Going Mobile in Alternative Investing
I’m not generally an early adopter when it comes to technology. I didn’t get a mobile phone until the late 1990’s, because I was ambivalent about their value. But the first iPhone floored me, and when I bought one, it changed the very nature of computing for me. Where earlier options failed to win me over, I’ve had no ambivalence at all about the value of the successive iPhones I’ve carried.
Of course, I’m not alone, here. Mobile devices are among the most important and most impactful of all our recent technological obsessions. According to IDC, consumers and businesses are expected to spend USD484 billion on tablets and smartphones in 2015, across several major platforms. That’s an impressive figure, particularly when you also consider that mobile spending represents 40 percent of IT spending growth, globally. In many cases, software and websites are now designed first for mobile use, and then expanded for use on PC’s.
Certainly, the world of alternative investing is not immune from the presence and influence of these devices. Fund managers are highly mobile individuals, and the connected nature of these devices offers the potential to carry up-to-date, detailed, and presentation-quality investment information in the palms of their hands, reshaping the way they work with investment teams, counterparties and investors.
In conversations with our clients about mobile solutions, several key needs have surfaced, starting with access to CRM data stored in the main system that is not always accessible while on the move. Fund managers and others need the ability to find contacts, follow-up with investors, and keep up with meetings, email history and more. The presentation of that data should be familiar, not a completely different experience than on their PC. Users also want to be able to update and modify entries. Their need to access data also extends beyond CRM/contact management — they also want access to the latest industry news and information, so they’re always ready for well-informed discussions with investors, portfolio companies, and others. It is clear these users are not interested in point solutions – rather, any of the information they can access at the office, they want also to be able to access from their mobile devices.
Requirements don’t end at access to data, of course. Clients also tell us they want mobile dashboards. These analytic tools are an important part of what make FrontInvest and other eFront solutions so powerful. By “slicing and dicing” and presenting the data, they help users extract value from it much more quickly, and presentation-quality visualizations are invaluable for investor and prospective investor meetings. Clients need dashboards to be available on-demand for immediate consultation, whether they’re somewhere with an internet connection, or not. From an investment management perspective, having these capabilities on a tablet or smartphone elevates these devices from personal productivity tools to business productivity tools.
It’s also important to be sure mobile solutions are taking advantage of the native capabilities of these devices, which can be quite different from a PC. For example, apps should be able to use phone numbers from contact records to send texts or place calls. Likewise, apps should be able to send emails to email addresses on contacts, show scheduled meetings within the native calendar, and pass contact, company or property addresses to mapping Apps.
It’s also important to be able to leverage data native to the device. For example, fund managers should be able to save important SMS threads back to CRM, in association with that contact. Likewise, research associates should be able to save photos of properties or portfolio company offices, associated with the asset records. And there are many other examples that we’ve heard from clients or brainstormed as mobile users, ourselves. Some of these could mean the difference between a useful means of accessing data away from the office, and a mobile app that delights and empowers its users.
In a very real sense, these devices have reset the bar for intuitiveness in software and hardware, as evidenced by videos showing iPads in use by very young children and even primates. We don’t expect gorillas to navigate the world of alternative investments, but our clients certainly expect us to provide fund managers and other users an excellent experience, consistent with other business solutions on their devices. They need to be lightweight, easy, and even fun to use.
A big part of achieving these goals is through thoughtful use of the gestures built into the device. Touch gestures need to be supported, of course, but the way they are used can make the difference between something that’s OK, and something that’s intuitive and fun. Pinch zooming is great, for example – I’ve even been known to use the gesture out of habit on paper magazines. But drilling into a chart on a dashboard shouldn’t require a pinch zoom; it should just require a tap. From there, moving to the next or previous chart shouldn’t require a close/open; it should be possible with a swipe.
Performance is crucial for all software applications, and mobile devices bring their own set of constraints. These devices have limited memory, processing power, and data transfer rates that networked PCs don’t share. Apps have to be designed to do work with data efficiently, offload processing-intensive tasks, and keep important data locally, to stay snappy and responsive. Good decisions on these points can make the difference between an app that is useful (and used heavily) on the road, and one that is too slow to be bothered with (a certain kiss of death).
These examples illustrate that in many cases, it’s not the best idea to simply port a Web app for use on a mobile device. A truly delightful app calls for thoughtful architecture, design, and execution, considering the inherent strengths and weaknesses of these devices.
Tablets and smartphones have become entrenched in our business and personal lives. This class of products will continue to grow and evolve rapidly, as the recent launch of the Apple Watch shows, and continue to delight us and expand the boundaries of our expectations. As a solution provider, it is our responsibility to be sure that our mobility solutions will keep pace with these expectations, and we are looking forward to sharing the fruits of our work, soon.
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