“We’ve got to move at the speed of mobile.”
“Mobile app release cycles are like dog years.”
“Mobile is the key to transforming our business.”
We’ve all heard statements like these. In fact, PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey notes that 81% of CEOs think mobile technologies are strategically important for their business. That’s a huge number. Yuuuggge!!
This tracks with an Apperian survey that shows IT decision-makers believe enterprise mobility (61%) will provide the biggest returns in 2016, with 87% reporting enterprise mobility as critical to their company’s profitability.
In short, companies say that it's important to build apps for employees to boost productivity. Based on company statements and industry surveys, I don’t think that the travel industry stance is noticeably different from the average.
One would expect, then, that the enterprise would be going gangbusters building apps. But just how many apps are companies actually building? The answer is a lot and a little.
Most major airlines, hotels, OTAs, and, as Tnooz recently noted, airports, have expended major resources to build robust traveler-facing experiences, primarily to support the booking and check-in phases of the travel lifecycle. This is not surprising, as money-makes-the-world-go-round, so anything supporting revenue is pretty easily funded and sometimes is a part of a marketing, rather than IT budget.
Further a mobile app is basically table stakes these days in the travel sector, even more so when appealing to the most frequent travelers. So investments that build loyalty are also extremely high priority.
But what about apps for employees? Surely enabling the staff that takes care of our passengers and guests is another prime area for investment, right? Right?
According to Apperian’s 2016 Executive Enterprise Mobility Report the median number of custom apps that companies have deployed to employees, contractors and partners is… 13.8, with 80% of companies having deployed fewer than 10.
Worse yet, even those numbers may be optimistic. Good Technology’s Q2 2015 Mobility Index report suggests the average organization has only deployed 3.4 apps to employees—in addition to email—with only 5% of organizations deploying more than 10.
This includes items like secure browsing, messaging, and document access. Not exactly game changers, and they’re certainly not reflective of a mindset that considers mobile a major business priority expected to generate competitive advantage and significant process and productivity improvement.
I don’t expect that numbers for travel companies as a category would differ dramatically.
There certainly are some examples of progress, mostly in the airline sector. Electronic Flight Bags are almost de rigueur today. And several of the larger network carriers have provided apps for their cabin crews, to better serve passengers and to reduce the amount of paperwork for each flight.
Two years ago, Virgin Atlantic tried Google Glass during the check in process to enhance customer interaction. And in my inbox this week I saw an article highlighting the progress made at Alaska Airlines, who rolled out 10,000 mobile devices to all of its front-line employees last year. (Each device was loaded with a catalog of apps.)
But it’s not happening very broadly. Hoteliers seem to be investing more in robots to
supplant augment staff than in apps to make the employees themselves more productive.
Last year I spoke to a senior executive at a large casino and resort group with more than 50,000 employees.* They said its strategy was to roll out an “app” (probably leaning towards mobile web) to share company announcements and other information. It’s a start, but not particularly impactful. (*Sentence corrected post-publication.)
So why aren’t travel companies building more mobile apps for their employees?
I’ve got two answers for you.
Remember how I said that the business case for traveler-focused mobile projects is essentially a slam dunk? Well… Many companies think about employee-facing mobile projects in a way captured by the boss in a Dilbert cartoon:
"I've been saying for years that employees are our most valuable asset. It turns out that I was wrong. Money is our most valuable asset. Employees are ninth."
After 23 years, that strip is still as true as ever.
While that’s a real reason we haven’t made as much progress as we could, it’s not the only one.
The more serious answer to why travel companies aren't building more apps for employees requires me to take a brief detour: One of the reasons I got involved in mobile is that I’ve always been interested in process re-engineering. Mobile provides the best opportunity for this since the advent of the PC and productivity software.
Consider the innovation boom and increase in productivity ushered in during the PC age.
This is the floor of the opportunity that mobile holds for the enterprise, particularly when you consider the variety of devices (smartphones, tablets, and wearables) and the wealth of new data provided by both the sensors on the devices and by the connected items around us via the Internet of Things.
In fact, business process and productivity improvement are the #1 and #2 things executives expect mobile to deliver, per the recent Apperian report.
So what’s holding us back? Security concerns? Lack of skills? The fast evolution rate of devices and operating systems?
It’s a lot simpler than that. Many companies simply lack an overarching strategy for mobile within the enterprise. Which roles can get the most lift from mobile? How can mobile make jobs simpler? How can we improve the accuracy of data capture? How can we get the right information to employees at the exact time they need it?
Too few organizations are asking these questions at the start of the strategy-planning process. All too often, companies lack the mechanisms for identifying mobile opportunities across the entire enterprise.
Rather, projects are brought forward by individuals or teams in an ad-hoc manner, resulting in what we refer to as “Random Acts of Mobile.”
The projects that get funded happen through one of two methods:
1) First In, First Out.
2) The Khrushchev Method—that is, whoever has the highest title in the room or who pounds his shoe the loudest gets his app built.
Neither of these methods, however, do a service to the company. Mobile development resources are fairly precious. We owe it to ourselves to use them to deliver the greatest value to the organization.
So we need to identify those opportunities where mobile can impact operations across the entire organization, not just within a specific group. Think of it as managing an app portfolio when building a mobile strategy.
In the process, don’t just talk to one or two teams. Try to talk to as many divisions, teams, and departments as you can.
Don’t just bring in executives and managers for guidance. Bring in the foot soldiers of the organization, those who actually do the work, those who would be the users of the new apps. Because when you capture a broad cross-section of potential mobile opportunities, you can evaluate each idea not just on its own merits, but against other competing concepts as well.
There are many methods to lead structured brainstorming activities that can be used to collect a variety of user stories. It’s amazing the number of valuable ideas this process will generate.
I ran this exercise with one of the largest airports in the world (based on passenger volume) and we identified over 650 use cases. (And that was just the first pass!)
This is not a one-time exercise, but something best performed episodically, to refresh and expand the possibilities. Also, consider creating avenues—like a virtual suggestion box—for employees to submit ideas all along the way.
Then, with an objective scoring mechanism, it’s easy to identify which ideas are not just good on their face but are also ones that are within the reach of the organization to deliver. Scoring should take into consideration each idea’s business value and technical complexity. Think about the company’s readiness to adopt each idea, too.
In the end, you'll determine which apps provide the greatest value to the organization. That will let you can easily decide which to build first.
Armed with a richer, prioritized list of initiatives to pursue, it’s a lot easier to rally the organization around the vision for mobility. Plus you will then be well positioned to build dozens—perhaps scores—of apps that deliver strategic value and burnish the top , and bottom, line.
NB: Images via Shutterstock, Apperian 2016 Executive Enterprise Mobility Report, Propelics, and TinyEye.