It’s hard to miss the buzz around mobile. Smartphones equipped with near field communications to instantly share video and voice control to allow for a handsfree web experience.New tablets like the Microsoft Surface, iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD are tearing up the advertising airwaves. But mobile is not just another chapter in the smaller, faster, cheaper device story. And it’s not tiny web or shrunken PC applications. Instead, mobile is the flash point for a holistic, far-reaching change for your business. Your app is in your customer’s pocket. What will you do with that privilege? The answer is that you will deliver mobile engagement experiences that empower people with smart apps and products to take the next most likely action in their immediate context and moments of need. Mobile engagement experiences focus on people and their needs, not companies and their processes.

Over the last year, Ted Schadler and I have interviewed literally hundreds of CIOs, technology vendors, integrators and mobile design firms to capture and codify the state of the art in mobile engagement. And we’ve seen some great examples along the way as:

  • Customers hive around smartphone apps that deliver service at their convenience. Consumers download and use apps from Walgreens, American Airlines, Bank of America, and Wal-Mart, and 700,000 other app builders. Walgreens has a best-in-class app for reordering prescription drugs. Refill from your account, scan your prescription bar code, or type in the prescription number. Then automatically refill at a nearby store.
  • Business leaders dream up apps to change the engagement calculus. Business leaders build tablet apps for sales reps and partners, and mobile apps to inject a business service into a customer’s pocket.Starbucks is using Appian software and iPads to inspect stores. A field inspector takes pictures of the layout and stock, pulls together a report while in the store, and meets immediately with the store manager. Tablets are the new darlings of mobile employees and, for many, a viable alternative to the corporate computing workhorse: the PC. CIOs need to understand the impact of tablets on their organization.
  • Employees bring in personal devices and apps that make them productive on the go. Today, 15% of information workers use at least three devices, work from at three different locations, and use at least seven applications to do their jobs. Self-provisioned technologies — devices, applications, and cloud-based services — being used for work are creating enormous opportunities to increase productivity and flexibility.
  • Mobile devices become the remote control for smart products. Withings makes scales and blood pressure cuffs that connect to the Internet and can securely expose their data through service APIs (application programming interfaces). At last count, the Apple App Store featured 30 apps that use Withings’ APIs to help people track and manage their weight and health.

Despite the euphoria, we also found that most firms lack a comprehensive mobile engagement strategy — although many are starting to take mobile seriously enough to start developing a real strategy in 2013. As the CIO, it will be your job to drive collaboration with business leaders, who are pushing ahead with mobile already. Check out Forrester’s Mobile eBusiness Playbook to learn more.  Assessing your readiness and maturity for mobile engagement is an important first step, then finding the right opportunities for mobile to have a real impact on your business. The lack of a real strategy leaves mobile projects across the firm disconnected, uncoordinated, improperly funded and poorly designed. You need to design a strategy that integrates mobile into your overall BT digital strategy and a road map that lays out how you will execute that strategy.

We know it’s early days in the evolution of mobile engagement, but now is the time for CIOs to lead their companies into the mobile engagement future, in which billions of customers, partners, and employees wield touchscreen mobile devices. In the New Year, we will formally launch the CIO’s mobile engagement playbook, which provides you with the necessary tools to help to clearly understand the mobile engagement opportunity, define and implement your strategy, and execute that plan effectively. Forrester’s approach will help you develop a unified and integrated mobile engagement strategy for customer, partner, and employee mobile. It’s a living body of research — so come back often. If you need help, contact us; we can deliver workshops, assessments, and speeches that will energize your teams, engage your colleagues, and help you execute your mobile engagement strategy. We’d like to hear your comments and feedback on the research too.

Have a happy and safe holiday and we’ll see you in the New Year.