Aug 26 2014   10:59PM GMT

The Vatican speaks to mobile disruption, so does Clinique

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci


If you want to know what the next few years will bring in mobile computing, look to the Vatican,  Alan Murray said to  a roomful of Boston techies. Up on the screen was an image of St. Peter’s Square during the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, packed with people. Eight years later at the inauguration of Pope Francis, the same scene is emblazoned by  mobile devices held overhead to record the event — a testament to the rapid and widespread adoption of mobile technology, if nothing else.

“By the year 2020, almost all of your revenue will come from a product that doesn’t exist now,” Murray boldly predicted. “Mobile is becoming transformative for most people and the way people do business.”

Murray, who heads up the product roadmap at Apperian, a mobile application management vendor, knows how to make an impression. A picture is worth 1000 words; so is a good sound bite. He was speaking at this summer’s Mass TLC Mobile Summit, along with the Jim Whalen, the longtime CIO at Boston Properties, the REIT founded by mogul Mort Zuckerman.

The topic of the session was “Developing an enterprise mobile strategy to deliver innovation and accelerate opportunity.” And the high-level message from both Whalen and Murray was pretty straightforward: Figure out mobile economics now or risk being harmed by a competitor that has.

Murray didn’t just mouth off about mobile disruption. Like the excellent salesman he no doubt is, he came armed with examples of companies that are essentially disrupting their own business models by exploring how they can exploit mobile computing. For example:

  • Netflix clawed its way back from near-extinction in its DVD-only days by “embracing new surfaces” compatible with mobile computing, namely streaming; it’s also creating digital content to build customer loyalty and as a hedge against rising licensing fees. (PS: IMHO, the fact that Netflix was shut out of last night’s Emmys doesn’t mean TV and cable don’t view the online model as a threat.)
  • Barclays Plc, the British multinational banking and finance company, has taken the radical step of not offering a corporate email address to any employees under the age of 24, unless they request one.  The fact that those employees may all end up asking for email accounts doesn’t matter, according to Murray. “They’ve done it to force themselves to think about new ways to engage in a post-email world,” he said.
  • Cisco rolled out a mobile app that shortened its sales approval cycle from days to hours.

Whether Cisco’s mobilized sales approval process actually improves the velocity of sales; or streaming content turns Netflix into an entertainment powerhouse; or a no-email policy ingratiates Barclays to millenials, of course, is another matter. At least the business process is not the rate limiter.

Mobile technology trumps human touch

Probably the most vivid example Murray gave was about the skincare brand Clinique, which got a nearly instantaneous benefit from using mobile to disrupt its business model. As its name suggests, the brand, which is owned by Estee Lauder, trades on the notion that its products are therapeutic. The white lab coat worn by the sales people behind its store counters reinforces the brand identity.

The shtick, however, was not playing well with the digital natives, so (with the help of Apperian, naturally) Clinique developed a point-of-sale app called Blue Ocean that interacts with customers by initially asking them to take a survey related to skincare. As the customer answers questions about her skin type and skin care regimen, the back end maps to relevant Clinique products. At the end of the survey, which takes about 90 seconds, the app makes some recommendations on what products to buy.

“Turns out, people buy three times as much product from an iPad as they do from a person,” Murray said.

Technology trumps the human touch? I can understand that. It’s natural to feel the salesperson behind the counter has ulterior motives for recommending certain products. Or maybe we lied to the salesperson, so in turn know that any advice we get is suspect. That the iPad sells more than the human being behind the counter just shows how much we’ve come to trust technology, at least for now.

“Clinique hasn’t gotten everyone in the world to buy through iPads, but it has seen an increase in counter revenue of about 30% and this year rolled out 17,000 iPads across 1300 locations,” Murray said.

Clinique’s counter-side iPad is not just keeping its salespeople busy ringing up orders; IT had to put in a brand new content management system to handle the app on the back-end.

Email me at Linda Tucci, executive editor, or find me on Twitter at @ltucci. 

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  • Rachel Lebeaux
    "By the year 2020, almost all of your revenue will come from a product that doesn’t exist now" -- that really sums it up, doesn't it? With disruptive innovation, it's hard to know what's coming next, especially in mobile. Will it be a wearable? Hearable? Another product category entirely?
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