E-business is growing in all possible areas – network connections, consumer numbers, transaction volumes, revenues, and the range of digital content and services on offer.
But as the industry continues to bloom, it is also diversifying. The addition of mobile and social platforms to traditional Web channels is making the market more accessible than ever, but it also presents big challenges.
All told, it is time for the e-enabling industry and merchants to re-think their game plan. What integration and design challenges will present themselves? What risks are there in transitioning to mobile and social, or in running all three platforms in parallel?
Drop the prefix already
Firstly, it bears repeating that business is business, no matter the style of execution. M-commerce, as it was once called, is a form of e-business, and e-business is just a form of business.
It’s true that social and mobile platforms, particularly mobile, will drive the next wave of e-business, and the challenges that come with the new territory will be different from the last.
But even if e-commerce mutates to the point where a handful of social communities and mobile hardware platforms dominate all others in the distribution of content and sale of products, the steps will be evolutionary and not involve a rip-and-replace exercise.
Changes big and small
Practical first steps
Currently, mobile commerce development is still driven by its starting promise of ‘democratising’ access to digital content and services. In the short term, therefore, innovations will need to be practical in nature.
Most immediately, this consists of:
· Re-designing user interfaces to suit the small screens
· Catering for all mobile platforms – including feature phones
Similarly, social is at an immature stage of its evolution, and changes to accommodate it will be more introductory than sweeping:
· Social platforms can still be treated as a customer ramp-up opportunity for online and mobile platforms, and less of an integration nightmare.
Other, more drastic changes are dictated by consumer behaviour:
· As more and more consumers become e-commerce converts, the underlying systems’ load profiles must be redesigned.
· Micro-payments are changing the way people transact, and consumer-to-consumer payments will be next. Immediately, this requires re-architecting mobile commerce platforms; in time these changes will filter through to all e-platforms.
· Legacy systems were built with particular consumer behaviour in mind – stationary shoppers at an unknown location. With changing expectations and possibilities, futurechange will include location-aware services, near-field communications and other innovations on the roadmaps of hardware manufacturers.
Who to pick
It’s worth considering, finally, whose help you will enlist to get ready for the increasingly social and mobile character that doing business may take.
Building your own plug-ins may not be the best route to follow – there are countless good existing solutions and programming interfaces for just about anything you might need. And entering the market with a monolithic app platform may give you what you need for now (at a cost), but does it have the agility to stay relevant?
The best bet in a changing market is to pick the niche apps that fulfil your needs, and to work with an integration partner with a track record of success in strategic e-business projects (including, of course, mobile and social).
This is the most open-ended approach to a problem where the only constant is change.