The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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July 23, 2013

Planning Future Strategies with the aid of History

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past" wrote Niccolò Machiavelli, the renaissance era Italian strategist. What does that mean for corporate strategists? Does this mean that one should conduct a historical study of the industry, of the company or of a particular strategic area where one wants to take a decision? There would be many who rubbish this. They would say what good is studying strategies that won yesterday's clients, markets and businesses worth in today's supersonic world of businesses. However, I would argue that for leaders and strategists to seize the zeitgeist, they need to take the effort to study the past. It is important to understand why certain strategies were adopted, actions taken and the business environment that prevailed when such decisions were taken. The glass for a crystal ball must come from the mirror that has seen the past.

As Albert Einstein famously declared "If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution." Taking a deep look at the past helps you see your problems in new perspectives and enable you to see the future more clearly. Consider the disaster of the global recession and collapse of some legendary institutions. Would mulling over the past have given them better vision as to what could be expected in the future? Lehman Brothers showed an accounting leverage of 30.7x in its last annual report - that of 2007. How could the best minds in finance be so stupid? Look back at history - Post the world war, American businesses were careful while taking risks. But in the 70s and 80s, the secret sauce to success was to leverage your business to the max. Just after the war, U.S financial sector owed $3bn in debt or ~1.35% of GDP. In 2009 this had risen to $15.6 trillion or 110% of GDP. Had the rear view mirror been consulted, corporate honchos would have realized that some sense had to prevail as they performed orgies of gluttony, swallowing all the debt they could raise. Growth had slowed, organizations were leveraged too high - the secret sauce was crying out loud for some fresh ingredients.

Cross industry learning by studying history is another important area that could be sized upon. Cola companies have in the recent past been blamed for the obesity related health disaster that America has been witnessing. Recent statistics reveal that 36% of the American adult population and 17% of American children are obese. Sugary drinks have been a contributor to this epidemic for which the country spends ~$190bn a year to treat. While strategizing to save their companies from such damaging public data, Pepsi and Coke could look at the history of how tobacco companies reacted to a similar, perhaps far more serious health effect that their products had in the earlier decades. Starting in the 50s reports emerged linking cigarettes to cancer. Cigarette companies vehemently fought these findings. But it was in the 80s and 90s that there was a barrage of class action as well as individual lawsuits and the companies were really made to pay. On the business front these companies started diversifying, acquiring companies in the food business including the acquisition of Nabisco by RJR Reynolds. It seems that cola companies have already taken some lessons from this and are strategizing to preemptively act so as to avoid the troubles tobacco companies faced. Pepsi for instance is investing in health foods and drinks. Both Coke and Pepsi have been researching ways of bringing down the fructose content in their beverage drinks and have massive ad budgets dedicated to show the 'angel' in them.

Future Strategies or what I would like to call 'futurgy' to future proof businesses have to be designed in such a way that they are able to withstand shifts in economy, technology and social or consumer trends. Studying companies that failed to do this or learning from companies that were successful in creating such strategies help do just those. Andrew Grove wrote one of the most respected management books, 'Only the Paranoid Survive' where he says that it is inevitable for old structures to be replaced by new ones and businesses should shove aside their complacency and use fear and paranoia to keep pace with these changes. By the way, another iconic brand has fallen - Readers Digest filed for chapter 11 in February. It filed because it failed to adapt to the digital consumer.

July 12, 2013

Enterprise Mobility - 10 Critical Success Factors

Organizations are today keenly looking at mobile enabling their Enterprise Applications such as CRM, ERP, SCM, HCM, BI, E-Mail, Document Servers, to name a few, for access by their Employees, Partners and Customers. While most of the Enterprises are quite mature enough on the Desktop application front, they are currently in the early or exploration stage, when it comes to Enterprise Mobility. In this article, we will delve into the Critical Success Factors to be considered for Enterprise Mobility, which Organizations will find it useful, to start with.

1. Target Users for Mobile Applications: Enterprises have to decide upon the target users, for their mobile applications, namely, Employees, Partners and Customers, for specific purposes. Typically, Enterprises can start with the launch of mobile applications for their Employees, then extend it progressively to their Partners and finally to their Customers, as the offerings mature and stabilizes.

2. Target Devices and Mobile OSs: With a wide range of Mobile Devices (Smart Phone, Tablet, Phablet...of different screen sizes) and Operating Systems (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Window Phone...), mushrooming in the market, organizations have to decide on the target mobile devices and OSs, which they will support. We can start supporting a small set of target mobile devices and then gradually extend it to a larger range of mobile devices.

3. Enterprise Back End to be Mobile Enabled: Enterprises need to have a definite strategy on the priority and phase wise mobile enablement of their back end information/systems, for access by their Employees, Partners and customers, as different target users may need access to specific category of information (e.g. Sales information for Employees, Supply information for Partners, Order information for Customers).

