“We’ve got to move at the speed of mobile.”
“Mobile app release cycles are like dog years.”
“Mobile is the key to transforming our business.”
We’ve all heard statements like these. In fact, PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey notes that 81% of CEOs think mobile technologies are strategically important for their business. That’s a huge number. Yuuuggge!!
This tracks with an Appian survey that shows IT decision-makers believe enterprise mobility (61%) will provide the biggest returns in 2016, with 87% reporting enterprise mobility as critical to their company’s profitability.
In short, companies say that it’s important to build apps for employees to boost productivity. Based on company statements and industry surveys, I don’t think that the travel industry stance is noticeably different from the average.
One would expect, then, that the enterprise would be going gangbusters building apps. But just how many apps are companies actually building? The answer is a lot and a little.
Most major airlines, hotels, OTAs, and, as Tnooz recently noted, airports, have expended major resources to build robust traveler-facing experiences, primarily to support the booking and check-in phases of the travel lifecycle. This is not surprising, as money-makes-the-world-go-round, so anything supporting revenue is pretty easily funded and sometimes is a part of a marketing, rather than IT budget.
Further a mobile app is basically table stakes these days in the travel sector, even more so when appealing to the most frequent travelers. So investments that build loyalty are also extremely high priority.
But what about apps for employees? Surely enabling the staff that takes care of our passengers and guests is another prime area for investment, right? Right?
According to Apperian’s 2016 Executive Enterprise Mobility Report the median number of custom apps that companies have deployed to employees, contractors and partners is… 13.8, with 80% of companies having deployed fewer than 10.
Worse yet, even those numbers may be optimistic. Good Technology’s Q2 2015 Mobility Index report suggests the average organization has only deployed 3.4 apps to employees—in addition to email—with only 5% of organizations deploying more than 10.
This includes items like secure browsing, messaging, and document access. Not exactly game changers, and they’re certainly not reflective of a mindset that considers mobile a major business priority expected to generate competitive advantage and significant process and productivity improvement.
I don’t expect that numbers for travel companies as a category would differ dramatically.
There certainly are some examples of progress, mostly in the airline sector. Electronic Flight Bags are almost de rigueur today. And several of the larger network carriers have provided apps for their cabin crews, to better serve passengers and to reduce the amount of paperwork for each flight.
Two years ago, Virgin Atlantic tried Google Glass during the check in process to enhance customer interaction. And in my inbox this week I saw an article highlighting the progress made at Alaska Airlines, who rolled out 10,000 mobile devices to all of its front-line employees last year. (Each device was loaded with a catalog of apps.)
But it’s not happening very broadly. Hoteliers seem to be investing more in robots to supplant augment staff than in apps to make the employees themselves more productive.
Last year I spoke to a senior executive at a large casino in Las Vegas with more than 50,000 employees. They said its strategy was to roll out an “app” (probably leaning towards mobile web) to share company announcements and other information. It’s a start, but not particularly impactful.
So why aren’t travel companies building more mobile apps for their employees?
I’ve got two answers for you.
Remember how I said that the business case for traveler-focused mobile projects is essentially a slam dunk? Well… Many companies think about employee-facing mobile projects in a way captured by the boss in a Dilbert cartoon:
“I’ve been saying for years that employees are our most valuable asset. It turns out that I was wrong. Money is our most valuable asset. Employees are ninth.”
After 23 years, that strip is still as true as ever.
While that’s a real reason we haven’t made as much progress as we could, it’s not the only one.
The more serious answer to why travel companies aren’t building more apps for employees requires me to take a brief detour: One of the reasons I got involved in mobile is that I’ve always been interested in process re-engineering. Mobile provides the best opportunity for this since the advent of the PC and productivity software.
Consider the innovation boom and increase in productivity ushered in during the PC age.
This is the floor of the opportunity that mobile holds for the enterprise, particularly when you consider the variety of devices (smartphones, tablets, and wearables) and the wealth of new data provided by both the sensors on the devices and by the connected items around us via the Internet of Things.
In fact, business process and productivity improvement are the #1 and #2 things executives expect mobile to deliver, per the recent Apperian report.