We need to talk about ‘mobile first’

Every time I hear the words ‘mobile first’ it makes me shudder just a little – when we should be thinking about how connecting people will transform future business, ‘mobile first’ feels technology centric and rather short-term. Today ‘mobile’ still makes people think of phones, tablets, and other devices, and if mobile is first then what comes second? Are we drawing a line between different channels when we should be building a consistent, seamless user experience? There’s a risk that thinking ‘mobile first’ produces tactical solutions, focusing on today’s technology and yesterday’s way of working. We can all celebrate our shiny new mobile app, but the jobs not done, in fact we’ve only just started.

Now, think long-term and user centric – people are increasingly connected across multiple channels, we are becoming ‘always connected’. In the connected world mobile is a user context not a technology, it’s about interacting with users anytime, anywhere on their choice of channel. Today that means smartphones, rugged PDAs, tablets, laptops, and desktops as well as voice and face to face; but tomorrow that means wearables, smart TV, embedded tablets, combinables, the internet of things, and who knows what else. The future of mobile technology is not predictable. The only constant is that people will become more connected and their ability to interact will become infinite and all encompassing. That’s a revolution in communication that will require a whole new way of doing business. Thinking ‘people first’ with an always connected experience means completely forgetting about how business works today and imagining how business could work if everyone can interact when-ever and wherever with whomever they want. Of course in reality we’re a long long way from the omnipresent omnipotent mobile network, but what we have today is already capable of disrupting entire industries and in 10 years’ time today’s mobile technology will look like a Ford Model-T compared to a F1 car with self-drive technology.

The music industry is a good test case, it’s already been disrupted and is slowly maturing towards a connected experience, but the disruption is far from over, in fact it’s probably only just begun. People often think that the CD or digital download is the product that they’re buying, but in reality that’s just the packaging, a CD or download is just the box for the content. What you actually buy is the rights to play that content as much as you want for as long as you live (and possibly beyond). Even Steve Jobs couldn’t let go of the idea that you had to own something when you purchased a song, he dismissed the idea of subscription music and believed that customers would always want to have something physical, even if it was a download on a device. Strip everything back though, and why do you need to own anything? If you own the rights to play a song, and you can stream that song from a server somewhere then you don’t actually need to own a copy of the content. A downloaded song is no different to vinyl, tape, or a CD – it’s just another box for some content – and in the end we always throw away the box. Spotify, Netflix, Google Play, Amazon – in the long term they will sell us a licence to some content and provide a connection to access that content from wherever we are using whatever channel we choose. This is the ultimate development of lean thinking – focus on the value and get rid of everything else.

Everyone thinks their industry is different, special, it can’t happen to them but barriers to entry are falling down and power is shifting. As everything becomes digital and access to knowledge becomes democratised, the always connected world is super-charging the power shift from organisations to individuals. This is an unstoppable force which creates unprecedented opportunities for disruption and re-invention. If banking and payments, possibly the most regulated and protected industries in the world, can be disrupted, then every industry will be. If you’re not innovating and disrupting your industry then someone else will be.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking mobile first of course, but it only helps with today’s needs – it’s not the path to long-term success. We must think ‘people first’ and ‘always connected’ to create a vision of a connected experience for our consumers, customers, employees, partners, and suppliers. The connected experience will drive unprecedented business model and process innovation – reinventing business for the connected world and the mobile enterprise.

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