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What Business Leaders Can Learn from 'Generation Mobile'

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Learn to say, "Go for it!"

That's the lesson my team at work is learning from a bunch of high school students.

About four years ago, we started hiring high school interns. The idea was to introduce basic software development skills and help create interest in the field. What we didn't anticipate was how much we'd learn in the process. In many ways, the teachers became the students, and the experience continues to transform the way we view risk, reward -- and the user experience.

Because these students are Generation Mobile; they are fearless about embracing technology in ways people of my generation -- or actually just about any generation that isn't theirs -- don't.

Since being connected constantly is how they live, mobile computing is their "native language." It's as though, having grown up with cell phones and social media, they're hardwired to instantly share where they are, where they're going, what products they like and which ones they think are lame. They have no problem providing data about themselves, especially when there's something to gain. Yet, loyalty is hard-won with this fickle group who will quickly turn on a brand that turns them off or oversteps boundaries.

That fearless Millennial attitude must be embraced to succeed in the mobile enterprise industry today. Instead of getting bogged down in analysis about a new app or digital service we're thinking of building, we have to step out of our comfort zone the way the mobile generation does. There isn't much downside in doing so -- and plenty to lose if you don't.

Here's why. This generation, which is quickly going to become our employees and customers, if they aren't already, embraces technological Darwinism. They know that not every app or new feature will survive. But they're curious; they want to experiment and try things out.

And the good news is that mobile computing is custom made for this era of experimentation. Rather than spending months or years building out a complex business application, companies can create a new app in a matter of days or even hours. They can pilot among a small group, and quickly make iterative changes to reflect user input.

Of course, the user experience isn't just look and feel. New expectations for service and personalized communications mean that a slick-looking app won't survive on its own. Increasingly, we must incorporate science and analytics into this brave new world. This means being able to quickly analyze usage trends and behavioral patterns to appropriately respond to customers' needs and deliver services that just weren't possible before.

For instance, let's say you're sitting in a coffee shop and just checked in or paid with an app on your phone. Looking at your past history and the stores near you, your credit card company could see that you like to shop at a certain retail store. It recognizes you are two blocks away from the nearest location and the app pushes a personalized discount code for your favorite jeans. That's the power of combining analytics with geo-location and mobile technologies, and IBM is doing that today with companies such as Visa.

These topics will be discussed this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona because we're all feeling our way in this instantaneous, hyper-connected world, trying to figure out the new norms and taboos. To remain relevant, companies stand to learn some valuable lessons from the Mobile generation, which embraces a powerful combination of fearlessness and deliberation.

Today, the concepts they so easily embrace -- social networking, sharing data and location details -- will be the ones that will transform everything from banking to insurance, health care to traffic control, into social businesses for generations to come.

In fact, moving beyond mobile devices, at IBM, we are looking at glucose readers that can share readouts automatically with your doctor and nutritionists. Or cars that can create social networks among similar car owners in order to share advice or alert each other about common problems.

Those are the kinds of services that make perfect sense to today's young digital natives.

For more information about IBM and mobile computing, visit ibm.com/mobilefirst.

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