B2B, B2C, B2E or all three for optimal app engagement?

By Tony Storr

| Retail


Business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-employee (B2E) and business-to-business (B2B) — when it comes to mobility and app engagement strategy, is the best plan to treat these domains separately?

The answer is usually, “We do, but maybe we shouldn’t.” An app for an employee to book a meeting room obviously has very little in common with an app for a consumer to interact with your organization. However, as more apps are put in the hands of customer-facing employees, the commonalities increase.

That shared experience

An app for a retail store assistant needs customer history and preferences, product catalog accessibility, offers and promotions. Now, consider the consumer app for the same store. This will need exactly the same components. It will really help the store assistant if he can see the same data and view as the customer, as they will increasingly be conversing while both are looking at their devices. The IT team will be happy because these components can be built and updated holistically, rather than producing multiple versions in each app domain.

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The same applies to other customer-facing employees, bank tellers, advisors, flight attendants, sales teams, health professionals and so on. Merging these domains has obvious advantages when it comes to app engagement.

First, consider the B2E and B2B domains. Businesses work with other businesses, suppliers, distributors, partners, dealers and franchises, among others. Increasingly, organizations provide apps to run on the mobile devices of these partners and across their value chain. Employees will interact with these business partners — each holding their devices and working with similar apps. Similar functionality, data and experience between the employee and partner is highly beneficial.

Cleaning up the chaos

Beyond the benefits of a shared user experience, consolidation of domains has significant benefits to IT and the organization. Each domain is likely to have multiple and duplicated suppliers, environments, tooling, testing approaches, content and design styles. Consolidation will simplify this landscape for the apps, APIs and back-end integration services.

Benefits to the business will include a lower overall cost of building, supporting and enhancing mobile apps, as well as better results in the field that come from the unified user experience. Most importantly, the business will be able to launch apps and updates faster.

Consolidation of the “B2X” domains has significant cost, speed and experience advantages, but there are also challenges, including the following:

  1. Ownership: Who owns the mobile apps? Often, this is a real challenge even within the domains. It is still rare to have a single owner of all mobile apps in any organization. It’s more common that each business unit has developed their own apps for employees and even for consumer apps.
  2. Domain maturity: Depending on the industry, consumer apps have likely evolved through several iterations of maturity, whereas employee apps are at a functional level and B2B apps may be isolated and rare.
  3. Cost: A consolidated approach has obvious benefits, but the cost to get there needs to be proportionate.
  4. APIs, integration and microservices: These are unlikely to already be mature and usable. Progressions in this area need to get in tandem with the apps.
  5. Design and branding principles: These tend to vary across consumer, employee and business. Who is responsible for this can be questionable.

There are two viable approaches: You can consolidate certain features across all apps (e.g., all design and all development) or consolidate all services across a subset of apps.

The second approach yields the greatest benefits. It lends itself to the establishment of full DevOps, assets and accelerators as well as economies of scale. If all new apps are created within the new approach, the shorter lifecycle will eventually establish the new standard.

To mitigate risk to customer relationships, it’s usually best to start on the B2E and B2B domain to establish the operation, while considering shared components, functions and business patterns in the B2C domain as apps are being produced. Synergies exist across app engagement domains, so always consider the cross-stakeholder experience as you look to build your mobile enterprise solutions.

Written By

Tony Storr

IBM Mobile at Scale Leader

Tony is the architect and leader of IBM's Mobile at Scale offering that evolves app services to the next generation of maturity. Now in his 27th year at IBM, he hasdeep experience in building and directing high-performance IT organisations that enable clients to successfully exploit…

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