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Mobile Migration Methods

Improving business efficiency and enhancing service

Brett Meyer and Isabella Vance, two Voice over Internet specialists, in the Alaska Communications Customer Experience Lab at Anchorage Headquarters.  Alaska Communications recently launched Voice over Internet service in Southcentral Alaska.

Brett Meyer and Isabella Vance, two Voice over Internet specialists, in the Alaska Communications Customer Experience Lab at Anchorage Headquarters. Alaska Communications recently launched Voice over Internet service in Southcentral Alaska.

© Alaska Communications

Last year, the Matanuska-Susitna Convention and Visitors Bureau (Mat-Su CVB) made a well-calculated move by launching a separate website—Alaskavisit.mobi—to cater specifically to smartphone users. Visitors connect seamlessly through the main site at Alaskavisit.com, which detects their mobile device platform and redirects them to a modified version of the content. The mobile site ties directly into the database of the main website, and visitors hardly notice they’re browsing a different web address. “We wanted responsive design,” says Mat-Su CVB Marketing and Communications Manager Casey Ressler.

The mobile site is essentially a pared-down version of the full website: Mat-Su Valley Alaska. Built for speed, it delivers quick access to information most people want to know while visiting the Valley. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to stay longer and see and do more things in our area,” Ressler says. “The mobile site gives us an opportunity to continue marketing to them while they’re here.”

The adoption of the mobile site is going well. From last summer to this summer, the site has seen a 20 percent increase in mobile visits, according to Ressler. He’s not surprised, given the increasing popularity of mobile devices and demand for mobile content. Creating a more mobile-friendly website was inevitable. “Two years ago, we thought it was cutting-edge to get a mobile site,” he says. “Now if you don’t have one, you’re behind the curve.”

Alaska businesses and organizations like the Mat-Su CVB are taking advantage of a variety of solutions to migrate to the mobile space. They’re tapping local and national resources to implement mobile websites, applications, and payments, as well as social media, quick response codes, and other solutions.

 

Mobile and Responsive Websites

With nearly 60 percent of American adults owning smartphones and more than 30 percent owning tablets, it’s no wonder Alaska businesses are migrating to mobile.

Many businesses are definitely aware of and understand the value of the mobile market, says GeoNorth Project Manager Andrew Clary. GeoNorth specializes in information technology solutions such as geographic information systems, database design and development, web design and development, and mobile applications. Clary is seeing an emerging interest in mobile solutions in a variety of industries, from sports and energy to oil and gas.

In previous years, GeoNorth had to convince clients of the value of mobile websites. Now clients have flipped the script. Clary explains: “Within the last year, pretty close to every website client has at least asked about mobile. It’s definitely on people’s mind.”

From Clary’s perspective, mobile migration can encompass all of the elements a business identifies as being necessary to successfully connect with clients and deliver a message. This could include creating a mobile website specifically formatted to take into account how information is accessed by smartphones and tablets. Mobile-optimized sites are typically designed to be simpler, easier, and faster to navigate on smaller-sized screens. On the other hand, sites that aren’t properly formatted for mobile devices may appear distorted, load slowly, and have limited functionality—all of which can result in lost traffic.

That’s a scenario Chugach Electric Association wanted to avoid with its online power outage reporting tool. So the utility company recently had GeoNorth build a different version of the reporting feature for mobile device users. “It’s formatted for small screens, and it’s very easy to use,” Clary says.

Increasingly, mobile websites are being designed to respond to visitors. A responsive site is the same site you would browse from your desktop, but the site reacts and reorganizes the content dynamically for smaller screens. It’s a very cost-effective way to deliver a mobile solution, according to Clary. “It’s not that much more in cost compared to what you’re already going to incur building a new site,” he says.

Recently, GeoNorth launched its own new mobile site as a live illustration of the functionality of a responsive site. The new site allows mobile-device users to move and resize text and images, plus modify the menu and stack design elements vertically as the display becomes narrower.

For some companies, having an easily-accessible mobile site is essential to improving client service. Perkins Coie LLP is a prime example. The Seattle-based firm—with more than nine hundred lawyers in nineteen offices nationwide and Asia—has about ten thousand pages on its full website, according to Digital Marketing Manager Sarah DiCaro. But the company, which has operated an office in Anchorage since 1977, wanted to ensure its massive site was easy to navigate by the growing segment of mobile-device users.

So several years ago, the firm created an abbreviated version of its full website, which maintains seven years’ worth of news items, events, and other content, including nine hundred attorney bios and a vast number of publications on timely legal topics. The idea behind the condensed mobile site is quick access, says Chicago-based DiCaro. “We tried to organize it in a way that identified the key information most clients are looking for on our site,” she says.

The full and mobile sites are distinct, but inconspicuously managed off the same platform. Much of the information on both sites is the same, with some content provided in multiple versions. The attorney bios, for example, are presented in a shorter format for mobile users.

About a year ago, Perkins Coie upgraded the mobile site to make it even more functional and responsive for users. It recognizes when someone is using a mobile-device platform and automatically accesses the mobile site for them. The site was also enhanced to be more icon-based and reflective of current mobile best practices.

