June 2011

As social media continues to explode as a marketing tool, limited-service restaurants will likely face even more decisions about how to spend their time and dollars in an effort to use special online deals to grab the attention and loyalty of customers.

Whether it’s the use of Facebook, Twitter, or other tools to drive fans to the restaurant or daily deal couponing via Groupon and LivingSocial, operators are continuing to see their social media options grow.

Social media “is an ever-changing world,” said Hilary Allard, a vice president of Boston-based marketing communications company The Castle Group, Boston. “Who knows where it will be a year from now? You have to dive in and see where it takes you.”



Back in 2004 I was the CIO for a nationwide automobile recycling company called Greenleaf (now LKQ) which would purchase cars with salvage titles at auto auctions, dismantle the cars and sell the parts. As you can imagine, the cars that we wanted to purchase were the ones with the largest number of usable, non damaged, parts that were in the greatest demand.

We had written an application that would scour our current inventory and identify parts that we deemed that we needed for each vehicle at auction and place a value on said vehicle based on what we thought we could sell the parts for minus transport and other overhead costs.

At the time, the existing technology was to use a ruggedized laptop where we entered in the usable parts for each vehicle at auction during the preview period and then would “sync” them at the end of the day to get the price we were willing to pay the next day at the auction.

These notebook PCs were bulky and heavy and often suffered from poor battery life, so it was not always convenient for buyers to drag them around to the auctions. As a result, auction preview information – such as year, make, model and condition of the vehicles for sale – being gathered by buyers wasn’t always captured electronically. Often times, the “buyers” as we called them would cowboy up and place a value on the car “based on their years of buying experience”. Well as you can imagine, that resulted in many bad buys for Greenleaf where we could not sell the parts for what we expected to, or they sat around in inventory for a very long time.

In order to find a solution to this problem, we spec’d out a wireless solution that would make it easier for the buyers to access the purchasing algorithm directly and in real-time via wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) after looking at various tablet PC’s of that time. Evaluating the mobile devices and carriers was a huge task since in 2004 wireless broadband was not very prevalent. Each carrier that we used was different based on their coverage for that part of the country.

Additionally, different types of PDAs were involved, based on what that carrier supported. To ensure the application was device independent, we used the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit, which defines the framework and the user interface for a mobile Web application so that it will be compatible with any mobile device.

The biggest challenge to overcome, however, was coping with the PDA screen size, which is much smaller than on the notebook PCs the buyers had previously been using. In order not to degrade the user experience, some unique interface design effort was required to collapse the presentation screen size and re-map the information onto the smaller PDA screen – while ensuring that the most relevant data was readily available to the buyers. Even though the application functionality was the same as before, many of the buyers had never used handheld devices, and the smaller screens and stylus took some getting used to. Additionally, these devices were not the best performers in the direct sunlight of the car lots.

Why do I tell you all this? Because I almost look back daily since the advent of the iPad (and subsequently Android tablets) and think about how the iPhone/iPad was a revolution. The iPhone was a phone like no other when it came out and the iPad singlehandedly rescued an industry (tablet PCs) that had all but died.

If today we could have given the buyers access to the purchasing algorithm via an app written for an iOS or Android tablet using 3G or 4G…man oh man!  With today’s tablets perfect size, perfect weight and perfect thickness on a screen as sharp and usable in sunlight as say a Super AMOLED screen we would have overcome all of the challenges I mentioned above and had virtually no issues with our buyers.

How about you, how are you taking advantage of mobile apps and tablet technology today to solve challenges in the Enterprise?