S: We are currently being confronted with strong market growth and an increasing level of specialisation on the service provider and customer side in both mobile technology and media. The technology, media and advertising businesses differ fundamentally: customer relations, as well as products and services are very different from one another.
In order to provide our customers with the best possible service, the YOC Group has separated technology from media and is communicating this in its external marketing as well. For the technology division in particular, we decided to combine products and technology from the YOC technology segment into the brand Sevenval, which has been established in the European market for over 12 years.
As a technology and solutions provider, Sevenval concentrates its efforts on the mobilisation of customers’ business models in that we provide a mobile infrastructure on the basis of our own Sevenval FIT Technology. The name Sevenval, incidentally, derives from the seven values (actually six values, one from each of the company’s founders, and one patent, on which the company was founded.
MM: How do you see Sevenval’s position in the mobile internet/multichannel market?
S: With our in-house developed Sevenval FIT Technology, we aim to ensure the best possible delivery of high-quality web content on every web-enabled end device, whether that’s a smartphone, feature phone, tablet PC, portable games console, in-car browser or TV.
Our customers know by now that mobile internet is no longer just about delivering content to a smartphone. The challenge is more the delivery of the right content, whatever the device. Our technology platform allows us to tackle this problem. We are already delivering cross-channel mobile web solutions with a global focus for customers such as Mercedes-Benz and Motorola. Mercedes-Benz offers its users a true multichannel experience, with tailor-made concepts for each device group for the main mobile channels - smartphones, feature phones, tablet PCs and the in-car navigation system, COMAND.
MM: The market seems to be very fragmented, there are dozens of technology providers and agencies taking on the theme. How do you differentiate yourselves?
S: We are a technology and solutions provider. We have our own software product - Sevenval FIT Technology at our disposal. Through FIT we are able to comprehensively fulfil the requirements of our customers and business units.
We offer our customers complete flexibility and transparency in the deployment of our software. It can be used as a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution or integrated in a customer’s IT landscape. On the basis of the software, we enable our customers to independently develop and run their own mobile web projects or to procure these as a service provided by Sevenval or a partner.
Our solution is flexible and modular, so that the customer can define which services Sevenval should provide and which they provide themselves. We are able to offer our clients as much or as little control of the day-to-day running of their mobile offering as is required. We believe this high level of flexibility and transparency, combined with our many years of expertise in solving complex tasks and providing mobile infrastructure on the basis of a leading technology is unique in this industry.
MM: If you had to name three keywords that are at the top of Sevenval’s mobility strategy agenda, what would they be?
S: For us, everything revolves around quality, long-term sustainability and the reliability of our software and solutions.
MM: Where does mobile work best would you say? Is it for targeted customer communication, customer loyalty or increasing brand presence?
S: In all of the above, mobility and mobile internet have arrived in the mainstream, and are no longer a thing of the future. The advantages offered by mobility come from the customer’s business model: mobile internet and mobile marketing can be used effectively by insurance providers for lead generation; by retailers as an eCommerce tool; and energy providers and travel and transport operators can maintain contact with their customers via mobile services and offer added value through personalisation of services.
MM: Where do you see the most need for consultation when creating relevant concepts?
S: Concepts shouldn’t be orientated on what is technically possible, but rather on the customer’s business model and individual objectives. Scope needs to be defined in partnership with the customer, and only then should you look at how the technical implementation will be carried out and which new features and functionalities will be used. Unfortunately, too many concepts are planned and implemented the other way round, and customers are forced into using pointless technical solutions. The old adage: ‘Technology has to follow Strategy’ applies here.
MM: With Sevenval’s FIT Technology you are clearly focusing on the server-side-led adaptation. Is this the future?
S: Sevenval FIT Technology is a software package and the result of over 12 years’ experience in our own software business and customer data centre. It is specifically designed to leverage existing web content and processes, which can extract and mixed any content in real time via a HTTP interface.
At the same time, via FITML markup, FIT Technology can be controlled directly in the backend. This allows for the easy aggregation of all necessary content, without duplicating the management of the data. Through the separation of data ownership and display logic, data management can be handled by established tools, such as an in-house CMS. In contrast to other server-side technologies, which deal only with device databases, we focus on browser plus operating system and hardware, in order to deliver optimised websites.
With that in mind, the technology combines the traditional server-side client with client-side detection and adaptation, in order to create a delivery context that maximises the strengths and bridges the weaknesses of the particular approach. The core element of this hybrid approach is the combination of different technologies, in order to achieve the best result for the user and for our customers.
We mix the information from our server-side Client Description Repository (CDR), with new technologies such as progressive enhancement and responsive web design, detecting optimal client properties in order to produce the best display. In this way, we can react to dynamic developments, solve tasks securely and efficiently, and offer long-term mobile solutions.
Many companies have an existing technical infrastructure that is influenced by connections to a variety of different systems and web servers. Leaps in technology on the client-side are accompanied with long lifecycles at the server level. Without constant adaptation, display quality suffers. In order for companies to keep up with ever-changing web infrastructure technically, as well as financially, sustainability and efficiency in the implementation of mobile websites is mandatory. The decision in favour of our technology is an architectural decision that offers flexibility in all mobile channels, and is geared towards sustainability.
