Why do UK Enterprises struggle with mobile as a concept?

Written by Michael Wass

As I write this, it’s been less than twelve hours since I returned from the UK’s premier Mobile conference, Appsworld London.

This was my fourth time attending as an exhibitor. Appsworld tends to create opportunity for many subsidiary events, some of which we attended. My overarching impression from this week’s trip is that the UK, and perhaps Europe, is beginning to lag behind the US when it comes to how mature we are with mobility as a business tool.

The big problem? Apps, and app development. More specifically, the opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs in volume.

Consumers are now mobile. They get it, even if they don’t realise it. I’ve been in this game from an interesting perspective since the emergence of touch-screen smartphones. It began as a kid trying to jailbreak the original iPhone so I could use George Hotz’s sim-unlock. During university, I worked for Apple, starting shortly before the launch of the iPad. I worked with businesses, local authorities, hospitals and charities trying to find ways in which they could make their businesses better by adopting mobile technology and extending their refined consumer habits to the workplace.

For the last three years, I’ve been working with world leading organisations who are trying to make apps themselves. I talk to Mobile Product Managers, CTOs, Project Managers and Technical Architects. I’ve seen good practice and I’ve seen bad practice. The good is very, very good. The bad isn’t quite so bad- but it is uninspiring and can be fixed. Significantly, 70% of the business I’m involved with is US based. We’re delivering this from the North East of England.

Stop trying to catch a whale

We all know somebody who has a great idea for an app. The flood of money pouring into app development, backed by venture capitalists looking to find the next Unicorn has fostered a mobile culture in the UK that focuses on founding a business on the back of an app, rather than creating apps that solve problems hitherto unsolvable within industry.

Now, for entrepreneurs this is great. For innovators, people who are dreaming upnew products and services it is fantastic. For the consumer it’s even better. It’s brought us a more liberalized service economy and has broken the back of rackets that stretch back to the turn of the 20th century. However, we can’t all be Uber. We can’t all be AirBnB. No amount of monetization seminars, no matter how much focus you give to user retention and cost per acquisition, the competition is legion. It’s not even worth checking how many apps are released each day, as the number is skyrocketing as I type.

The next problem is where the money is actually being made. We like to think of an app economy as being driven by innovative service offerings. The value of Uber and AirBnB alone is eye-watering. We think of making money with apps as being the logical end product of providing a service to an install base of every consumer with expendable cash on the planet. The truth? 90% of all money going through the app store comes through Games. You can make money by developing and releasing an app, but at this stage the likelihood is that you aren’t going to. So why bother with mobile app development at all? Am I doom mongering here?

Start trying to find small fixes to big problems

The real beauty of mobile, in a business sense, is that it is the perfect platform to use as a hub of innovation to business problems. Dedicated mobile development teams, made up of mobile first developers, can create rapidly changing internal products that drive down the cost of businesses and foster a culture of creating and fixing. Businesses who view their apps as catalogues, or as web sites on touch screen devices will be far better served by creating an Agile mobile team, equipping them with a UX designer or two and start telling them about the hardest parts of being in business.

Why is it that small teams found entire businesses on good ideas, while huge corporations with enormous budgets cannot work out what to do with devices that now occupy the pockets and spare moments of their own employees?

C-Level executives know they need apps. They’re often the first to admit that they don’t know what they need them for.  My message to senior executives who want to go mobile but don’t know where to start is this:

    • Build an Agile team of developers who love mobile. Don’t make your web developers re-shuffle, unless they’re more fond of mobile than web to begin with.
    • UX Design isn’t a gimmick. It’s emerged as a technology practice, but it’s real existence revolves in helping technical people identify and solve problems that business people have, using solutions that those people want to use.
    • Take Agile/Scrum seriously. You don’t have to be a true believer in the orthodox implementation, but you do have to understand that mobile shines when small teams work together to create and fix things, building outwards with rapid iteration.
    • The value is hard to calculate, but you need to be bold and do it anyway. There may be more short term RoI justification to using the IT principles that have driven your web and desktop systems for a long time, but mobile is different. You have to trust that it’s different and that it’s about solving problems, not pushing products.
    • Touch is the king. It’s what made mobile, it’s what engages. If you’re wondering why your users abandon your apps and revert to web services, it’s because you’re not giving them a superior interactive experience.
    • Wins are small and simple, but add up extraordinarily fast.

The Long Term Money in Mobile is in Enterprise

And it’s not money that’s going to be handed to you. It’s money that you’re going to make by improving your business processes and innovating. It’s future-proofing yourself as much as possible from decades of unimaginable change in the technologies that drive our everyday lives. It’s strategic and long-term.

We’re starting to get it, in the same way the business in the US does. I know of some huge British companies who are doing it the right way. Let’s have this conversation so that more companies can reap the benefit.