Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Simple Mobile Applications Can Offer Real ROIs

The International Telecommunication Union reported in 2009 that 28% of people in Africa have mobile phones but only 5% have the internet.  The report also said that mobile phone subscriptions in Africa were increasing by 50% per year.  As a result of this rapid growth, mobile application developers have been creating simple mobile applications for African businesses that utilize SMS rather than mobile smart phones with data plans.  There are some lessons to be learned.

In a recent CNN article entitled, "Mobile App Developers Tackle Africa's Biggest Problems," the author writes about developers creating powerful and beneficial mobile applications that work with simple and limited 140 character text message inputs.  One example was a mobile application that enables dairy farmers to request the average price of a unit of milk in certain areas.  The text message queries a database that returns an answer.  This may seem to be a very simplistic application, but it means a huge amount to the dairy farmer.  Without access to information on the local market prices for milk, the dairy farmer can be convinced, out of ignorance, to sell his/her product for less that the market price.  Armed with knowledge, the dairy farmer can negotiate for a fair price.

Another example given was a mobile wireless fish sensor in a lake that alerts local fisherman via text messages of the presence of fish.  For the local fisherman whose income depends on being a successful fisherman, this could be a very useful mobile application.

The lesson I learned from these examples is to not undervalue the usefulness of simple mobile applications.  My background is in the MEAP space where we developed thick client mobile applications that were mini-ERPs on ruggedized Windows Mobile devices.  Our MEAPs and mobile applications required large and expensive development efforts.  They were certainly useful and appreciated by our clients, but it does not always require that level of development to provide real value.

Some segments of the mobile workforce could benefit from simple updates, key data provided at the right time, and the ability to query on key data and incremental efficiency improvements.  Mobile micro-applications definitely have their place.

In the SAP ecosystem you are starting to see an increasing number of mobile micro-applications from SAP partners like Vivido Labs, Leapfactor, Sky Technologies.  These applications are designed to replace specific paper processes and enable the mobile workforce to accomplish more while traveling.  I have been given some previews and I believe that Sapphire 2010 will be remembered as the Year of Mobility in the SAP ecosystem.

Kevin Benedict
Author of the report Enterprise Mobile Data Solutions, 2009
Mobile Strategy Consultant, Mobile Industry Analyst and Web 2.0 Marketing Expert
twitter: http://twitter.com/krbenedict

***Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility consultant and Web 2.0 marketing expert. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.