A power shift happens when a billion people use mobile devices to engage with brands, information, and each other: Your app is in your customer's pocket. Now what are you going to do?

Mobile apps empower customers, partners, and employees wherever they are in the context of that moment. But mobile is not merely another chapter in the smaller-faster-cheaper device story.

And it's not tiny web or screen-scraped PC applications. Instead, mobile is the flash point for a much more holistic, far-reaching change.

Figure 1

We believe that mobile apps are the front-end of what Geoffrey Moore has termed new systems of engagement that "empower customers, employees, and partners with context-rich apps and smart products to help them decide and act immediately in their moments of need."

Systems of engagement are different from the traditional systems of record that log transactions and keep the financial accounting in order. They focus on people, not processes (see Figure 1).

Instead of screen-scraping the hotel reservation system and calling it a mobile app, a system of engagement presented on a smartphone will know that a guest has entered the lobby for the first time and probably wants to check in.

And by using GPS or location context directly from the device, the system will know that when you enter your room, the app should default to the concierge and room service tabs, thus providing immediate access to these hospitality services.

Mobile engagement is the promise and the opportunity.

It's what's driving your business to invest in mobile apps. It's what's driving your employees to demand more apps and more service on more devices.

Mobile's 5 unintended consequences
However mobile apps as the front end to systems of engagement carry huge hidden costs.

In Forrester's interviews with business and technology executives from 61 mobile innovators and technology firms, we heard many success stories but also five unintended consequences.

 - A multichannel coordination quagmire
The Rubik's Cube problem of coordinating data, access, and applications across multiple channels gets more complicated as firms pursue mobile engagement.

For example, one multichannel retailer built a mobile app that handled basic shopping tasks well enough, but it wasn't coordinated with the web and call center channels for marketing, customer onboarding, or customer service activities.

 - Business processes designed for transactions, not engagement
People expect to accomplish simple chores very quickly on their mobile devices.

This task orientation forces what Forrester calls the atomization of business processes, breaking them down into the tasks people want to accomplish.

This also happened with ATMs in the 1980s as customers rapidly accomplished simple tasks like checking a balance or withdrawing money.

Mobile apps will drive a similar atomization of business processes.

 - Servers and infrastructure ill-prepared for exploding activity volumes
The anywhere, anytime convenience of apps and the atomization of processes leads to dramatic increases in activity volumes.

Just as we saw with ATMs, where the volume of transactions skyrocketed from 41 million in 1978 to 11.2 billion in 1998, the same spike is happening in the mobile world.

Box, Pandora, salesforce.com, and Twitter already get more than half of their traffic from mobile devices.

 - Middleware, application, and security models poorly constructed for engagement
The atomization of business processes will cascade down the entire technology stack.

Mobile innovators have already been forced to rework their service-oriented architecture (SOA) to reduce message traffic and overhead for services originally designed for PCs.

IT will also have to move beyond perimeter security to a layered security model that protects data and applications at every step on the data path, including the source.

 - Design, development, and governance processes misaligned with mobile requirements
Great mobile apps are architected from the user experience in, not the database schema out.

One bank learned this design lesson the hard way: It spent millions building a mobile app that weakly mimicked the web experience only to find it savaged in the app store ratings.

Mobile apps also dictate a slew of organizational and process changes: multiplatform development and a release-centric product mindset among them.

Finally, IT will have to manage new suppliers in the critical design and delivery path.

Do you have the vendor management skills to coordinate all the moving parts across this burgeoning mobile ecosystem?

Overcoming mobile's unintended consequences
To avoid mobile's unintended consequences and successfully engage customers, partners, and employees through mobile apps, CIOs will need to rethink the technology organization's role, responsibilities, and skill sets.

Just as the PC necessitated an organizational shift from data processing to IT, mobile apps front-ending systems of engagement will act as a catalyst for the reinvention of IT as business-technology (BT).

CIOs should go beyond a myopic focus on employee mobile apps to also take on the role of BT reformer and serve as the orchestral conductor for the firm's broad portfolio of mobile apps and systems of engagement.

The first step in CIO's mobile strategy is to create the office of the chief mobility officer and a supporting mobile architecture team.

Without it, firms will waste too much time and money as marketing goes after a mobile loyalty app, sales builds tablet apps, the CFO implements mobile expense approvals, the CTO does his app in support of the new smart product line, and the head of Asia resellers builds a mobile dealer app.

Further, companies taking a project approach to mobility will see redundant escalating costs, slower growth of their mobile engagement IQ, and potential damage to their brand if the app suffers due to systems failure.

These problems can be mitigated with a dedicated mobile technology group.

The two key outputs of the office of the Chief Mobility Officer (CMO) are:

 - The mobile engagement guide to coordinate mobile business projects
At the top of the CMOs to-do list is to create a mobile engagement guide to facilitate work across various business teams.

This handbook carries the Design-For-Mobile-First mantra to ensure that every business and technology team knows that mobile engagement is not business as usual.

The development of the guide itself will draw out the best practices from every business group investing in mobile and tablet apps. 

- A mobile architecture blueprint to manage technology investments
The mobile architecture blueprint lays out the technology centric issues that IT must solve in order for mobile engagement apps to work.

The mobile architecture team is more about orchestrating the work of others than building apps, but it carries a clear and important set of responsibilities.

Systems of engagement will fuel business growth and innovation over the next decade.

The journey, led by your CMO, will require some jolting decisions and a sophisticated approach to solution development.

Start planning now.

Ted Schadler and John McCarthy are vice presidents at Forrester Research

Pic: LordFerguson cc2.0