How Mobile Will Truly Transform Retail
For all the transformational power surrounding mobile technology, some organizations have yet to use mobile to change how business gets done. Certainly, consumers’ lives are forever changed by wireless and mobile technology, but many enterprises — including retailers — haven't seen a revolution as much as a slow drizzle of clunky business applications that employees are, for the most part, loath to use.
The problem is twofold: big businesses have complex needs that can't be solved with a single mobile application. Retailers must go beyond just creating an application to incorporate the operational and analytical components that are necessary to truly enable the consumer and employee experience. And most retailers, because of legacy systems in place, don't have the data or information necessary to have a robust mobile environment. Old systems were never built to communicate and connect with each other; they're instead siloed, making data inaccessible.
Secondly, the more powerful and complex applications are usually less intuitive to use, rendering them somewhat useless in the workplace. Most applications are developed to try to boil the ocean — with far too many features. This in turn takes what could be a great, seamless experience into a complicated application that's no longer user friendly.
IBM and Apple expect to overcome these obstacles that thwart the adoption of enterprise mobile solutions by creating a set of applications for retailers as well as providing the services and tools needed to enable a transformation in the enterprise environment. A sales associate on the floor of a department store should be able to immediately tell a shopper whether specific items are in stock and what other items might be of interest. Consumers have come to expect this type of service, and they're only a click or two away from a competitor, so it's vital that employees have the right information at their fingertips at any given moment.
Similarly, store managers should be able to take into account countless variables — e.g., weather — to determine the best time to discount certain items. If these applications are built right, retail managers won't need advanced math degrees and won't have to build complex predictive models to accurately make these sorts of decisions.
Apple and IBM are working on a suite of mobile tools that could dramatically change the workplace for many sectors, including retail. As part of the agreement announced this summer, the companies will develop more than 100 mobile applications that business users can access on their iPhones and iPads. A large percentage of employees around the world use Apple devices for personal purposes. By Apple's estimate, 98 percent of businesses have employees who use a personal iPhone or iPad at work. In fact, we might expect that figure to grow, especially since many companies are instituting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that allow employees to use their own phones or tablets to access work-related software or information.
This is only the beginning. This fall, enterprises — including retailers — will have a new class of mobile tools to choose from. Once employees have access to these applications, the way they work will change … for the better.
Rodney Bryant is a retail expert and consultant in IBM Global Business Services.