The arrival of mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets and beyond, is imposing changes on organisations and especially on CIOs as business units seek to exploit what they believe mobility can offer. While there are genuine benefits that come through using mobile devices, errors can occur — ones which can hurt an organisation. This article looks at two examples of where implementers paid insufficient attention to the ‘big picture’ and produced, or nearly produced, unintended enterprise errors.

Customer-oriented excellence is what organisations want. All too what often actually happens is that builders of mobile apps fail to do sufficient work (or are lazy about the ‘whole’ app context). This is particularly true when multi-channel (voice, IVR, web, sms, etc.) is a part of an intended solution. Too often there is incomplete thought and/or finishing of the mobile apps as well as a failure to understand the negative implications that come with this. An example demonstrates.

A major European airline developed a neat, clean and visually appealing reservation app for mobile devices. With this app customers can look for flights and make bookings. Sometimes, however, the booking process fails — the app does not do what you (the customer) want. To accommodate this the developers included a contact page. On that page are reservation centre phone numbers. If, however, you try to click on any of these, nothing happened – even when the app is running on a smartphone. Furthermore, if you manually then make a call to the reservation centre, all context about what you had been trying to do on the mobile device had gone. In effect you have to start the booking process all over again.

This is neither necessary nor desirable, from either the customer or airline point of view. The result was unintended.  Indeed it probably arose because the designer or developer of the app saw only the smaller picture, not the larger business one of thinking through what was necessary to keep customers happy.

In a quite different scenario, a private bank realised, just in time, that what it wished to do with its proposed iOS app had the potential to give Apple unintended access to the identities of this bank’s private client customer base, or at least those who use Apple’s devices and downloaded the bank’s app. The bank had wished to stay relevant and attractive. It decided, therefore, to build a dedicated iOS app for its customers so that they could access their banking facilities from their iPhones and/or iPads. Indeed, the concept was simple. The bank would develop the app, place this app on the iTunes App Store, tell its private clients that it was offering a free app and that this was available for their exclusive use. Then those clients with iOS devices could download the app. Thereafter these customers would use their iPhones or iPads to interact with the bank.

It proceeded to develop the app. Only when it was almost complete (about one week from deployment) did a banker raise one inconvenient business consequence of placing the app in the iTunes Store. Every time that a client downloaded that app (which would have had the bank’s name), Apple would possess a record of the download. In other words Apple would have the data within the iTunes App Store database - which has names as well as contact details of all iTunes App Store users - for the highly sensitive and valuable list of the bank’s private clients for those who had downloaded the app.

The good news in this instance was that the bank realised what could happen before making the app available. The bad news was that it had wholly to rethink and redo the app development, to avoid the iTunes App Store ‘trap’.

These two examples encompass two extremes - one is at a business level and the other at an IT/technical level. What both reveal is how easy it is - in the complex (and frequently confusing) world of today’s ever increasing communications mobility - to possess good intentions which in practice are, or could, deliver significant if unintended business ‘errors’. CIOs need to be triply-aware that when business unit opportunities coincide with mobility initiatives they have to be ultra-careful to understand the ‘big picture’ implications.

Posted by Chalres Brett, a principal analyst at Freeform Dynamics.