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Mobile platforms, agencies or both: Which is the right choice?

It happens all the time. An innovative technology is developed, creating a new business or marketing channel. In the late 1990s, it was email marketing and ecommerce. In the 2000s, it was social marketing. Now, we are seeing it all over again with mobile. 

With time, these market evolutions take on a natural pattern. 

Stacking up
At first, it is an empty space without reliable product solutions that organizations can buy and deploy on their own. As a result, services firms rush in to fill the void. 

These agencies provide expert know-how and low-risk vehicles for enterprises to experiment and implement first-generation solutions. 

Agencies were the first to manage email marketing, build Web sites, conduct social marketing campaigns and, most recently, build many of the first wave of mobile experiences.

As the market opportunity grows and demand heats up, the market begins to mature. 

At this point, some companies strike out on their own, building custom solutions that allow them to take complete control of their own technology destiny, believing that custom equates to competitive advantage. If no one else has my custom stack, it must be better, right?

Well, not necessarily. Building everything from scratch inherently increases complexity, costs, risks and required investment. 

Nevertheless, some businesses pursue a direct path to full ownership, building solutions entirely in-house despite these significant challenges.

Platform shows
As markets mature even more, reliable products and platforms emerge that empower organizations to achieve channel ownership in a way that leverages shared technology, reducing the overall complexity, costs, risks and required investment. 

We call this subsequent and natural market evolution ?the rise of the platforms.? 

We have seen platforms emerge many times before. 

There was the rise of email marketing platforms such as MailChimp and SendGrid. There was the growth of ecommerce engines such as Demandware, ATG and Magento. 

Most recently, there was the launch of social marketing platforms such as HootSuite. 

All of these platforms provide companies with the means to efficiently manage their channel strategies in a way that aligns with their overall business goals.

The explosive growth of mobile demand is driving a very familiar pattern. 

The first wave was dominated by the agency approach and many companies turned to agencies to design, deploy and maintain their mobile sites and applications. 

Technology was thin and change orders piled up as businesses tried to quickly evolve their mobile experiences. But this approach reduced risk and provided a tactical stopgap while the market matured.

Now, mobile is no longer a curiosity. It is a business imperative. 

Many companies are seeing more than 40 percent of their desktop traffic coming from smartphones and tablets. This means that tactical approaches to mobility are no longer viable for many businesses. 

Direct control, predictable costs, increasing business agility and keeping mobile experiences in constant sync with the desktop are critical business requirements. 

Most organizations do not outsource their desktop site. Outsourcing their mobile strategy no longer makes sense.

Additionally, innate attributes of the mobile medium make it ideal for platforms. 

Casing it
The mobile space is made up of many different endpoint formats, including smartphone sites, tablet sites, mobile apps and in-store kiosks. 

Even more, there are many different mobile operating systems layered onto these endpoints, including iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry and emerging products such as Tizen and Firefox phones.  

Market-proven mobile technology platforms solve many of these issues. 

The right platform can help retailers and other organizations unify their desktop, mobile and apps strategy, saving time and money. 

Unification also means that all your experiences are automatically in sync with each other, enhancing your brand and customer experiences. 

Look for a platform that is cost effective, one that does not force you to rewrite your current technology stack, does not force you into mobile silos, and where changes can be easily made. 

Your mobile platform should also be easy to try, easy to learn and leverage existing standards that your Web team already uses. 

The right platform approach will provide valuable future proofing and ongoing business agility that can deliver a sustainable competitive advantage for years to come. 

Agency of change
To be clear, mobile agencies are not going out of business anytime soon. 

Adapting what Mark Twain once said, reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated and their expert and unique creative talents will long be needed. 

That said, the role of mobile agencies will evolve substantially in the next few years. 

No longer will businesses look to outsource their mobile platforms to third parties that are not experienced in building technology platforms. 

Instead, like email marketing, ecommerce, social marketing and so many other channels before, businesses will leverage agencies for their expert know-how and design talent in combination with powerful, off-the-shelf technology platforms. 

This proven combination will give these enterprises incredible time to market advantages, reduced costs and complexity and accelerated business agility.   

Jarret Cuisinier is senior director of mcommerce at Moovweb, San Francisco. Reach him at