The ‘App’ In Your Business
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TECHNOLOGY

19 Feb, 2014 11:44 IST

The ‘App’ In Your Business

Companies are realising that apps are a way to improve customer relations, make business transactions easier, and improve internal efficiency

Vishal Krishna

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Illustration by Dinesh S. Banduni

Madura Garments has decided to give more freedom and flexibility to customers of its Allen Solly brand. In 2013, it launched the Allen Solly Colour Lab app, which allows customers to choose any colour from the palette, and design their own shirt or trousers within certain parameters. Once the design has been selected and frozen, the company takes 15 days to stitch the garment and deliver it to a store near the customer.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company is working to make its cars more app-friendly. In six months or so, the EcoSport models will have the ability to connect to a dozen-odd popular apps through a voice-activated menu, and will allow the driver or the passengers to fetch information from these apps.

For example, if the driver wants to know Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s score in an ongoing match, he can ‘speak’ to the ESPN app and get that information. Or, if a passenger wants information on the restaurants nearby that serve his favourite cuisine, he can use the voice-activated Burrp app.

ICICI Bank encourages its customers to shift from Internet banking to mobile banking by downloading the ICICI Bank app on their handset or tablet. In fact, almost all the prominent private sector banks have started offering customers the option of conducting their banking transactions through a mobile app. The remaining are in the process of developing such apps.

Increasingly, companies are realising that apps can serve multiple purposes — from brand-building to cutting transaction costs to improving internal efficiencies and bringing in transparency. A power distribution company in Mumbai, for example, got an app developed to reduce corruption in meter reading.

The sectors that have pioneered app development in India include media, automobiles, banking and retail. Unlike the apps that were being developed a few years ago, the new apps on offer are quite sophisticated and complex. “We develop apps for our customers that offer an immersive experience to their customers,” says Somakumar Kolathur, who quit IT giant Infosys along with his friend Sreekumar Paramu, a National Institute of Design-trained designer, to set up app development firm Moonraft. The company’s signature mobile feature is the Mahindra Reva app which enables the car’s owner to stop-start his car using a phone. Along with this, the app gives you the vehicle’s vital statistics and sends alerts on its battery status.

 
Future Ready: Automakers are now introducing features that allow drivers and passengers to access apps through voice commands (BW pic by Sanjay Sakaria)

The automobile industry has, in fact, become one of the biggest customers for app developers. DRC Systems, a startup in Ahmedabad trying to make the cut in the app business, found its signature customer in a Renault dealership named Karnavati which was looking for ways to engage customers better. DRC Systems built an app that could be linked to the ERP (enterprise resource planning) of the dealership. The app allows the customer to view the full inventory of Renault cars in the dealership.

The customer can ask for his car to be picked up for service and check its service history. He can also request test drives and pick the colour of the car he wants to buy. “This project has been made possible with our learnings from our global portfolio,” says Kirit Gajera, chief operating officer at DRC Systems. This, he adds, is not a one-time ‘use and throw’ app but a lifecycle management business which involves signing long- term contracts with the dealership’s customers.

Another app maker, Artificial Reality, echoes the same philosophy — that apps need to offer an immersive experience to the mobile user. Deepak Khanna, CEO of Artificial Reality, got his big break when a global OEM (original equipment manufacturer) was doing a photoshoot of a car and it started to rain. The shoot was cancelled but the OEM wanted photos of the car the same day, so the advertisers asked Khanna if he could send in pictures of the same car, of which he had prepared 3D models in his studio. The rest is history — he has brands like Maruti Suzuki and Ford working with him to create app-based campaigns. The new WagonR app has been built by him. “Making the app rich with animation is the way forward. There is a convergence of advertising and technology,” says Khanna.

Retailers too have figured out that apps can offer immense possibilities for making the customer experience better. The Shoppers Stop app allows customers to see the new fashion catalogue and also make a selection of their favourite designs. Madura Garments.

Online retailers — like many banks — have figured that making it easier for the customer to shop using his mobile or tablet is the way forward and can give them an edge in a crowded marketplace. “Mobile apps will be more than engaging when payment gateways allow easy modes of checkout. They will become an extension of the person, and go buy products,” says Nikhil Rungta, CBO and founder of e-commerce company yebhi.com. Rungta says that at least 30 per cent of the company’s revenues will come from its app in three years’ time.

If you look at other e-commerce players in the country such as Flipkart and Myntra, apps are contributing a major portion of their revenues. At least 15 per cent of their traffic and revenues are linked to mobiles. “The experiment with new monetisation techniques proves that India is no small app market. The whole ecosystem is going to benefit,” says Parag Gupta, principal, Product Management, Amazon India.

App makers agree that marketers are converting to apps in a big way. Ramesh K. Srivats, CEO of Ten Ten Ten Digital Products, says good companies make apps a fundamental part of their marketing strategy. “Marketing is not about communication, it is about using technology to solve the utility of the customer,” says Srivats.

He adds that just putting content on any medium does not create customer stickiness. “Getting people to buy a ticket easily and cross-selling a cab service through an app is the new way of marketing a brand. This is when people start talking about the product,” says Srivats. His company has built over 50 apps for brands that include Nivea and MakeMyTrip. Srivats and his 15-member team are informing businesses that a great app experience is only possible if they understand the technology behind it.

“Relevance is the key word for brands to retain customers. The app is yet to reach a full-service cycle and CMOs and CIOs cannot ignore the power of mobiles today,” says Shubhradeep Guha, country manager for SapientNitro, a global integrated marketing and technology company that also builds apps for corporates. He adds that there is so much complexity in the market that revenue streams through advertising, or full technology maintenance contracts will pick up sooner than one expects. “Over the next 18 months, the mobile strategy will have a greater say in business, and revenue streams will be clearly defined,” says Guha.

Magnon Solutions, a full-service digital and interactive agency, has built apps for hotels, spas, real estate firms and automobile companies. “Our clients ask us how much they should focus on digital today, unlike three years ago, when they would focus on TV or print and put some money behind the digital strategy,” says Vineet Bajpai, founder and CEO of Magnon Solutions. Founded in the year 2000, Magnon was recently acquired by global advertising agency TBWA, part of the Omnicon group. 

vishal@businessworld.in
vishalskrishna@gmail.com
twitter@vishalskrishna

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 10-03-2014)

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