location in the customer’s area over the next few days. It was a great project – totally cutting edge, enabling the capable and imaginative programmers to design great looking and intuitive screens. Little did I know at the time that I’d be working on even more cutting edge mobile technology further down the line, providing folk in Africa the opportunity to have a virtual bank account linked to their mobile phones.

Of course, the Autoglass project wouldn’t be considered cutting edge today and I wonder whether Autoglass are now linking their Call Centre and Stock Control software to mobile phone apps for their fitters. I think so much about the endless possibilities the world over for integrating mobile phones with back-end systems to improve and enhance productivity and to take advantage of all this wealth of technology which moves forward in leaps and bounds at break-neck speed. I’ve been largely involved with systems for developing markets these past 4 years, but there is as much, even more potential in developed economies. I guess the demographics are different, and it is highly unlikely that a ‘send money’ proposition would be as exciting in the UK as it has been in Kenya. In Developed markets, with the proportion the banked population so much higher, it is unlikely that the concept of a virtual bank account linked to your mobile phone would become a runaway hit, but the concept of having your wallet on your mobile phone (along with your diary, your email, everyone’s contact details you ever knew, your favourite games, google maps etc etc) is now really gathering momentum, and there is much ‘land grab’ in this space. So – eventually it seems as though we’re only ever going to need a mobile phone and possibly car keys really when we leave home aren’t we? Why bother with a wallet or a purse? It’s not as though you need your camera, your watch or your diary with you, is it?? I’ve just read ‘The Smartphone wallet’ – a great read, providing excellent insight into the way in which mobile wallets for developed markets would differ from those currently being rolled out across the developing world.

Will people in the UK convert their bank accounts to a virtual account? I’m not sure about that – I think they are much more likely to have one or more Bank Accounts, and then another ‘current account’ linked to their mobile phone for everyday use.

Over the past decade or so, entire professions have been lost, or fundamentally changed, due to the convenience and availability of the Internet. Canny companies have modified their approach and strategy to take advantage of the internet – there are too many examples to mention. Some companies that didn’t adapt have just gone under, and companies offering services such as mortgage advice have had to change their approach and strategy –  ‘specialised’ mortgage information is now available to everyone over the internet, and the number of mortgage products on offer have been rationalised (although that isn’t anything to do with the internet – more related to the lending crisis), and by and large, businesses have had to adapt or die…….

So – taking this a step further, I think businesses now have to adapt their marketing strategies to include the power of the mobile and mobile wallets. Many have, of course, embraced all aspects of the internet, mobile and social networking. I just read an article in the Evening Standard on a dress shop that has provided a large mirror / camera that allows their customers to take photographs of what they are trying on and send to friends via facebook, mobile or twitter for their immediate feedback – Brilliant!! We’re likely to see so much more of this kind of innovation.  Mobiles have become indispensable for every business person, housewife, student and man in the street, and an indispensable tool for businesses. I think the models of mobile utilisation will continue to differ radically between developing markets and developed markets, but iPads and mobiles have become the Internet of the noughties. That difference between developing and developed markets will inevitably diminish in time as cheaper smartphones become more widely used in developing markets, and more and more people embrace the use of mobile wallets / have bank accounts. It’s an exciting world!

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