This post is contributed by Dann Wilson, ecommerce consultant and resident mobile expert here at Elastic Path.
Launching mobile commerce within an organization requires a sound Mobile Strategy and a well-defined roadmap to ensure the right items are prioritized and that actionable results can be quickly obtained. There are so many options – both technical and business based – that it is important to step back, look the business and marketing strategy, and to determine how mobile fits in at the strategic level.
On the technical side, core ecommerce and marketing services such as content merchandising and discovery, checkout and payment, and content delivery can be provided to traditional desktops, as well as new devices like smartphones, tablets, TV’s and BlueRay players through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)*. The API’s standardize the interfaces which apps, sites or products need to access, simplifying integration and providing common tools and technologies which are scalable and well documented.
*Defined at the end of the article.
One the business side, understanding core organizational Vision and Objectives for Mobile, as well as having a business value prioritized roadmap establishes guidelines to be used when making detailed scope / process decisions. Recommendations from the Mobile Strategy will guide implementation and help to avoid pitfalls as well as forming a point of reference to evaluate detailed priorities against. Mobile roadmaps that are well communicated and aligned with other priorities across the organization are more actionable, and will be supported by the many stakeholders and team members who need to provide resources and decision making inputs during implementation.
Mobile Vision and Objectives
Before diving to deeply into the functional needs of the Mobile implementation, it’s key to get a solid understanding of the Vision and Objectives. This diagram shows a high level summary of the key things to be considered:
Here is an overview of each of the components which together help shape the Vision and Objectives:
Mobile Vision – Discuss and define current vision of mobile, as it is currently understood. Keep things at a high level from the perspective of requirements; don’t get to bogged down in the details of how things will be accomplished.
Near/Long term Goals – Define what goals the mobile web or apps which are being considered will strive to meet. What goals are important to be fulfilled sooner rather than later? Which can be deferred till a later time?
Mobile SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) – It’s important to understand the landscape specific to your company’s mobile space. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities do you think mobile commerce has to offer your organization? What threats exist in regards to your mobile offering?
Mobile Competitive Analysis – What are your competitors doing in mobile currently? Do you know what they have planned for the future? Any lessons your competitors have learned which you can leverage to avoid similar pitfalls?
IT / Business Alignment – It’s critical that out of the gate there is a strong synergy between the Technical teams that will implement and operationalize your mobile implementation and the business departments including Marketing, Sales and Content who will define and refine what is to be delivered. Launching into the mobile space is just the start of a long term engagement which will require ongoing maintenance and continuous improvement from the day of your initial release.
Governance – Establishing a strong governance approach for the collection and prioritization of scope for mobile, as well as an ongoing approach to keeping Strategy refreshed and making key tactical decisions quickly is critical to keeping up with the fast moving mobile environment.
Unique Selling Proposition – What is it that distinguishes your mobile site / apps from your competition? How will you articulate your unique value proposition?
Establishing well defined Vision and a clear list of easily consumed Objectives which embodies the information collected in the items above. This is the key to starting off your Mobile Strategy with a consistent understanding across all of the stakeholders.
Once a clear definition of the Vision and Objectives is established, diving deeper into the mobile-specific requirements / needs for the project can be initiated. The following diagram outlines the key areas to ensure focus on while defining the Mobile Strategy, in preparation for Implementation and Optimization:
User Experience – The key to any good user experience strategy is to ensure that that all interfaces are built with a strong understanding of your user and their goals. Partnering this information with the context of use (understanding who will be using it, when they will use it and why they will use) is especially critical to the design and success of any mobile app or site.
Centralized User Profile – While mobile is trending up, traditional web site access, and the plentitude of different tablet / laptop screen sizes available, customers are interacting with businesses using multiple devices on a more and more frequent basis. It’s not uncommon to begin some action on a laptop, continue it on the way home from a smart phone, then to pick up the tablet when home to finish things off. The Centralized User Profile is key to collecting all specifics about a user in a single place, and to ensuring context is saved as users move from one device / app / site to the next.
Content Management – in the digital goods space, Content is the primary product which is being sold. A well designed content management system, with well conceived content acquisition and curation tools and processes is key to ensuring customers can browse/search and access the content which is relevant and of value to them. The delivery of content, especially to global customers also requires a solid plan utilizing content delivery network (CDN) for scalability and performance.
