Tag: future

What is and what is not a mobile strategy

There is no doubt that there is a boom of applications, the so called “apps”, available for mobile devices. Organizations of all types, private or public, for profit or not, big or small, have embarked themselves in a fever to develop mobile applications. Many of these organizations (because of its leaders) are showing a lack of vision, a misunderstanding of how technology and management of information might be able to transform them in a meaningful way. A way that could be measured and most important, that has a real impact. Impact can be more sales, lower costs, increased customer satisfaction,… or even a combination of all of them.

Managers in these organizations think, and behave consequently, that porting existing applications into mobile devices is great and the way to go. In some cases these actions are helpful but they are far from reaching their maximum potential. Being able to do a task or gather the same information that I can get from my laptop in my mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) is a nice touch but that’s it. I live in a college town, Madison (Wisconsin), with a great university and a great community. Those in charge of the information technologies have developed “Mobile UW” a mobile application, graphically well designed and that provides useful information (directory, campus maps, news, buses routes and schedules, events calendar,…). This a nice first step that many organizations embrace but now it needs to be taken to the next level if we are really serious about transforming the organizations and consequently their impact.

The real value of mobile strategies surfaces when it transforms the way the organizations function as well as the way the organizations interact with their stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, etc.). Porting existing applications to mobile devices might be a nice way for developers to learn and master their programming skills. Transforming organizations does not start within the departments of information technology. It must come from within the rest of departments and units, that together with stakeholders, agree in a new way of doing business. It is after that when we develop the means to put it in practice. Continuing with the same example: the University of Wisconsin – Madison has wonderful spaces available to students, citizens, employees,… such as the Memorial Union, The Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, Union South, etc. that can be used for more and bigger things. I was reading on-line comments and feedback regarding the student orientation, advising and registration service which seems to be great but it seems clear that could be taken to a next level while providing a more personalized and even better service without the constrains of a limited office space. These ideas do not have to come from the department of information technology but from employees, students, etc. of those services (those who do the work every day know it better than anyone) and then it is the IT department the one who has to implement it.

We have to make sure that information technology departments are there to provide services to the organization and not to drive the way business should be done. A mobile strategy, as strategies in general, are designed to achieve a particular goal. Being able to use my mobile device instead of my laptop is not really a goal (it alleviates my back though). A real mobile strategy will redefine the way we work, the way we interact with ours stakeholders, the spaces we work in, the way we live our lives…..it will provide a real transformation.

MBAs vs. Ph.Ds. The debate about innovation is open.

I just finished reading “The Venturesome Economy”, a new book by Columbia Business School Professor Amar Bhidé that I highly recommend. The book focuses on the sources of innovation and why some innovations receive funds from venture capital companies while others do not. The answer seems obvious but, according to Bhidé, it is not. His research leads him to suggest that successful innovation is unrelated to the creation of new solutions but depends instead on inventing new applications for existing solutions.

Over the last few years many articles and lectures, especially by the CEOs of large corporations, have expressed concern about the United States losing its leadership position in innovation against emerging economies, especially India, China and even Brazil. Part of the argument is the lost battle about the so-called hard sciences (Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, etc.) not interesting as many students as they used to. While this is happening in the U.S., emerging economies have focused on ensuring that their most talented students receive the best possible science education. Paradoxically, many of them go to the United States where the percentage of foreign Ph.D students has been growing for the last few years.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his latest book “Outliers”, mentions that Asian students perform much better in Mathematics, Physics, etc. than the rest simply because they work much harder. Many people in the U.S. fear that this will allow these countries to overtake the U.S. in innovation and consequently the emerging market economies will become much stronger and even superior to the U.S. economy.

Professor Bhidé argues that hard work and innovation per-se is not enough. His main argument is based on the idea that U.S. companies are much more sophisticated when it comes to marketing, distribution, sales and customer service. He claims that these are the factors that provide the advantage over the rivals. We all remember the typical examples such as Betamax being better than VHS or HD-DVD being better than Blue-Ray. These technologies did not succeed despite their technical superiority. All the other factors (marketing, distribution, etc.) ended up being more relevant. Bhidé insists that for the U.S. to keep its advantage as an economic power, there is a need for more and better MBAs, not more Ph.Ds.

I believe there are enough arguments on either side to merit more research and debate in the area of innovation, both on technical and business aspects.

Published at Infonomia the week of December 9, 2008.