By Dan Turchin, former CEO of Aeroprise. Follow Dan on Twitter.

Mobile Self Service is today where Mobile Incident Management was five years ago: universal interest, demand from early adopters, but ultimately limited usage.

What changed the trajectory of Mobile Incident was the same thing that eventually toppled Mubarak and will someday end world hunger (mark my words): the 2007 launch of the iPhone. Once smartphones became ubiquitous and Rolex-chic Mobile Incident became a business requirement, not just a technology curiosity.

All businesses have a fundamental need to work trouble tickets at the point where service is delivered but everyone first needed devices to be cheap and easy to use. What’s holding back Mobile Self Service is similar but different. Again, there’s universal interest and demand from early adopters but ultimately limited usage.

The reason this time: self service without integrated knowledge is useless. Before Mobile Self Service hits the knee in the curve most deployments will include not just the ability to request a service but also the ability to solve problems before making the request. Today, it’s a rare customer discussion that involves both.

Which brings me to a meeting last week with my friend Bruce Murray, Service Delivery Manager for a global hardware company. Bruce is a seasoned IT exec with battle scars he’s proud to show from years of arguing that solutions matter and tools don’t. Bruce’s company deployed Mobile Remedy Incident on BlackBerry and Asset for Symbol scanners in 2009. Here’s how the conversation went:

BM: “So we’re finally ready for Mobile Self Service.”

Me: “Aha. Took you long enough.”
BM: “But we’re not going to make it easy on you.”
Me: “Have you ever?”
BM: “Here’s the deal: we need our knowledge base available on smartphones and integrated with our request portal.”
Me: “Been waiting to hear you say that for years. I could kiss you. What changed?”
BM: “Well, for starters, don’t. You know that request portal we deployed in 2010? Dead on arrival.”
Me: “Even after the CIO made a fool of himself launching it?”
[Note for context: the launch involved three execs on stage, a dog costume, and a bowl of Kibbles to showcase the new “fetching” app. Truly pathetic. CIO cool is what our Mark Settle did. Dude’s a rock star!]
BM: “Yeah, well, turns out it takes more than dog food to make an IT project successful. What happened is we tried to force everyone to use it and got way ahead of ourselves. We even trimmed staff on the help desk in anticipation that call volumes would plummet.
They didn’t. So wait times went up and usage of the portal hovered around 5% of overall tickets.”
Me: “Ouch. So not exactly the 50% you were targeting.”
BM: “Here’s what we learned too late: requesting is fine but it doesn’t solve any problems. And frankly, requesting from a catalog isn’t much better than requesting over the phone.”
Me: “So why the renewed interest in Mobile Self Service?”
BM: “Six months ago we added answers and traffic is up 500% since then. Now, users describe what they need in a Google-like text box and up pop a combination of answers and requestable services as they type. We just missed what really matters the first time around.
Now we’re getting inundated with requests for a smartphone app. And we’re ready this time, going straight to answers so right on the phone you can solve your problem, not just describe it.
Mobile is the last missing piece. Users tell us their biggest frustration is not being at a PC when they have a problem, especially when what they’re trying to report is a problem with their PC.”
Me: “Music to my ears. May I quote you?”
BM: “Yeah, on one condition. You and me on stage in gorilla suits to remind the CIO he went ape **** when the portal almost died.”
Me: Dead silence.

Any Bruces out there? Mind sharing your story? I’d love to find out we’re closer to an iPhone moment in Self Service than I thought.

By: Dan Turchin