4. Type of Mobile Applications: We have Browser or Thin Client Mobile Apps, Native or Thick Client Mobile Apps and Hybrid Mobile Apps. With the advent of HTML5/CSS3/JS technology advancements, Browser or Thin Client Mobile Apps is gaining popularity. When we look at rich UI/UX and usage of native features, Native or Thick Client Mobile Apps are preferred. When we need the best of both native and browser based features, Enterprises can go in for Hybrid Mobile Apps.

5. BYOD:  Bring Your Own Device, is gaining popularity, with Enterprises wanting to enable Employees to use their personal mobile devices, at work. However, support BYOD policy in an Organization, means ensuring security of enterprise information/data accessed by the Employees and privacy of personal information/data available in their own mobile devices. This is where Mobile Security, MDM, MAM solutions stem into picture.

6. Mobile Security: Mobile Security is vital, when it comes to Enterprise Mobility, spanning across multiple levels - Device Level Security, Application Level Security, Network Level Security, to name a few. Biometrics, Login Name/Password, Encryption/Decryption are different techniques employed in enterprise mobile security, related to user identification, authorization and authentication.

7. MDM and MAM: Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM) are critical components of Enterprise mobility, which organizations need to consider, especially when the BYOD policy is implemented.

8. Mobility Middleware: Enterprises have a choice of going in for direct browser based/native mobile application development or through Mobility Middleware. Typically, in scenarios when one backend application is to be mobile enabled for access by a particular mobile device type, then direct mobile app development option is explored. On the other hand, when multiple back end applications are to be mobile enabled for access through a wide range of mobile devices/OSs, Mobility Middleware is the best option, which saves significant time, effort and cost, by supporting device diversity and  ready to use adapters/connectors, for various enterprise applications.

9. Scalability: Any mobility solution that an enterprise selects, should be scalable enough, for the next 3 to 5 years, in terms supporting the maximum number of users, back end enterprise applications, device diversity, new mobile operation systems, to name a few.

10. CAPEX and OPEX When it comes to planning their enterprise mobility solution road map, organizations have to look at Capital Expenses (CAPEX) and Operational Expenses (OPEX), in the short term and in the long term. Initial investment and recurring cost, in terms of infrastructure (e.g. Hardware, Software/License) cost, service provider expenses, AMC/Support cost, upgrade cost, must be taken into account.

While the above mentioned critical success factors for enterprise mobility are good enough for organizations to start with, there are other emerging trends in mobility like on-premise vs. hosted solutions, open source vs. licensed solutions, enterprise app stores, extensive usage of gestures / peripherals / wireless connectivity in mobile devices, to name a few. Organizations need to keep track of the current developments in the market, to progressively enhance their mobility offerings to their Employees, Partners and Customers, to stay ahead of the competition.

Messaging: An Integral Part of a Mobile Application

In the past few years, smartphones have become quite affordable. This means smartphones user base is on rise and more and more people are using them. Now a smartphones user can do most of the tasks that he used to accomplish on a Desktop Computer like he can surf internet, play games, pay utility bills online, transact with a bank, buy stuff online etc. The smartphone owners are teaching their smartphones new tricks and customizing them by installing and uninstalling new Applications from respective App Stores.

The publishers of these smartphone apps, be it an independent Developer or an Enterprise, have a challenge at their hands that is how to keep end user engaged and keep user away from that App Delete button. A smartphone app interacts with a user on one-to-one basis, providing continuous value and fresh content to such a user via app is the key to longevity of an app on a smartphone. Otherwise there is a high chance that this app will be uninstalled.

For the app publishers, the question is, what can I do to make my application hold its space (rather memory space) in end user's smartphone? This question is same as what a Marketing Manager will ask, how can he make his product relevant to the target audience and provide them value so that customers come again and again to buy it? This is not an easy question to answer in a meeting with a Marketing Manager, but in Smartphone's context the Internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G/4G or Wi-Fi) enabled "Smartphone Push Notification" (or just Push Notification - PN) provides a direct one way channel to the app publishers for engaging customers via text/image/audio or video messages. This gives app publishers a one-way ticket to provide fresh content/updates to the users.

All prominent Smartphone OS platforms now provide push notification feature into their platforms, this includes Apple, Android OS, BlackBerry and WindowsPhone OS. Smartphone push notifications are real time, direct and in most cases free of cost to the app publishers.

How a Push Notification enabled smartphone app adds value consider this example, an ABC Bank has published a mobile Banking App at App Stores; its customer have downloaded the app and registered to use it. This mobile Banking app is installed on customers' smartphones with internet connectivity. Now ABC Bank can send Text/Audio/Video Push Notifications in real time to its customers. These notifications could be alerts on transactions, account activity, promotional coupons, product details etc.
Benefit derived are real time alert sending, customer having better control of his account activity (in case of any fraudulent activity he would get alert immediately, provided smartphone data channel is on), sending relevant advt. to customer and establishment has opportunity to cross sell its products.

