Blowing Mobile

Everyone agrees the future of global business is mobile, but America has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to adopting mobile devices and strategies.

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Athough the song "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was written for the generation on its way out of corporate America right now, it also applies to the generation making its way in. And nowhere is there more demand for faster, better and cheaper mobile services than with the millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1994) now banging on business's front door.

"The rate of mobile adoption [among millennials] has been nothing short of spectacular," says Rizzo. "They're demanding that enterprises provide a mobile capability."

He describes the technological needs of this group as a "mobilized social networking environment." Their world is one of constant connection (IM, voice, text messaging, Bluetooth and location-based technologies), lots of sharing of documents and photos, as well as significant end user adoption of services like mobile banking (all of which give security-conscious CIOs a huge migraine).

Another emerging area receiving a lot of attention by millennials is unified messaging, which means that any handheld device can act as a universal inbox for all communications: wire line and wireless voice mail, e-mail, IM, text messaging, and location-based services. With this new generation of office workers, unified messaging will be viral in its spread, says Richard LeVine, a senior manager at Accenture. "It's pointless to know how you send or receive the message; it's more important just to know that they got it."

Not only will these "prosumers" (power technology users and consumers) be your employees, but they'll also be your customers. UPS has been a wireless pioneer in the shipping industry, offering such equipment to its drivers and package sorters for years. It made its first foray into the wireless space for its customers in 1999, enabling Palm VII organizers to view tracking and drop-off location data. Now, of the 40 services UPS offers through www.myups.com, it boasts four wireless services to its customers and business partners. Customers can wirelessly track packages, find UPS drop-off locations, calculate shipping rates and determine transit times for shipments. UPS also expanded its wireless tracking program in 43 countries and ensured that any wireless device can link to UPS shipping data.

Jeff Reid, UPS's director of customer technology marketing of wireless services, says a big push has come from the millennials and from working with business partners that have a younger customer base. Businesses that use UPS products can offer their customers package-tracking updates as text messages (or SMS, for short message service) on their mobile devices. "The millennials are driving a lot of the SMS usage; it's become an expectation with them," says Reid.

For example, Moosejaw, an outdoor equipment retailer, is a UPS customer with a predominantly Gen Y customer base. Moosejaw customers who want to know the status of their package can opt in and receive text message updates on their mobile devices. The goal of the service, according to Moosejaw, is to create the least amount of "friction" for its customers.

Though he doesn't serve as many millennials, Hughes Hubbard & Reed's Sommer has plenty of users who want the "latest and greatest" devices. His mobile device plan dictates that every attorney and qualified employee receives a new BlackBerry every two years. "We want to keep our attorneys up to date to match what the clients need and have," he says. In addition, because the firm has offices around the globe and attorneys who regularly travel to Paris and Tokyo, those attorneys "definitely need the best and fastest in the world that's out there," he says. "We don't want to be stuck in a 2G world when the 4G world is coming up."

In the United States overall, there has been a recent increase in the number of multimedia devices sold. But even if more people are starting to buy mobile services from the carriers, it doesn't mean they're actually using them. According to a recent In-Stat report ("Will Stingy U.S. Multimedia Phone Users Turn Japanese?"), there has been a rapid increase in the number of multimedia phones purchased in the United States that play MP3 tracks and video files (from 15 percent in 2005 to 36 percent in 2007), but the report goes on to say that "the growth in multimedia handsets has more to do with operators pushing multimedia handsets to the market, rather than a strong desire by consumers to adopt multimedia handsets or use multimedia services." For example, the report discovered that more than 80 percent of users with handsets that have these capabilities rarely, if ever, use the features.

That could all change, however, if the much-hyped iPhone jump-starts the market as the iPod did for the MP3 market. In-Stat's Hughes is hedging his bets for now. "I believe the iPhone will be moderately successful," he says, "but I don't believe they'll get 1 percent of the phone market."

What's a CIO To Do?

CIOs trying to fix their existing mobile environment have lots of work ahead of them. According to Rizzo's estimates, less than 5 percent of the Global 2000) have been early deployers of customer-facing applications and Web tools for mobile devices. Around 20 percent are moving ahead with "serious levels" of mobility, and another 25 percent are "thinking about it but are going to sit back and move in 2008," Rizzo says. The other 50 percent are not doing much of anything. Rizzo's advice: "Get mobility religion. If you don't, you're going to find yourself even further behind than you are today."

Looming on the horizon are 4G services, including WiMax, the broadband wireless technology that allows faster transmissions of voice, data, music and video. And devices are changing as well. Smaller, cheaper handsets and the new ultramobile PCs will soon find their way onto the CIO's network.

At UPS, Reid says that while customers are demanding more wireless services, "the business case has to be there." His rule of thumb: every enhancement to the wireless services should drive additional packages and, thereby, increase revenue. In addition, each decision is made on a country-by-country basis.

"There are services being introduced in certain parts of the world that won't be offered here," Reid says. For example, Asian customers want to receive billing information on wireless devices. So far, that's not the case in the United States. To make sure the right UPS services are targeted, the company surveys customers about wireless preferences, asks its sales force about trends they are seeing, consults with research companies like Forrester and eMarket, and works with the wireless carriers that provide the services.

"Our customers are starting to demand much more flexibility with the information," Reid says. And whether they're at home, at the office or on the road, "they want to be an arm's length away from the tracking and wireless capabilities."

Fidelity's Ferra is also feeling that same level of mobile demand, especially the need for speed. He says the attention span of a mobile customer is far less than someone on a PC. "I like to say that we need to deliver the information before the light turns green," he says.

In the future, Ferra wants to ensure that when Fidelity customers access its services from a mobile device, their experience will be as seamless as possible. Three new features (which aren't quite ready for prime time just yet) are indicative of his future plans.

The first is what he calls device detection. New technology will let Fidelity's systems know the type of mobile device a customer is using—including keyboard layout and screen size—so they will be able to provide a customer experience tailored for each device. GPS capabilities will enable customers to find the nearest Fidelity branch office. Lastly, new wireless devices will allow customers to complete asynchronous voice and data functions at the same time. As an example, Ferra says a customer can be checking account balances on a device while simultaneously talking to a Fidelity customer representative. "That's really advanced," says the 451 Group's Rizzo.

Of course, Ferra notes, there are a limited number of handsets that can carry out those tasks today. But that hasn't slowed him one bit. "I'm a firm believer that the predominant way that people will access Fidelity will be through a mobile device," Ferra says. "And we will offer them the best experience."

Because if he doesn't, someone else will.

Senior Writer Thomas Wailgum can be reached at twailgum@cio.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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