Only half of large companies have strong mobile strategies

IBM survey of 600 companies in 29 countries found just a handful with effective mobile commerce, worker efficiency strategies

More than six years after the first iPhones hit the streets and more than three years after the iPad emerged, less than half of IT operations have implemented comprehensive mobile strategies.

An IBM/Oxford Economics survey of 600 businesses in 29 countries and interviews with 30 mobile leaders found just a handful of companies have put in place strategies to take full advantage of mobile commerce and worker efficiency.

All the companies in the study had more than $500 million in annual revenues, with one-third posting sales of more than $5 billion a year.

"The mobile challenges that organizations are wrestling with are much the like the challenges they saw when dealing with the emerging Internet 15 years ago," said Eric Lesser, an author of the study and a research director at IBM's Institute for Business Value.

Only 50% of the organizations surveyed agreed that their mobile strategy is aligned with the overall business strategy. Even fewer said their organizations had set up a clear funding mechanism for mobile, or had an established governance structures for mobile initiatives.

In an interview, Lesser said the findings of the study do clearly show that an effective mobile strategy can provide "huge opportunities" both within an organization -- better worker efficiency -- and outside it -- better consumer engagement.

Of the mobile strategy leaders (about 14% of the total participants), 73% reported measurable returns from mobile investments. Some said that a key benefit of using mobile technology to improve employee productivity is faster customer response time -- answering complaints and requests, or fulfilling orders.

Of the industry leaders, 51% percent of banks in the study reported measurable returns on investment from their mobile maneuvers, compared to 34% for other organizations.

The survey sought input on a broad range of topics, including mobile security, integration of devices with existing technology, and the challenges of setting up Bring-Your-Own-Device initiatives.

In one area, mobile leaders said they have found success in bringing the Chief Marketing Officer into the mobile planning process earlier, Lesser noted. A senior advisor to an electronics company quoted as saying that it's important in mobile strategy planning to "make sure the voice of the customer is heard by the engineer."

A recent trend is incorporating social networking into mobile technology, which offers companies the opportunity to have workers gain almost instant feedback from colleagues on problems they facing. Not only is the feedback faster, it can come from company experts in other parts of the globe, noted Kevin Custis, head of IBM's social business and mobile practices.

"Workers used to tell colleagues at a bar at the end of the day, 'Have you run into this?' and now you can send a direct text around the world to get answers to client questions in possibly minutes. The integration of mobile and social is the next wave," Lesser said.

A 20-page report on the full study can be downloaded at http://ibm.co/mobileibv. Completion of a short survey is required.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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