Magazine article Financial Management (UK)

Join the Mobile Revolution: Mobile Technology Is Set to Change the Way Companies Address Customer Relations. Gavin Hinks Looks into the Role It Could Play in Business

Magazine article Financial Management (UK)

Join the Mobile Revolution: Mobile Technology Is Set to Change the Way Companies Address Customer Relations. Gavin Hinks Looks into the Role It Could Play in Business

Article excerpt

I write this sitting in Starbucks, but I'm not here for my favourite decaf latte. I'm here because I can hook up my laptop to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection between meetings.

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Here's what I did. I saved my draft article in Google docs, then looked to see if my wife is out in the evening by checking a shared diary we've lodged on the web. Using my phone, I bought cinema tickets and took a call from, and sent an email to, a commissioning editor. I checked my bank account to see if another had paid me yet and transferred money to settle the service charge on my flat. Then it is on to the website of my five-year old daughter's school. She has a personalised page, where I can access reading, writing and maths exercises and check progress on this term's curriculum. I might even go to the Starbucks website, add credit to my store card and have another latte.

Aside from the fact that Starbucks is fast becoming my preferred wireless workplace, do you get the picture? The internet and, moreover, mobile communications, have moved to the centre of our lives.

In some of these cases I am a customer, and my experience is enhanced by the ability to engage online. I don't have to wait, the information is immediate and I'd like to think that interaction in this way is reducing the overall cost to me, the consumer and client.

But industry advisers and analysts insist that the take-up of mobile technology as a business tool is still in its infancy. A forthcoming report from technology analysts Ovum will argue that even large international banks are struggling to come to terms with the spread of tablets and the resulting demand for functionality from corporate customers.

It's worth putting the development of mobile communications into some kind of context. First, it's not just about the latest shiny handset. iPhones and iPads may be game changers, but without the development of cloud computing--the delivery of computing services via the Internet--the mobile comms revolution would not be possible.

And the changes are happening fast. Last month, Apple reported an 88 per cent leap in iPhone sales and Indicated that it believes tablet sales will reach 300-400 million and outstrip PCs by 2015. Market researchers IDC say that worldwide smartphone sales will increase by 33.5 per cent in 2012 to 494.2 million handsets. Tech analysts Forrester predict that the world market for cloud computing will grow from [pounds sterling]24.9bn in 2011 to more than .[pounds sterling]148bn by 2020.

It's not as if companies have not taken advantage of the advances in mobile communications. A TV ad break can reveal brands such as Tesco, Barclays and Lovefilm touting their websites and mobile applications as a means of engaging with their customers.

Analysts say it is still "early days", but some companies are providing a lead. Advancetrack is an outsourcing company that provides accountancy services from an Indian centre to accountancy firms in the UK. Key to the company's development has been to ensure clients are able to monitor the progress of their work through the Internet. This enables accountants in the UK to use a smartphone or tablet to access updates on work under way in India in real time via a secure website.

Advancetrack owner Vipul Sheth says a browser-based system means that he and his staff are liberated from providing constant updates, leaving them free to concentrate on strategic issues.

"Almost from the outset I said that we have to have this because without it my time and my staff's time is unnecessarily taken up just to tell customers the status of a job," says Sheth.

But Sheth's real interest is focused on the way his service changes the relationship between a supplier and their clients. Advancetrack deepens the connection with clients by offering painful levels of honesty and, hopefully, a new sense of trust. …

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