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Monday, 16 July 2012 11:30

Businesses and technologists that aren’t looking at mobile will soon stare at defeat

Google Wallet

At last count, there were about 8 million so-called "smart devices" in South Africa – of which the overwhelming majoring are smart phones. This reflects an amount that has more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 alone, and it will continue to grow. Most of my clients are independent software developers and I can attest to the fact that the modern applications that are being developed are taking a mobile first approach. Businesses are scrambling for their share in a marketplace that is incredibly new and surprisingly lucrative.
Today, even though only 8% of mobile apps are paid for, they generate more revenue than mainframes and the expenditure on devices are growing more than 4 times as fast as that of PCs. But more important than the devices and applications themselves are their impact on business.
Think of retailers today. They are now not only able to detect all potential customers in a mall that come within 100 meters of their stores, they are also able to zone in on that person's preferences for certain items, for example – power tools. As soon as that person comes within the "marketing zone", the company can fire off a SMS letting them know about the in-store power tool promotion they are running. That customer can go into the store to purchase the item immediately – or better yet, pay for it using their mobile phone with Google Wallet – and then tweet about the experience or invite his Facebook friends to join in on the offer. (Which the retailer in question will, needless to say, track with some form of sentiment analysis software.)
In the United States, applications like OpenTable are enabling restaurant-goers to book tables via their mobile phones, invite their friends via Facebook and then tweet about the experience. Well known Fashion Retailer Zara conquered what many people thought was a closed community – the fashion industry. They identified that a fashion trend only lasted about 6 weeks and started sending their staff to runway shows with Ipads and Iphones, allowing them to start designing their new clothing lines before the model even walked off the ramp.
Then there is the "follow me" state of devices. Playstation owners can play a video game at home, pick up their PSP and then continue playing from where they've left off on the bus on their way to work. Again, mobility is key to meeting that need.
The days where mobile marketing was limited to irritating text messages or competitions are long gone. Mobility has come to mean connection, location-aware selling and tailor-made offerings. We tend to think of popular social media platforms as being well-established, but in reality they are still in their infancy. Facebook, for example, makes most of its revenue through advertising...which cannot be displayed on mobile devices, one of the primary means of accessing the site. One has to wonder where they will be in 2 or 3 years' time if they do not iron out those limitations?
Companies are already using geo-tagging to curb ATM fraud – if a person is further than 10 metres away from an ATM, they are unable to complete the withdrawal. Similarly, individuals are conducting transactions, using their cell phones as identification as opposed to credit cards.
The implications for technologists are equally staggering. The next generation of cloud is going to be extremely disruptive to technologists, as cloud and mobile increasingly intersects with on-premise and barriers to entry are lowered. New companies are renting the infrastructure and capacity needed to compete. Start-ups could very well usurp brand name companies within the next few years. The point is that everyone has to be on board with the new trends if they hope to survive.
There is a race to push out applications as a competitive tool to improve relationships, but there is a plethora of devices that need to be supported and a flurry of integration headaches and challenges. Apps will be fragmented, supporting more devices than ever. In fact, Android devices alone symbolise 400-500 different permeations, different manufacturers, operating platforms...yet they are the key to reaching customers.
In terms of technology, I believe that this mobility will drive the need for an ecosystem, a collaborative effort between software developers and platforms. The way we build apps will change fundamentally. It will be composed, rather than created. Mash-ups will drive the future because developers will not be able to build applications on their own. Gartner has already predicted that time-constrained ISVs will primarily chose their paths based on the popularity of the platform with users – and the ones who will succeed will the ones driven by the entire ecosystem. We can't be selfish with our ideas, our technologies.
Mobile devices are becoming computers in their own right and with that, we've unlocked the ability to use location, motion and context to speak and sell to customers. Let's just say that the game is changing. And we need to change the way we play it if we hope to emerge victorious.

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