Who’s Taking the Lead in Mobile Strategy?

On the surface, it might seem that the responsibility for determining how to respond to consumers who use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers to do business should fall squarely on the IT function. For sure, consumers are going to want to check a company’s prices, whether a certain product is in inventory, and perhaps where its closest locations are. And pricing, inventory and location information are typically housed in corporate systems that the IT function manages.

However, in the majority of companies in all four regions of the world, business functions are taking the lead in mobile strategy. (See Exhibit II-2). In North America, about two-thirds of the respondents said non-IT functions were assuming leadership for mobile strategy with consumers. Of that 65%, the marketing function was dominant, cited by 29%, with sales (10%) and customer service (9%) far behind. Some 8% of North American companies had actually created a new unit that they dedicated to determining their strategy for addressing the digital mobile consumer.

One such company is Starbucks, the $11.7 billion operator of coffee houses in 60 countries. In 2009, the company launched a new internal unit called Digital Ventures to focus on new mobile device-enabled services for Starbucks customers. The unit has been instrumental in the company’s pioneering initiatives in digital payments. In the 14 months ending in May 2012, the company reported scanning 45 million payment transactions in its North America stores around the world.8

Importantly, however, in about one third of the companies (33%), the IT function had assumed responsibility for helping the organization figure out its mobile consumer strategy. All to say that the IT department doesn’t at all appear to be a silent partner in this endeavor.

In fact, when we compared the answers of survey respondents who said they were ahead or behind their competitors in responding to the digital mobile consumer, one of the biggest differences was the importance they attached to cross-functional collaboration. Companies that indicated they were ahead (a group we refer to as “the leaders”) gave an average rating of 4.17 (scale of 1-5) to the success factor of “getting departments that work with consumers to work together in a unified way.” They rated only two other factors as more important. In contrast, the “laggards” gave this an average rating of only 3.43, and it was fourth on their list of key success factors.

Exhibit II-2: Q6/Global: Which Department Takes the Lead in
Determining How the Firm Addresses the Digital Mobile Consumer?

Exhibit II-2: Q6/Global: Which Department Takes the Lead in Determining How the Firm Addresses the Digital Mobile Consumer?

In Europe, we found a similar pattern: In 62% of the companies, a business function was leading the way on mobile consumer strategy; the IT function led in 38% of the organizations. The business function that was more likely than others to steer the ship in this area again was marketing (20% said marketing led the way). Much smaller proportions of participants said sales (13%), service (10%) or a product/service business unit (8%) were driving mobile strategy. And another 8% of respondents said they established a separate department to determine how to respond to mobile consumers. In this region, IT was calling the shots in consumer mobile strategy in 35% of the companies.

In our Asia-Pacific countries of India and Japan, 51% of respondents said non-IT functions were leading the way – most often marketing (16%) and sales (12%). And in Latin America, 69% said consumer mobile strategy came from a non-IT function, with 26% of them coming from marketing and 19% from sales. Some 31% were from IT.

What that says is that customer-facing functions, more often than not, are driving the strategies of large companies in understanding how to respond to digital mobile consumers. Still, the IT group appears to be playing a highly influential role in every region that we surveyed.

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Chief Digital Officer for Starbucks on Technology, Change and Community, Forbes, May 24, 2012.


Findings: All Regions
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