Attention Seekers

Consumer engagement calls for innovative thinking in the mobile world, and SAP’s Sethu M. garners new ideas that allow the software giant to tap into valuable pools of data

When the iPhone 4 launched in 2010, tablets were gaining traction and the consumer enterprise—as well as business—was decidedly moving to mobile. For multinational software corporation SAP, this meant that more than 200,000 businesses, all of which relied on the company to connect and interact digitally with customers, would be looking to SAP for leadership during this transition.

To lead them into the mobile-database space, Sethu Meenakshisundaram, then SAP’s deputy chief technology officer, started with an acquisition strategy, acquiring mobile companies Sybase and Syclo to form SAP’s mobile initiative. As part of the acquisition, SAP also acquired Sybase 365 LLC, an independent unit within the company. Once he had taken over as president of Sybase 365, Sethu then looked to three areas to establish leadership: content integration, consumer experience, and security.

First, Sethu and his team needed to enable secure content integration across all mobile devices and consumer access points, including those coming from the cloud. “To mobilize it, you needed to be able to program it in such a way that customers have access to broad corporate data, but also make sure it is secure,” Sethu says. For large-enterprise customers working from multiple SAP systems, secure access to corporate data integrated seamlessly across all mobile devices is an area that Sethu credits SAP for its leading efforts.

Then Sethu turned his attention to the consumer experience, focusing on design and development. Consider why websites work outside of a desktop computer experience and how every device needs specific development. Part of a digital strategy that encompasses that development includes seamless integration across all devices. Creating a successful digital experience across the world’s 4.5 billion unique mobile users—especially in emerging countries like India and South Africa, where consumers engage on a variety of mobile devices and some without data—starts with helping developers build it.

For SAP, this means understanding what its enterprise customers need, which is to simplify development. “If you ask me, if there is one thing that is critical, it’s how you maximize the speed of development and make the customer experience a delight,” Sethu says. At SAP Mobile Services, for instance, developers can now use simple application program interface (API) to push the intelligence into the network to create a seamless consumer experience. For enterprise customers, this means that a business can focus on productivity and connectivity via a seamless mobile strategy versus lengthy development periods through SAP Mobile Services’ interconnect services.

During development, paying attention to effective security is crucial, Sethu says. While mobile presents opportunities for businesses, it also presents many challenges, especially with the possibility of a data breach. But it doesn’t just start and end with devices, and Sethu says that a security strategy starts with multifactor authentication rooted in location-based security. “As our mission is to connect and secure, it is just not securing devices or data that can be retail data or a customer’s data, it can be multiparty or single party,” Sethu says. “So we put in a significant effort to secure mobile addresses on both consumer and employee devices.”

Such technology must also be sensitive to the consumer experience. “There are productive ways to use the technology in the interest of customer security, but it has to be selective,” Sethu says. “You want to reduce the possibility of fraud, but you don’t want to overburden the consumer. It is a very fine line that needs to be managed.”

In today’s digital space, consumer experience isn’t just about responsive design, but about relevant and timely digital connections. Now, SAP Mobile Services is focusing on more immersive experiences through the emergence of Mobile Relationship Management (MRM) and ambient data, which means data surrounding the user.

Like loyalty programs and SMS notifications, MRM centers on managing customers through their mobile experience, effectively delivering the right message at the right time. But with data comes responsibility. Take the case of geofencing and geotargeting, which describes the process of delivering messages to customers based on their location or behavior—a tactic used widely by Target to engage lost shoppers. Used effectively, this targeted engagement could lead to increased sales. Used wrongly, it could have the unwelcome side effect of alienating a customer and even breaching security.

This balance is where the idea and opportunity of ambient data comes in, according to Sethu. By identifying the personality of the device through surrounding data like location and habits rather than the person, and tracking mobile users in an aggregate fashion, SAP can now create a mobile personality without breaching customer anonymity as a sort of collective consumer. This knowledge then creates opportunities for more targeted engagement, such as knowing where groups of sports fans may go after a game and targeting them based on that behavior. “In the digital economy, more and more enterprises are trying to reach consumers directly, but in the emergence of MRM, you have limited options of what the customer wants to see, so you need to do this at the right time and the right moment,” Sethu says. “You need to manage engagement.”

With Sethu’s continued leadership and eye for innovative opportunity, SAP’s transition to mobile maintains its success. SAP Mobile Services is revolutionizing and influencing the way businesses build strategy by providing clients with a platform that creates meaningful connections and brand loyalty through consumer-driven technology.

“Ambient data plus MRM is key to the customer,” Sethu says. “There is a significant traction with working with carriers and making sure that, without violating privacy, we can engage in a non-invasive way to garner consumers’ attention.”