Stop Wasting Your Time with Mobile


I hate receipts. Not just hate them, I loathe them. They are nothing more than pocket clutter—an anachronistic holdover from an analog age that I can’t wait to disappear. I can envision myriad ways that mobility can improve upon the lowly paper receipt. Electronic payment seems like the obvious answer. Simply walk up to the register, tap/scan, sign, and you are done. No fuss, no muss, and most importantly, no receipt. But, as much as I detest receipts, the current experience of electronic payment is massively underutilizing the platform’s potential. It is akin to using a tower crane to pick up a penny. Mobility must drastically alter the experience or it risks being a waste of time and resources.

I live in Seattle, home of the famed coffee juggernaut Starbucks. Here you can find a Starbucks coffee shop on every corner in downtown, and sometimes two or three. So I was pleased when I learned that Starbucks was partnering with Square Wallet to accept mobile payments. I thought my afternoon coffee experience was going to leap into the future. After the much-publicized bumps in deployment were worked out, I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t much difference in the payment experience. Instead of pulling cash or card out of my pocket I had to pull out my phone. I didn’t have to sign anything but I did have to select the location and slide to pay. Yes, it was a mobile experience, but it had not really made a difference in my life.

Simply replacing the existing process with same process done via a mobile device usually yields no benefit. Yeah, it’s slick and sexy, but it’s only managed to change which piece of plastic we pull out of our pocket. Instead of grabbing a debit card, I grab my phone. In terms of the steps, the experience is basically the same. It lacks innovation, is tied to the way it has been always done, and only puts a fresh coat of paint on an old outhouse.

Besides the fact that you are not improving the approach, you are missing an opportunity to alter the experience, to find efficiencies in the overall process that only a mobile platform could afford. I pick on this aspect of consumer tech to make a point. However, enterprises are no better off. They are making the same mistakes, or worse, in their approach to mobility. In fact, many enterprises aren’t even making it sexy, it’s just the same bad process displayed in a much smaller window. They mistakenly think they are “going mobile” by offering a mobile interface when all they’ve really done is gone small.

You can see where the enterprise would get it wrong. It is too easy a trap for an engineer or analyst collecting business requirements to just ask how the end user is currently doing such and such a task. From that point it just gets coded that way. This is how processes become entrenched. Along with that, many end users worry that efficiency and improvement mean elimination. They are concerned that their job might be cut and don’t realize they might get to work on higher-order problems.

Luckily, the current Starbucks mobile payment experience isn’t the final word. In fact, their mobile payment partner, Square, actually has further functionality that is not yet implemented at Starbucks. Square allows users to set frequented merchants for Hands-Free Checkout. This means you can walk into the store, select what you want, simply say, “Put it on John Smith,” and walk out. Your purchase is then applied to your credit card. Now that is a change in experience. I don’t have to pull anything out of my pocket, I don’t have to sign anything, I don’t have to bother with a receipt. I get what I need and am on my way in a much more efficient manner.

Enterprises should take their cue from this approach to a change in the experience and efficiency. Some enterprises get it and leverage mobility as an opportunity and excuse for a business process re-do. Others only use mobility as a facade. The trick is to stop spending time looking at how we work and start looking at what we are working on. It is easy to get stuck in the “how” rut. This narrows the field of vision to intermediate steps. It restricts our approach to the tactical. But enterprises need to think like Square and look for strategic changes that re-imagine the work experience based on the capabilities of the platform rather than the way the process currently works.

Enterprises must take the time to look at what the end objective is. The resultant change may be bigger in scope than imagined. It may involve business process, it may involve new infrastructure, it may even involve an org change. But to wholesale just swap out the current process to fit on the screen of a mobile device is a waste of resources and, most importantly, opportunity. Those that get it will soar; those that don’t will sink. You will gain very little through porting the same tired process from the PC over to mobile. Stop wasting your time with mobile. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. You are better off with your existing processes. Like a paper receipt, at least people will know how to ignore it and toss it aside.

Benjamin Robbins is a co-founder at Palador, a mobile strategy and application consultancy located in Seattle, WA. He can be followed on Twitter @PaladorBenjamin.

1 Comment

Filed under Mobile, Mobile-Only, Productivity

One response to “Stop Wasting Your Time with Mobile

  1. Well said, Benjamin. Mobile in itself is rarely the end goal. It’s a tool that improves experiences, increases efficiencies and ideally cuts costs. Enterprises should be looking further into the future, first asking themselves what they’re trying to achieve, what business outcomes are they trying to drive. Then think through how mobile can get them there. Those who can think about transformation are the leaders.

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