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Going Mobile – the importance of mobility to companies.

Mobile devices including smartphones and tablets, are now the computing platform of choice for many business users and consumers. Together with cloud computing, big data analytics and social, mobility is one of the most disruptive and fast moving business IT trends that is changing the way financial services firms, retailers, content providers and others interact with their customers.

It is also enabling new entrants like PayPal and Square in banking, Amazon and eBay in retail and WhatsApp and Kakao in messaging to challenge the business models or industry incumbents, forcing them to adapt or die. For example, ‘showrooming’ which involves shoppers checking out merchandise in physical stores but then buying from rivals online, usually at a lower price and often using a mobile device, has already forced the closure of many big-box retailers in the U.S.

Even Internet-based businesses including those built on advertising like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, are racing to keep up with the shift to mobile, reworking their business models to tap into the social-mobile trend. And the pace of change is accelerating.

Consider this: Less than a decade ago, BlackBerry, Nokia and Motorola ruled the nascent smartphone world – there were no Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxies or online app stores. Today Blackberry is a shadow of its former self struggling to cling onto its low single digit market share, Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft and Motorola has bought by Lenovo after a brief dalliance as a Google subsidiary. Like many former BlackBerry owners, I mostly used my old BlackBerry Curve for email – browsing was too painful an experience.

Now I travel with a corporate iPhone and my personal Samsung Galaxy Note 3 which is loaded with powerful apps like Google Maps, Intuit’s Mint and MyHome, an app that enables me to control my Control 4 home automation system including lights, heating system and security cameras remotely. Last year alone, consumers downloaded an estimated 80bn apps.

Much of the time, my Android based device is paired via a Bluetooth connection to a smartwatch or ‘fitness’ band highlighting the expanding role smartphones are playing in the growth of ‘wearable tech’ and the Internet of Things. The sensors in these handsets and wearable devices, are generating huge volumes of data including valuable GPS tracking information which I can choose to share, or not to share, with third parties. Once analyzed in real, or near real-time, this data will be used to create new personalized services such as location-based services or in-store discounts.

During my daily rail commute I am surrounded by business people watching YouTube video clips and Netflix movies on their tablets and smartphones, listing to streaming music from Spotify and iTunes and yes, accessing their corporate IT systems over their mobile broadband connections. Like me, these commuters make no distinction between the digital devices they use – they expect the cloud-based services, apps and data they use on their desktop at work, laptop or other mobile device to follow them seamlessly wherever they go and whatever device they are using.

That creates enormous challenges for the companies that deliver these services, but it is a challenge they must embrace by creating screen, device, location and network-agnostic apps that are both secure and simple to use. In a keynote at the CTIA Mobile conference in Las Vegas this week, SAP’s chief executive, Bill McDermott, will showcase the company’s latest views on mobility as a disruptive but positive influence for businesses. Like other business leaders at CTIA, he will speak  against the backdrop of an extraordinary global transformation.

Today there are an estimated 7bn mobile devices in the world – more than three times the number of PCs. In many markets, particularly those in developing countries, mobile devices are the primary way people access the Internet and conduct banking and other transactions. Bolstered by fast growing ‘new’ entrants like China’s Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi (now the fifth largest smartphone maker in the world)  ZTE and Coolpad, Android-based devices now account for more than an 80 per cent share of the global smartphone market.

There are now over 11,000 Android device variants and the number is growing as part of a process that Rick Costanzo, SAP’s head of Mobility, describes as ‘ accelerated device fragmentation.’ That makes it imperative for companies to avoid a device centric approach that constrains growth, and build HTML5-based  apps that can run on any device. These next generation apps will preserve the rich user experience that only dedicated or ‘native’ apps (designed to run on a limited group of devices) have traditionally been able to deliver.

At the same time, Costanzo argues that the ubiquity of mobile apps will drive a new innovation cycle built on cloud-based services characterized by mobile applications that are more powerful, more contextual more personal and simpler to use. By some estimates, this new mobility-enabled networked economy could be worth $90 trillion by 2020 compounding the disruptive impact of the other major IT trends and throwing up new industry segment winners and losers.

It is a thrilling transformation and for most businesses, it’s only just begun. Look for McDermott to make the point about business transformation through a lens many don’t associate with SAP: professional sports.

Let me know what you think…..

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