Devices, Sites, Apps – There are more combinations available than ever when considering where to target implementation resources, and the technologies and interfaces being built today will quickly be eclipsed by the changes from tomorrow. Ensuring that data and content are structured for consumption by both today’s and tomorrow’s interfaces and applications is critical. Meta data, relationships between content, and various form factors for assets enable future interfaces to consume content as needed. Building applications to consume and test content in the many different formats and styles available today can be continuously leveraged for improvement.
Marketing, Sales, Technology and Customer Input – it’s important to have a structured was of receiving and prioritizing input from Marketing, Sales, Technology and Customers is a way which ensuring urgent input can be considered and taken action on swiftly. Inputs from the various stakeholders will impact both Tactical priorities as well as being considered when strategic updates are being made to plans and roadmaps.
IT and Infrastructure – At the heart of the whole ecommerce implementation – and even more importantly for mobile – is a solid, extensible platform and a responsive IT team who work collaboratively with business to roll out continuous improvements to the platform, its integrated services and the many front ends including mobile sites and apps.
Analytics and Optimization – Ensuring that mobile analytics systems and mobile A/B and multivariate testing tools are rolled into the overall optimization data capture, and that actionable result are generated, are key to ensuring the systems are continuously improved over time.
Entitlements and Digital Rights Management – For digital goods, a centralized entitlements engine (digital rights), which is aware and in real-time sync with all channels that customers may be using, is critical to providing an integrated experience to users who access services and content from multiple devices.
Roadmap – All requirements and inputs are grouped into items, which are then prioritized and scheduled on the program roadmap. Many organizations have multiple roadmaps, one for each major product or channel that they support. When new items are added to the queue for implementation, they often have components that span multiple teams’ roadmaps (e.g. Marketing Roadmap, Platform/API Roadmap, Mobile App roadmap, etc. could all be impacted when a new feature is added to a mobile app).
Note that each of the items above is a key component to mobile commerce, though in many cases the mobile specific requirements are shared across multiple other touch points including web sites/portals and interfaces to other systems which are customer facing.
Key Stages to Mobile Enablement
To get started, most organizations are working through a big-picture strategy, then aligning the many priorities which come out of the planning exercise into 2 stages. The first stage is the initial launch and must have functionality. The second stage is a set of roadmap items which are required following the initial launch. The Strategy will allow for a value of each item to be determined, to ensure that priorities are based on both business and IT requirements and that the biggest return items are enabled first.
For organizations where mobile is still all new, it is recommended that the initial phase of their projects includes an initial mobile-optimized web site. Once a basic mobile-optimized/targeted site is in place, additional efforts for mobile apps is often taken on as a second/third phase. Selecting which functionality, what platform, and how urgently the apps need to get to market is all part of understanding the overall Mobile Strategy and is mapped out on the Mobile Roadmap. The following diagram shows a) a typical approach to getting the Mobile Strategy in place, and b) the build out of the Mobile Optimized Web, then c) 1 or more Mobile Apps:
So what are the next steps to beginning the mobile journey? Initially the strategy needs to be defined, and high level priorities need to be selected. Those priorities will be associated with multiple changes required to both platform and other aspects of the systems and internal processes. Establishing the priorities and then bringing them together with the other organization priorities for ecommerce, and then visualizing them on a common view Roadmap, is an effective way to break down the challenge, and make it actionable.
The following diagram shows how Business, Marketing, IT and Customer inputs are collected into a pool of Requirements / Needs. These items then have their business value determined and then they are prioritized and assigned to the one or more roadmaps which will be involved in enabling the new features. It’s important to note that following a functionality release, the same stakeholders are continuously involved in providing the next round of inputs for the next round of functionality extensions, optimizations and continuous improvement.
The most direct and effective way to provide a unified multi channel view including mobile phone / tablet / PC and other devices is to leverage existing ecommerce functionality, exposing it through an open architecture, stable integration framework, and documented APIs. This will allow rapid development of features and integrations in a scalable and cost effective way. To truly understand where to start a Mobile Strategy is used to collect input from stakeholders and to collaboratively establish a prioritized roadmap which outlines priorities and their relative sequence.
Upon completion of the Strategy and once the understanding of key requirements around Mobile Web Optimization and specific device / app needs are defined specific project estimates / budgets can be defined and the implementation stage can be initiated.
*API definition: An Application-Programming Interface (API) is a set of programming instructions which allows the software of one system to communicate with the software of another system. When a user interface needs to interact with systems to perform a specific task (for example when you click a button to check out) the front end portal/Interface sends the required information to the back end systems and receives the resulting output using an API to communicate. The benefit of API’s is that they are well documented and made available to internal and external developers providing a consistent and supported way of interfacing with systems.