For companies with robust Web CMSs, the move to a mobile app brings up many challenges to create consistent and seamless customer experiences.

For the last ten years, the predominant online channel and platform for online communication was the Web. And with it, the technology to manage this: Web CMSs. Every piece of content, be it text, images, video or audio, is stored and labeled with metadata. Mature Web CMSs serve millions of pages every day to millions of visitors of the website. Large editor groups work in real-time on one or more websites, powered from large Web CMSs. Knowledge of how to work with your website and engage with your customers is stronger than ever in most business-to-consumer organizations.

The last few years, mobile is hot. It's so hot, people begin to call this the "Post PC era." The number of smartphones and tablets are exploding worldwide as marketers scramble to use mobile to engage with their customers. They push out apps as fast as possible, make mobile sites, look for a push strategy, work the Android and iPhone app stores to get in the top 10 best sold apps, etc.

Organizations that have built a solid infrastructure for the external facing website, where all the knowledge, the processes, the content and technology is brought together, want to reuse this infrastructure for mobile channels. Mobile channels can be roughly split into two types: the Mobile Web and the Mobile App. Mobile Web, where an end-user uses the browser on a mobile device to access a site, isn't that hard a problem to approach if you have a solid infrastructure for external facing websites. Just create a "m.company.com" domain, reuse your content, structure and processes to create a "mini version" of your larger regular website, and you’re good to go.

Knowing Your Customer Across Technology

The challenge to reuse your existing web infrastructure is radically increased when building mobile apps. Mobile apps, written on top of the platforms of Apple, Google, Microsoft and others, use a completely different technology then what's used on the Web. There is no HTML, no URLs, no Javascript. This difference in technology used for a channel introduces complexity. Let's name a few challenges:

  • You have built up your content using (web) metadata and tags, tree structures and URLs. This structure is non-existant, or hard to map, in a mobile app. How do you map content structure to mobile functionality?
  • Personalization, which is normally done using business rules and added into the HTML page, are now not working anymore, because the app doesn't use HTML. How to do engagement and personalization in a mobile app?
  • And following this logic, if you know a lot about the customer on the website, how do you reuse all this knowledge on the mobile app?
  • Also, to measure effectiveness, tracking or analytics is different in an app, so how do you track the user and the use of content in a mobile app? On a website it's easy; just use the build-in analytics tools in a WCM or use an external web analytics tool. Both are very mature -- but how to do this in an app? There are mobile analytics tools, but then you cannot benchmark your mobile app with your website.
  • If you have based lots of logic on your Web CMS, like complex multi-step forms or deep integration with back office systems, do you reuse all this on your mobile app? And how?

You could reason that you just built up a complete new solution for your mobile apps. But that means reinvesting and rebuilding stuff, processes, knowledge that is already available, just a little bit different. And even more important: for a great customer experience there should be synergy in the whole experience when he or she switches from the website to the mobile app and back. A customer expects to be treated in the same manner in a mobile app as on the regular website.

Stand Alone Solution or Cross Channel Investment?

Even so, lots of companies just start from scratch when building mobile applications. They built up new technology, new vendors, new knowledge and new employees for mobile. Although this can be a good way to get a very fast time-to-market, it doesn't solve the problem of an integrated customer experience across all channels.

So, how do you solve this problem? Organizations should focus on a few tricks:

  • Gartner predicts that in 2015 50% of all mobile apps will be build based on HTML5, not native anymore. Luckily there is a middle way: hybrid apps. Part native, part HTML5 based. This way, investments done in Web CMS can be reused, while still building on top of the native, powerful mobile platforms of today.
  • Following this approach, watch out with native apps. The interaction model and the logic is then fixed for a specific platform (Apples iOS, Google's Android, etc.) meaning that when you want to build an app for another mobile platform you have to reinvest. Try to create hybrid apps, where HTML5 and native is combined. For example, create navigational menus native, but when a part of content is shown, use HTML5 for showing the content.
  • Web CMSs deeply support HTML and HTML5, so when using HTML5 for parts or even your complete app, you can reuse your Web CMS investment much easier.
  • Use your Web Content Management System as a Content Gateway. Web CMSs deeply integrate with content inside the enterprise (and sometimes outside the enterprise, for example with Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc). See the Web CMS as the gateway that brings the content together in one place, which makes it a lot easier to retrieve this content in mobile apps.
  • When all content is aggregated in one system, use a formal Content API (for example based on RSS or other content API standards like CMIS) to retrieve the content in the app. This way, the centralized content can in the future also be used on new channels, new mobile phone platforms, etc. Don't be tempted to create an API or proprietary solution only for the app or even for one channel.
  • Use software that is able to collect customer data across channels, be it the website, mobile, social, the call center or other means. This way, you don't create a new silo of customer information only usable for the mobile channel, but you can reuse customer data across the channels.

It's tempting to build a complete new infrastructure (technology, organization, processes, content, etc.), especially for mobile. But with the growing number of channels, mobile devices, technologies and, maybe even more important, growing expectancies of the customer to have a consistent customer experience across all these channels, it's much more important to create a channel-independent infrastructure in the long run. One that can easily be adapted for new mobile devices or new types of channels, which, in the end, means higher customer satisfaction.

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