Getting a measurable return out of a mobile IT investment is a question that vexes many IT executives.
The Automobile Association, a particularly mobile operation, suspects poor communication between customer and vendor is core to the problem, frequently shrouding unmet client needs and untapped supplier resources.
Group developments general manager Noel Rugg says there is still a communications gap between ICT providers and a client’s management, even its IT staff. Someone within the vendor organisation has to get close enough to the client organisation to identify these problems, Rugg says.
“If they can know the customer’s likely needs well enough to say ‘if it could do this, would you buy it? Well it can’, then they’ve got a sale.”
This relationship has to be continuous, says Rugg, “The critical thing is that [vendor, client, perhaps a consultant] can sit down regularly and kick things around,” so emerging needs and the abilities of current or emerging technologies are communicated. It’s well known, he notes, that most people don’t use a lot of the capabilities of the simplest software, or realise those capabilities are there.
One bright idea that came out of such a vendor-client meeting is now being implemented as Signpost. AA signposts in areas of historic interest will carry phone numbers which visitors can dial on their cellphone to hear a commentary on the significance of the location.
“There’s nothing magic about that; but it uses communications technology to supply a need.”
The AA renewed its basic network almost two years ago. The backbone is provided by TelstraClear, and reaches 100 locations nationwide. Vodafone provides mobile communications. The association is making extensive and growing use of mobile email, SMS and WAP — the last to communicate details of jobs with contract breakdown crews.
The association was initially nervous at splitting its business between two suppliers, having previously been reliant on Telecom, but the risk has amply repaid itself.
Rugg, speaking at the TUANZ Telecommunications Day conference, makes no secret of the fact that he was disappointed with Telecom’s standard of service for AA. It didn’t stay in touch on likely emerging needs, and during the bidding process for the new system, quoted prices it subsequently acknowledged it could not deliver on, he says. AA no longer needs the staffer it once employed fulltime “just to figure out Telecom’s invoices”. Telecom has improved its marketing over the past two years, Rugg adds.
Return on investment can’t just be counted in direct monetary terms, says Rugg, but in terms of reliable service to a million-strong membership (some of whom don’t even own cars) with a huge purchasing power.
The breakdown service still naturally heads the list of reasons why people stay with AA, but loyalty rewards now rank as number two. AA’s rewards scheme can be accessed through mobile phone as well as on the internet and by more traditional media. Its quarterly Directions magazine is made available online, and has a loyal audience who only read it that way.
“You’re only as good as your database,” he told the Telecommunications Day audience. A company like AA, communicating with its members regularly, providing them with needed information and tracking their purchases has to have a database that is clean, relevant, consistent and ready for mobile applications, he says. You have to hold “fresh real-time content, not trash”.
As long as the information is reasonably timely and has meaning and value for the recipient, speed is not an issue, Rugg insists. It is a false economy to spend too much achieving blisteringly fast response times.
The “opt-in” philosophy has to be carefully applied. When people sign up to AA “they know they’re going to be marketed to”, he says. If the proprietor of a motel phones late in the afternoon and says “I’ve still got a few beds for tonight, can you help me shift them?”, then AA members in that area who have expressed an interest in knowing about local accommodation will get a message on their mobiles. This can be done without falling into the trap of spamming, he says.