While some are still grappling with strategy decisions, other key business leaders are driving powerful, sometimes radical, changes in the way their enterprises operate, serve customers and employees, and create new value. What is propelling this change? Mobility technologies that meet an increasing need to work and live "on the go."
Billions of mobile devices, connected to always-on Internet infrastructure and services, are transforming the way people work and communicate, and invent, deliver and deploy products, solutions and services. How these technologies are adapted and leveraged by businesses can make or break an enterprise in today's volatile global markets.
Interactions with technology are no longer confined to the personal computer; anything with a microchip can become smart and connected. Soon, all these connected tools will serve as platforms for the delivery of Internet-based services. Imagine a future where personalized, useful e-services are delivered to end users over an always-on Internet infrastructure to intelligent connected devices and environments. And when end users are on the move, they are able to draw upon not only the usefulness of a single device, such as a phone, but upon all the resources that surround them in each new environment they encounter. To those unprepared, the business implications can be as potentially disruptive today as were the invention of the airplane, the deployment of railroads and the telephone when first introduced. Opportunities abound, however, for those with the expertise to identify and take full advantage of mobile applications and their infrastructure.
According to research done by Hewlett-Packard, billions of dollars in possible business revenue is lost each year due to a lack of services available to people on the move. That's an enormous new business revenue potential that can be tapped by the business transformation process, which results in simply applying the always-on Internet and wireless connectivity to reach and serve the mobile customer. By understanding the interplay between e-services, intelligent connected devices and environments, and an always-on Internet infrastructure, technology can be used to transform whole industries. For example:
- Retail - Today, the on-line purchasing of goods at sites such as Amazon.com and others is viewed as a threat to traditional storefronts. Within the next two years to three years, Internet shopping will be combined with retail outlets' physical locations to draw in additional customers. One vision of the future mall shopper is that he or she, while on vacation, will go to a store to browse but not buy; after seeing, feeling and testing the merchandise, he or she will buy it online and not have to carry it around while on the trip. This will provide high per-foot volume in stores and enable retailers to capture many mobile consumers who would not want to tote purchases.
- Automotive - Most consumers have never talked to their cars' manufacturers. With an Internet connection built into the car, a direct relationship between the customer and the manufacturer is established, opening the way for the selling of additional products and services, thus building consumer brand loyalty. Additionally, the "connection" could be used by drivers and passengers to call ahead to make dinner reservations, check arrival and departure schedules or keep abreast of traffic conditions while en route. Emergency assistance could be summoned, or a familiar radio station from back home could be piped in while in another city.
- Sports - Teams have dedicated fans, and these fans can be transformed into loyal consumers of associated goods and services without adding staff and facilities. Football teams, for example, through an ever-present Internet, can connect with the fans all week long instead of just on game days - holding their interest and building a merchandising relationship. When season ticket holders go to the stadium, the team can have their favorite snack, souvenir, etc. ready and available for them.
To help business transformation visionaries view and experience first-hand how these new mobile e-services will transform the way they operate and interact with customers and employees, HP has built a series of physical "Cooltown" facilities around the world. Built to provide a glimpse of this soon-to-be mobile digital world today, each Cooltown site features a series of demonstrations that show everyday scenarios in which tomorrow's e-services enhance the way we live, work and play. The demonstrations show a world where everything and everyone is connected to the Web through wired or wireless links. People are mobile, appliances are connected, and services are available everywhere.
Today, HP takes business strategists through Cooltown and helps them to see how their companies can play into the future digital economy by encouraging probing questions like: "Where are my next market opportunities? Will we or will our competitors own them? How will we move away from business as usual in order to create new revenue streams and efficiencies while simultaneously holding the existing customer base and gaining new customers?" These business and industry architects are the movers and shakers, ready to transform their enterprises and take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the Internet, e-services, mobility and other technologies now available and being developed. And their vision, comfort and experience with technology will make it happen!
To get a handle on some of the challenges facing companies as they work through a major business transformation process, I spoke with Doug McGowan, the head of a business transformation SWAT team at HP that is focused on helping customers change the way they operate and serve their clients. In McGowan's experience, the most notable challenges that arise are:
- Resistance to change - It's human nature to like the status quo and resist "upsetting the apple cart." This is perhaps one of the toughest obstacles for the "transformation champion" to overcome within the enterprise.
- Communications - Actually, the lack thereof between decision-makers and implementers can quickly derail the best of plans. The communication ties, both up and down the business, need to be very carefully managed to address discrepancies and take into account different agendas, personalities, perceptions, etc.
- Time lines - A major business transformation is an extended project that can take years to implement, and at some point, decisions need to be made regarding technologies/processes that will be adopted. For example, in the biotech industry, research and test data can take years to accumulate and many more years to develop an actual product.
- Relationship modification - The lines between contractors, suppliers, and vendors are changing. The business needs to learn how to partner with these providers instead of treating them like underlings.
- Remaining "tuned-in" - A company must keep up with current technology on an ongoing basis, before, during and after the business transformation project, to ensure that the enterprise retains its "cutting-edge" competitive advantage.
HP's McGowan believes that "a successful business transformation strategy begins by first looking at your customers and asking yourself these questions: 'How can I know my customer better?' 'How can I better serve this customer?' And, 'How can I gain his or her loyalty?' " Then, according to McGowan, ask yourself, "How can the future evolution of the Internet help me achieve these goals?" With this front end accomplished, it's time to embark on the business transformation project itself. It will have the best chance of success if:
- Senior management buys into the strategy and vision early. There needs to be a top-down commitment to the transformation process; all VIPs should be engaged. The project will not succeed if it is led by a small team of rebels, and it will not come to fruition unless the right set of expertise and minds is made available to work on it.
- Partners are selected carefully. Your business transformation partners must share your vision and understand where the applicable technology is headed. They should have experience with every facet of the project (e.g., business, consumer and, if necessary, expertise in devices infrastructure and services as appropriate).
- Knowledge transfer occurs. Most companies need some additional outside assistance to help with a major business transformation project. Ensure that your partnering company is prepared to transfer knowledge to your employees to avoid never-ending (and expensive) consulting engagements.
- Relationship with partners is solid. Strong links at the executive level between the company and its project partners (vendors) is a necessity.
Business transformation into the new digital economy has already started. It will really take off over the next two years to five years. So, ask yourself, "Where do I want to be in five years? How do I manage change?" It takes vision to push out far enough to change the paragon and then see how to get there.
Ron Levine is a Computer Information Systems instructor at Santa Barbara City College and writes about computer technology under the name Coast Writing. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.