Chief Mobile Officer: A job title now timely?

An old idea gets new life as mobile strategies gain importance

The idea of creating a Chief Mobile Officer (CMO) inside corporations isn't a new one. But as companies scramble these days to establish corporate mobile strategies, having a CMO could be a key to success, according to a new Forrester Research report.

Smartphones and tablets are "the manifestation of a much broader shift to new systems of engagement...[with] customers, partners and employees," Forrester said in the 30-page report. "To remain vital in this business technology reformation, CIOs must step up and work with other executives to establish an office of the chief mobility officer to implement an enterprisewide mobile strategy."

One of the report's authors, Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, said in an interview that one of purposes of the report is to get CIOs and CEOs moving faster to provide mobile services and apps.

"We're trying to create awareness with CEOs and CIOs, even though a lot is already happening at the level of practitioners with partner tablet apps and more," Schadler said. "Mobile is one of those things that bites you from behind if you aren't paying attention."

Forrester interviewed 61 companies and found a range of approaches to expanding mobile services. Some companies are eyeing mobile self-service apps for use by customers; others envision an IT group that's focused on how people engage with smartphones and tablets.

In its findings, Forrester said business spending on mobile projects is expected to grow by 100% by 2015, and spending on mobile apps is predicted to hit $55 billion in 2016.

The explosive value of creating mobile apps for customers was obvious in several interviews Forrester conducted. At USAA, for instance, managers expected to get 22 million mobile connections for an app that can "deposit" a check when a customer takes a picture of it and sends it in. USAA got more than five times the expected response.

At Walgreens, Forrester reported, an estimated 25% of Web-based transactions for refills, store locations and general shopping came from a one-year-old mobile app.

Part of the purpose in creating an Office of the Chief Mobility Officer is coordination, Forrester said. "Without it, firms will waste too much time and money as marketing goes after a mobile loyalty app, sales builds tablet apps, the CFO implements mobile expense approvals, the CTO does his app in support of the new smart product line and the head of Asia resellers builds a mobile dealer app," Forrester said.

Forrester suggested that companies set up a 10-to 30-person task force, which would sit between business groups and IT to coordinate and incubate mobile ideas.

Part of the team's role would be to track down current mobile projects already in place, and find out how they're funded and whom they serve. Without naming names, Forrester said one of the companies it interviewed had 100 mobile projects under way; another learned it was supporting 114 different versions of the BlackBerry operating system.

Part of the subsequent role of the task force would be to blend social, mobile and business analytics technologies to better connect workers, customers and partners. In one example, Forrester found that such a mobile architecture team at an unnamed airline refined a mobile seat selector app and saw volume explode from 50,000 to 5 million seat selections a month in the first three months.

Forrester also recommended that estimates for the costs of mobile projects be set higher. The average amount spent on a typical customer mobile app -- $50,000 to $150,000 -- turns out to be just 35% of the true two-year cost, Forrester said.

As a way of measuring the success of the task force and a CMO, Forrester said businesses need to measure more than just Return on Investment. Factors that will matter in the mobile age are how mobile services and apps are adopted, the activity volume with them, the percentage of completion of mobile projects, ratings from users and the social viral influence of the project.

"If an app is highly used and rated, then it's valuable," Forrester said. "If it's unused and dissed, then it's not."

The idea of creating a CMO within organizations has been around for years. Nearly two years ago, some critics of the idea said the recession would prevent organizations from adding someone with that title .

Maybe times have now changed?

Schadler admitted that having all this corporate mobile coordination done by a single chief mobility officer "is perhaps still a little far-fetched." But there has been progress toward the mobile task force idea within business IT groups.

"This is the second inning, maybe, in the mobile baseball game," he said. "Business understands it, but doesn't yet know what to do about it."

Read more about mobile apps and services in Computerworld's Mobile Apps and Services Topic Center.

This story, "Chief Mobile Officer: A job title now timely?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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