When Perkins Coie launched the original mobile site three years ago, BlackBerry phones were very common. Now, the site allows for more clicking on different icons and more hidden navigation bars that can be expanded—which is ideal for tablet users. “We’re always looking at ways information can be packaged as mobile,” DiCaro says.

 

Mobile Applications

Mobile applications also afford Alaska businesses a feasible way to leverage mobility. Apps, as they’re commonly called—which are simply small software programs that provide a defined functionality—can improve the way companies do business, respond to customers, and even compete in the marketplace.

Alaska businesses without app development expertise in house can easily secure mobile apps from external sources. GeoNorth, for instance, creates apps for public use and private companies. Its Board Meeting Manager app allows boards to conduct meetings electronically from iPads. Users can sign into the iPad app and download a digital board book, instead of hassling with printed stacks of paper. “It’s been a huge value,” Clary says.

GeoNorth’s iPad apps for private companies have helped to address a variety of specific needs. One app helped a client organize its emergency response information. It syncs wirelessly and is even available offline. Another app made one company’s directory available and searchable through an iPad.

The company also developed an Anchorage Concert Association app that iPhone and iPad users can download to explore events, get show suggestions, read reviews, and sample music and video selections.

AT&T also offers a variety of customized mobile application solutions. According to its website, larger organizations can use AT&T’s Mobile Enterprises Application Platform to design, build, deploy, and manage dynamic mobile sales, service, and support apps, while smaller businesses can choose from more than two hundred apps.

Other popular sources for mobile apps include Apple’s App Store, Google Plan (formerly known as the Android Market), the Amazon Appstore, BlackBerry World, and the Windows Store.

 

QR Codes and Social Media

Building a mobile website is one thing, but building awareness of it is another matter. Some businesses are using innovative marketing methods like QR codes and Facebook to promote mobile sites and overall activities.

Perkins Coie is a business that employs QR codes to support its marketing efforts. Not everyone likes having paper on them, and QR codes offer a convenient option, DiCaro says, adding, “If they’re going to a tradeshow or coming into our office, they can use the QR code and download it to their phone or tablet and read it when they like.”

The law firm routinely offers paper-based marketing collateral, along with information people can opt to download from QR codes. For the past two years, Perkins Coie has been using the codes to disseminate attorney bios, practice descriptions, and other information. “It’s a nice alternative to not have to print the paper if we don’t need to,” DiCaro says.

One can invest money into a mobile website, Ressler says, but unless people know about it, it’s not going to work. So when the Mat-Su CVB launched its mobile site last summer, it sent table tents out to all of its members with a QR code going to the mobile site. The marketing message on the table tent read: “Your next adventure awaits. Scan this QR code with your smartphone for special events and more information.”

Ressler says mobile and social media are driving much of the marketing at the Mat-Su CVB. “It’s cross pollination, with Facebook leading to mobile and mobile leading to the regular site,” he says.

The Mat-Su CVB has also been taking advantage of Facebook advertising, which Ressler says has been incredible. Once, the bureau spent $1,000 for a two-week ad campaign that generated 1,900 new page likes. “Those are people who are now engaged,” Ressler says.

Even posting a photo to Facebook offers the potential to connect with a multitude of people. For instance, Ressler uses his smartphone to snap beautiful photos to share on the bureau’s Facebook page. “Within minutes, I have reached several thousand people,” he says.

Anchorage photographer David Jensen has been using Facebook to indirectly promote his upcoming animal photography book. He started with a personal page four years ago and transitioned to a business page, which now has about 2,100 fans. It was slow going initially, but Jensen—who is patient and goal-oriented—didn’t mind the process.

Interestingly, he rarely uses the page as an advertising vehicle. Instead, he uses it as a platform to share an inspirational photo or information that’s sweet, fun, and laughter-oriented. “People know they can open our page and see something pleasant to start their day off nicely,” he says.

 

Mobile-Based Communication

Alaska Communications offers another way to help businesses benefit from mobile migration—Voice Over Internet service. Transmitting voice signals over the Internet is nothing new. But Alaska Communications has configured Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to make it easier for workers to be more mobile.

With the service, business customers can have all the features of their VoIP office phone system on a smartphone, tablet, or personal computer. “It’s not like a phone line to a location, but instead, it’s a business line set to a person,” says Alaska Communications Senior Product Manager Brett Meyer.

Alaska Communications’ service is designed to deliver a full-featured, business-class phone system—without the cost or hassle of having an on-site system installed. It also gives users the flexibility to ring multiple devices, phone numbers, and even apps. The Find Me, Follow Me feature forwards calls to another phone number. “If you’re not available at all, it takes your voicemail and turns it into a .wav file, and then turns it into an email,” Meyer says. “It gives you the capability to not miss an important call.”

Research indicates that up to 70 percent of employees have mobility as part of their job at one point or another, according to Meyer. Alaska Communications’ VoIP system addresses that trend by helping workers stay connected on the go. At the same time, it allows businesses to add and modify phone lines while lowering costs. The company’s enterprise-level bundle includes just about everything customers need for around $35 a seat (or phone station).

To Meyer, Alaska Communications’ Voice Over Internet service is more of a communication solution than a phone. He says: “It works the way businesses work today; it’s evolving with business.”

Former Alaskan Tracy Barbour writes from Tennessee.

This first appeared in the October 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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