Once a user has installed the app, now it is up to the App Publisher that how can he keep providing continuous engagement points and keep the app fresh on a smartphone. To increase this app relevance factor Push Notifications can play a very differentiating role. By differentiating we mean; the apps that do not engage customer via messaging are more prone to be uninstalled than the ones that do.
In broader sense the smartphone apps can be categorized in two ways:

  • Apps that are internet enabled and transport user centric data to and fro.
  • Apps that are not internet enabled and are meant to increase user's productivity.

First category of apps encompasses most of the smartphone apps, and these apps can very well use the Smartphone Messaging. Some of the guidelines to use Push Notification Messaging effectively:

  1. Tell your app users that you will send them Push Notification messages. Responsible Publishers of the apps generally tell the app user that they can opt in and opt out of the push messaging service at the app. Sending customer relevant content via push notification. Since a customer gives his nod to receive push messages, publisher should not engage in sending irrelevant advt., coupons, texts etc., this may annoy users and they can very well identify the app and uninstall it.
  2. Know your app user (that would also be your product/service user) little better. Smartphone apps do not exist in isolation; businesses develop and distribute these apps to serve their customer better. For example a bank's mobile banking app is there to server customers on go, such a bank would anyway have the purchase patterns and spending habits data from credit or online payment usage. Such a Bank can use push notification along with location based services to send highly targeted advt. and coupons to their customers on smartphone (like a customer whose credit card transactions have good amount of books purchases can be sent book discount coupons or deals from book stores nearby, via push notification). 

A properly planned app with push notification use cases can help the business grow faster with smartphone user base. Second category can also use push notification and local notifications to engage customers but push notification bears more results if the apps are account based.

Smartphone Messaging is no doubt an important tool in hands of the App Publishers, to use it effectively is equally important. Push Messaging delivery mechanism can be enhanced by devising feedback mechanism and user interactivity features to make it a two way communication channel, recollect that push notification is one way channel from app publishers to app users. When used responsibly and with customer specific content the push notification can make your app highly relevant to the end users, they will not uninstall an app that gives so much value to them.

July 1, 2013

CRM/ERP Mobile Capabilities or MADP ?

Over the last couple of decades, the enterprise IT infrastructure has made multiple strides. From the punched cards, hierarchical databases to the complex ERP / CRM systems of today it has improved by leaps and bounds. It offers majority of the enterprise functionality ranging from planning, procurement to Human resource management, finance management, inventory management and so on.

Evolution of mobility as a channel has added a huge set of opportunity to the functionality available in ERP / CRM systems. Till a few years back, it was pre dominantly a web based and a desktop / laptop based application with majority of the functionality available online. Wireless Technology as a channel has added a lot more complexity to already complex ERP / CRM systems. Below are the typical questions that any ERP/CRM product company faces while providing functionality on the mobile channel 

  1. What functionality will make sense on mobile platform?
  2. What are the devices to support?
  3. How to keep the support up-to-date for ever changing mobile devices and be future proof?
  4. How to cater to the data required from sources outside of ERP / CRM?
  5. How to handle Mobile Device Management?
  6. How to handle offline and synchronization capabilities?

The basic strength of any ERP / CRM solution is in handling a business process seamlessly. It provides all the data, validations and safeguards related to any particular function like HR, finance, procurement etc. Mobility as a channel for ERP / CRM is an emerging one right now and has not become mainstream as a desktop / laptop based web application. So it has been observed that the mobile offering which is provided out of the box by any CRM / ERP provider has strong points like integration with backend being readily available, output on selected devices readily available. However because of the inherent nature of the offering it has some constraints also as follows

  1. The offering is tightly integrated with ERP / CRM at the backend. It is not flexible to integrate  with back ends apart from ERP / CRM itself
  2. It typically targets only specific devices / handsets. So the device diversity which is a hallmark of the mobile world is a challenge to handle
  3. Many times the offering is available only on one channel. E.g. browser channel. If one has to extend it to the other channels like native or hybrid, that capability is either not present or one has to spend a lot of effort for extension
  4. The offline and synchronization capabilities are limited
  5. For extending the capability on SMS / Push / USSD channels, there is a custom development required

The usage of a Mobile application Development platform (MADP) can address majority of the issues mentioned above at the same time providing simplicity in development.  It provides one with faster and smarter way of building mobile applications for not just the ERP / CRM application, but any consumer or enterprise application.

Finally the choice of a particular approach for developing mobile applications based on CRM / ERP is really driven by the business need of the mobile application, the target user segments and devices, type of channels one wants to utilize, time to market and many more. One has to evaluate the options available keeping in view the long term view and comprehensive mobility needs of an organization.