MM: To what extent could HTML5 and other standards make systems like FIT Technology obsolete in the future?
S: The continued development of web technologies such as HTML5, as well as cooperation between the big players on standards, show the importance of web and innovation. However, HTML5 is often referred to as the saviour of the internet. In reality, it is just the next iteration of HTML markup, and while it does bigger and better things than HTML4, not all devices support everything that it does.
Furthermore as we move into the future, and newer technologies arrive, FIT allows our clients to futurproof their mobile web offering. Today, the possibilities are as endless as they are complex. The speed of innovation on the client, hardware and software side is high. What is new today can easily become obsolete tomorrow.
Developments such as iOS5, which only run on iPhone 3s and newer, or the massive Android fragmentation, are prime examples of technical innovations that are adopted relatively slowly by users. An efficient adaptation and optimisation of mobile solutions will be even more important in the future, in order to keep up with the market dynamic, both technologically and financially.
This is where we come in: Flexibility and sustainability are two core elements of our technology. Through the FITML markup language (= XHTML with microformat semantics), which is part of FIT Technology, we believe we have created the universal tool that enables expressive layouts to be created, regardless of device.
MM: Who are your main client contacts? Are they management level and/or department heads?
S: Both groups of course, depending on project phase. Three years ago, mobile was a theme that clearly fell under the remit of the marketing department. More and more, we’re speaking directly with IT managers within companies. This development proves that mobile has become a core theme that is integrated into the customer’s central infrastructure.
MM: Who do work with in terms of service providers and software/hardware manufacturers?
S: Alongside our direct customers, we work closely with OEM partners and solution providers who install our software in order to realise mobile web projects for their customers. Based on Sevenval FIT Technology, mobile and multichannel web projects can be implemented and run by partners such as GSI Commerce, Intershop, WincorNixdorf and various others.
MM: In the mobile segment, new alliances have recently been forged (e.g. Google-Motorola, Microsoft-Nokia) and former market leaders are quickly losing market share. Which operating systems and platforms do you see as being at the forefront in business in the coming years?
S: The iOS and Android operating systems are clearly in the lead right now, but Windows Phone has potential. Gartner has even predicted that by 2015, Microsoft could overtake Apple’s iOS with Windows Phone, providing that the strategic partnership between Microsoft and Nokia moves in a positive direction. However, Android does not always equal Android, and even Apple’s iPhone, which is perceived by many as a homogenous platform, has differing features and functionality. In practice, this means that iOS4 will no longer be supported on a first-generation iPhone.
We believe that alongside native apps, which have been a main focal point in the past, mobile internet will continue to grow. Companies such as Facebook confirm that there is more traffic via the mobile browser than via apps for iOS and Android combined. One can say for certain that the mobile web will be the big winner among mobile platforms.
There’s a good reason why Facebook announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, that it wants to push for standards in the mobile internet. In order to do so, it has founded a group in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) together with Mozilla and more than 30 other device manufacturers, network providers and browser developers.
MM: What are the upcoming trends and themes to watch out for?
S: In 2012, it’s no longer about having a mobile presence, but rather, as with the desktop web, about offering the user the highest quality experience. With the trio - desktop, tablet PC and mobile, and in the future with further screens such as in-car browsing and internet TV, multichannel will become a reality. Today we still talk about mobile trends, but it’s much more than that.
Businesses are facing the challenge of controlling the constantly growing number of new, internet-enabled end devices. Gartner also sees a big challenge in this fragmentation when it writes: “Consumer devices bring new opportunities and challenges to customer-facing organizations. They aim to develop rich mobile applications for smartphones and tablets to beat competition and appeal end customers, but mobile platform fragmentation increases complexity and costs.” [Source: Gartner, April 2011].
The wider the website’s reach, the greater the fragmentation. Constant operating system updates require regular adaptations. However, the timing of these necessary adaptations isn’t set by the company themselves. Handset manufacturers and wireless carriers set the pace. To make matters worse, the technical infrastructure in most companies is complex, has grown organically, rather than in a controlled manner, and is influenced by connections within diverse systems and web servers.
Leaps in technology on the client side are accompanied with long lifecycles on the server-side. The bigger the company, the higher the costs. Not necessarily for the creation, but for the maintenance of mobile solutions, which many companies realised following the “app party” of 2011 when the cost hangover hit them.
A common misunderstanding is that a mobile website, whether on a smartphone, feature phone or tablet PC is just a stripped-down version of a desktop website. When developing a mobile solution, content needs to be tailored to different usage situations. According to this situation, the content should be displayed differently, offering an optimal user experience and usability. Novel operation concepts, different usage situations as well as technical frameworks of devices, operating systems and browsers need to be taken into consideration.
This, however, is not purely conceptual, but also a technical challenge, and requires that existing systems are able to keep up with this dynamic. What is certain is that new trends come, some stick around and others run their course. Costs and infrastructure must be kept under control, even if one wants to be innovative. The challenge for the future is to enable companies to keep up technically as well as economically, to create a foundation for flexibility.
Tom Laband and Michael Alexander are joint managing directors of Sevenval UK