It’s been fifteen years now since the Global Mobile Commerce Forum launched in 1997, at a hotel in Heathrow Airport. They talked about “the delivery of electronic commerce capabilities directly into the consumer’s hand, anywhere, via wireless technology” and “a retail outlet in your best customer’s pocket”. In a rather quaint and rare example of a forecast that was horribly understated as the dot com boom got underway, they even predicted that there would be as many as 150 million mobile telephony users by the year 2000. Ah, we were innocent then!
I’m not in the habit of making up words, as there are plenty good ones to go around, many of them lamentably underused. Nevertheless, there is a trend upon us that defies conventional description, and for want of le mot juste, I’ve decided that applification (and its derivatives) best captures it. I’m talking, of course, about how apps have come to dominate the thinking of digital consumers, and, increasingly, service providers as well. Everything, it seems, is an app – or wants to be one. We used to have web sites, services, APIs, email addresses, phone numbers (how quaint!), even computers and software. Now, we have apps.
Microsoft today announced a write down of $6.2bn in their online advertising business, essentially wiping out their $6.3bn acquisition of aQuantive in 2007, and conceding defeat in the online display ad segment. Display ads are a particular part of the ad business, dominated by Google through it’s acquisition of DoubleClick (in a competitive process against Microsoft) shortly before the Redmond behemoth completed its largest ever acquisition at that time. Search advertising – with Bing – and other parts of its ad portfolio remain, but there are concerns.
Most service providers have a multi-channel strategy, or a digital channel strategy, or some strategic objective to achieve “the right channel mix”. In a typically inside-out view of the world, each new channel that emerges (social media is a “new” channel, for example) is added to the others, and attempts are made to leverage unified processes so that there’s an integrated view of the customer, or a 360 degree view of the customer.
Meanwhile, the entire retail industry is digitizing. Just as IBM (who, in the interests of full disclosure, pay the wages of your correspondent) is talking about the increased importance of the CMO, Forrester have come out with some new research about how eBusiness is moving to the c-Suite. Apple has revolutionised the mobile phone business, the telco business, the consumer electronics business, and – crucially – the retail business. Everyone is racing to catch up, and while the traditional retailers have been lumbering into the online world ten or more years since mainstream internet adoption became real, suddenly they are being overtaken once again by an integrated digital mobile ecosystem that is further eroding retail conventions. So different retailers have done different things. Tesco and Walmart developed the online channel but both continue to struggle in a world that moves too fast for their scale; Best Buy still writhes in anguish; and Borders went bust. Quoting from Peter Sheldon over at Forrester, “In tomorrow’s Wi-fi connected, digitally enabled store, fixed checkout aisles and cash registers will fade away; instead the entire floor becomes the point of sale.”
There’s a strange dilemma in telco. Worldwide demand for its core product is skyrocketing, and all that the industry can do is complain about it. When you step back from it, it’s quite bizarre. It’s like a spoiled child, given everything they could ever want, with no restrictions, and over-protective parents decrying any attempt at discipline. Then, when the child has to fend for itself in the big bad world, she is totally unequipped to even consider the threats and opportunities that presents.
Yesterday I watched a TED talk on Lessons from Death Row, where a death penalty lawyer talked about how death sentences were reducing in number because death penalty lawyers were intervening earlier and earlier in the process. It was easier to avoid the sentence than to correct it, was the logic. Mr Dow went a step further, however, and said that intervention should happen even sooner – before the murder was committed – because the stories of these guys on death row are 80% the same – broken homes, juvenile justice, and so on. Appropriate, early intervention could save the lives of these people, and of course their future victims. In essence, he was saying that everything was predictable.
Telcos around the world – and you know who you are – have a habit of being really not very useful. Matter of fact, they get into a habit of deliberately constructing cumbersome, poorly priced, stupid products that some people use only because they have to, because there’s no alternative. Innovation in telecom is almost entirely redundant – over and above core connectivity and network engineering, there is almost nothing that the industry has come up with in the last fifty years that anyone could call innovative. Text messaging happened by accident. Mobile telephony should have taken off ten years before it did, except that the telecommunications industry was the one doing it.