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Empowered consumers are changing business practices

As consumers continue to embrace smartphones, businesses are going to have to change some of their practices to continue to satisfy their customers, as well as meet their own employees’ needs.

At the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2009 show earlier this week in San Diego, I met with a retail group and an e-mail service provider both explaining how enterprises need to address the rise of smartphones in business, both externally and internally. Although each company had a slightly different take on the subject, one message was clear: individuals are empowered with the immediate access to information they get from smartphones. They like it, and it’s changing the way they shop, work and play.

The Global Retail Executive Council is a fairly new organization designed to help retailers discover and share best practices to find sustainable business models in the retail industry and to find new ways to continue to engage with customers, said Jim Crawford, executive director of the group. Mobility is an obvious way to engage with consumers. Today the most common example is through text messaging to get a loyalty coupon. But the retail market can get much more creative, using applications like augmented reality services, Crawford said. Imagine a shopper with a nut allergy in the grocery store aisle. Using mobile technology, products that are nut-free could “light up,” making an easier experience for the shopper. A customer walking into an unfamiliar department store could be guided to the proper department using a mapping feature delivered on a wireless handset. “Part of the concept is how do you make the shopping experience better,” Crawford explained.

As with a lot of shifts recently, Apple Inc.’s iPhone changed the status quo. The rise of smartphones means more people are comparison shopping online while they are in a physical store. Is the item cheaper on Today’s consumer can quickly find out. “The consumer is more in charge of the experience,” Crawford said. Retailers need to acknowledge that so they can respond.

Internal communications

The increased popularity of smartphones is also changing how IT managers control their internal communications in the enterprise, said John Herrema, CMO of Good Technology Inc. Good, which was acquired by Visto earlier this year, has expanded its e-mail service support to include the iPhone, Android and Web OS operating systems, Herrema said. The company already supports the Windows Mobile and Symbian OSes.

Previously, business employees would sneak their favorite mobile devices “in the back door” at companies, trying to figure out how to connect those devices to the company’s business applications, which was a nightmare for CIOs as they worried how lack of security and other potential problems could impact the enterprise. Today’s employees aren’t bothering to sneak rogue devices in through the back door, Herrema said. They are going in the front door, straight to the IT department and demanding that the company support their devices and operating systems.

Good commissioned a survey earlier a few months ago that found 78% of IT directors said that in the last six to 12 months they have seen an increase in employees wanting to use their own mobile devices, while 28% of companies said they had already suffered a security breach because of an employee’s use of an unauthorized device.

While CIOs may feel they are losing some control over what connects to the enterprise network, this shift also offers them new opportunities. “It’s an amazing opportunity if they approach it the right way.” People are willing to pay for their own devices, and find some middle ground over ongoing data charges, which can lower the overall cost to the enterprise. The IT department can still put management and security procedures in place on the network to prevent the threat of rogue devices taking down the network, he continued.

Two years ago, businesses decided which employees were allowed mobility solutions in the workplace, but today the pool of workers who want wireless access has expanded, Herrema said.

In short, people want to use their smartphones how they want to use them. And businesses have to adapt to that. It sounds like the veritable win-win to me.


Tracy Ford
Former Associate Publisher and Executive Editor, RCR Wireless NewsCurrently HetNet Forum Director703-535-7459 Ford has spent more than two decades covering the rapidly changing wireless industry, tracking its changes as it grew from a voice-centric marketplace to the dynamic data-intensive industry it is today. She started her technology journalism career at RCR Wireless News, and has held a number of titles there, including associate publisher and executive editor. She is a winner of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Silver Award, for both trade show and government coverage. A graduate of the Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Ford holds a B.S. degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis on public relations.

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