Of all the memorable lines that Yogi Berra is known for my favorite is: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”  The application of déjà vu to business adoption of innovative emerging technologies seems to actually express what Yogi might as well have been trying to say.  History repeats itself in many aspects of our lives, and business is not different.

My premise is this.  Today’s adoption of mobile technologies parallels that of the Internet in the 1990s, and if you understand what steps and best practices businesses used to successfully integrate the Internet into their business models and those which were not successful, you can learn what mistakes to avoid and increase your confidence in the success of your mobile initiatives.

As much as Yogi is known for his clever sayings, Gartner Inc. is known for the Hype Cycle.  The Hype Cycle is Gartner’s insight into technology adoption, and their insight is that business adoption of new technologies does not follow a continuous growth path.  Technology adoption is a multi-year path consisting of changing expectations and actual adoption and benefit and is affected by market hype and commercial readiness of both the technology itself and each company’s readiness to deploy and support the technology.

If we had time machines and went back to the mid-1990s the Internet would have been on the fast slope upward defined by the Innovation Trigger stage.  Gartner’s view into mobile’s current state is emerging from the Trough of Disillusionment.  Why?  And what can we learn if we reconsider the growth curve of the Internet?

Lessons learned from the Internet (and I’m not bashful about sharing those I learned from trial and error as a VP of eCommerce for two F-500 firms), include those we can apply to mobile adoption:

  1. While pilots of new technologies like mobile are good, don’t believe that every pilot will work.  Pilots are important for their ability to get into the marketplace and learn what customers really want.  But, if you don’t act on what you learn, you’re dropping the ball.  And, some ideas are just bad ideas.
  2. Don’t think you can be 100% right in giving customers everything they want with your first offering.  A better approach is to plan to be 60-65% correct with your first launch and save some of your marketing and technology funds for later releases when you have better customer insight.
  3. While your internal innovators will step out quickly, if you don’t build a company-wide vision for mobile, you will likely miss the opportunity for a big win.  At some point, you have to get the innovators back in the barn and start working as a corporate team.
  4. Don’t just “do stuff.”  Mobile can be transforming and be a major growth accelerator, but not unless you have integrated it into your strategy and operating model.  A mobile strategy ties investments in mobile into your corporate goals and objectives, your go-to-market plan, and your technology planning.  It should express specific milestones, tasks, investments, benefits desired, and relevant metrics.
  5. It’s not really about the technology.  It’s about the value you can bring to your customers using a mobile channel.  You need deep insights into how mobile will improve your customers’ workflows or else you might waste your time and money on shiny objects that have no life span and no impact on your customers.
  6. If you are new to mobile, pick a highly-rated integrated platform rather than attempt a best-of-breed technology approach.  Spend your time building your business, not managing an evolving technology platform.  This is especially true if technology management is not a competency.
  7. The time to build and implement a mobile strategy is when you can, not when you have to.  Don’t wait until your business is under pressure with flat or declining revenues and profits, or under competitive attack to start your planning.  You don’t want the clock and a tough financial climate working against you.  That’s a risky position to avoid.
  8. You don’t want to get too far behind or you might not be able to catch up.  Twenty years after businesses seriously started experimenting with the Internet, according to the Small Business Bureau, only 44% of small businesses have websites, only 34% do email marketing, and only 17% have e-commerce capabilities.  That’s probably a lot lower than what you might have thought, and I would bet we could correlate the lack of Internet maturity in these businesses with a lower growth rate than their more Internet-savvy peers.  Forrester Research Inc. estimates that 47.3 million U.S. households have online access.  Your customers are online, if you are reading this, you are too.  But is your business online and maximizing growth opportunities?
  9. It’s not about building a mobile app.  Mobile apps have a terrible adoption rate.  According to Google, in 2015, 25% of installed apps are never used and 26% of installed apps are abandoned after the first use.  Recently, I have seen less favorable stats than these.  It’s about building a mobile-enabled business model to drive growth into new markets and from new customers.  
  10. If you are under major market or competitive pressures to innovate, think about a mobile-first business model.  Mobile-first starts with making mobile your primary go-to-market model and then extends the operational improvements you will make into the other areas of your business.  This isn’t for everyone, but, it can be a breakout strategy.

When we think back to the early Internet days, we can appreciate the innovators who went first and blazed the way with new Internet concepts and business ideas.  I worked for a very large U.S. bank that purposely avoided being among the “bleeding edge.”  They were perfectly content to let other banks figure out how to deliver value from the Internet, learn from them, and act as a fast follower.

Mobile can be just as transformative as the Internet has been, and because Gartner puts mobile well into the adoption phase, you can learn from innovators who have gone first which best practices to adopt and avoid going down investment-killing rat holes.

A mobile business assessment or a workshop is a great place to start.  It can feel like déjà vu, but its déjà vu you can control!