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The iOS and Android platforms have brought the power of mobile apps to millions of consumers. A side effect of this revolution is the pressure on CIOs to launch consumer mobile service apps over and above the pressure to mobilize their existing employees. The temptation is to just quickly build an app instead of comprehensively thinking about a consumer mobile service.

Angry Birds is a fantastic app, full of sizzle. However, if it were to stop working, there is no phone number to call and you are on your own researching the Internet to find possible causes of failure. (Angry Birds is great, and thankfully, it doesn’t seem to ever stop working!)

Now compare that to the eBay mobile app. You have all the power of eBay within the app. You can bid, be notified and make purchases. The app may not have the sizzle of Angry Birds, but it has all the muscle of eBay’s platform behind it.

This is an important distinction for enterprises to consider as they launch mobile consumer services. Consumers want sizzle, but the service needs to also have the muscle to support the large number of users that may end up using it. Sizzle without muscle invariably fizzles.

Let’s say a utility company wants to improve its customer engagement and goes down the path of launching an app that provides information on outages. The company plans for 30,000 concurrent users, which is adequate for normal outages. Then, in comes a hurricane, which brings over a million users to the mobile service over an extended period of time. The company faces a dilemma:  Does it change its hardware plan to accommodate such outlying peaks in capacity, design the system to scale automatically, or switch to alternate means of getting the message out (such as radio, TV, email and social media) in extreme circumstances? These are all good questions to ponder apart from the app itself, which brings me to the core requirements of launching a consumer mobile service.

When thinking of a mobile consumer service, consider how to:
  •     Handle multiple mobile channels, including smartphone apps, mobile web, SMS, USSD, etc.
  •     Scale from hundreds of thousands to millions of users.
  •     Execute channel-specific and other relevant business logic in the mid-tier, separate from existing applications.
  •     Support via Web channel customer self care, self-registration, customer support portals, etc.
  •     Provide standards-based mechanisms to connect to backend systems.

Taking this larger view makes it clear that the app on the phone is really the tip of the iceberg when launching a mobile consumer service.

Sybase has a history of successfully launching mobile consumer services for clients that include QTel Mobile Money, DBBL Mobile Money, Celcom Aircash, and MyClear MyMobile.

We’ve just announced that a new version of the platform used to build and run these services will ship at the end of March. It includes new capabilities that make it easier to build applications for SMS/USSD and tools to build apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and mobile Web. It comes pre-built with a series of use cases that support the common functions of account management, P2P transfer of airtime and money, international remittance, airtime top-up, bill pay and transfers. In addition, it has pre-built portals to manage customer registration, self-care and support, merchant registration, self-care and support, agent hierarchy, dashboard for operations and more. In short, it provides all the capabilities that provide both the sizzle and the muscle required for a successful mobile consumer service.

Consider: it’s not just the banks and telcos launching mobile consumer service apps. Companies in almost every industry, including utilities, retail, consumer products, oil and gas, are launching mobile applications for consumers. In many cases, the aim is to improve customer engagement and interact directly with end customers—sometimes for the first time, as many types of companies have not traditionally had that ability. For example, consumer products companies predominantly deal with distributors and not with end customers. With a mobile application, however, they can engage with their customers and collect data that can help with product planning.

The requirements I listed above are common across all industries considering a mobile service for consumers. The key is not getting trapped in the pressures of launching an app without thinking about it in the context of a mobile consumer service. And for this, I recommend a platform that provides the sizzle for excitement and the muscle for building reliable applications that can scale to meet consumer demand.

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