Are the Swiss innovative? Not with apps

We’re often told that Switzerland is the most innovative country in the world. At least, I’m often told that, when I give talks challenging companies in Switzerland to be more innovative. People in my audience point to various rankings which put Switzerland at #1, and say we can’t be that bad.

No doubt those rankings are measuring something meaningful. But I doubt they are measuring innovation in our day-to-day lives – at least, not judging by a recent trip I made to America.

My trip started with checking in for my flight by app and choosing my seat, which is nowadays standard on most airlines. What did surprise me is that the Marriott let me check-in via their app and choose my room, showing me a nice graphic of all the available rooms on the various floors.

Next I stayed at a Hilton, which takes it one step further: I could use the app to unlock the room door, so I didn’t need to wait in line at the reception desk for an access card on arrival.

Staying at the Four Seasons, I found I could order room service on their app, and request the dishes to be collected when I’d finished. I could check out using the app, too.

When my wife and I went for lunch at Chick-fil-A, we ordered via the app while stuck in traffic. We didn’t need to specify what time we wanted to pick up the order: the app could monitor when we were getting close to the restaurant, so our order was freshly made when we arrived.

I wasn’t able to handle my car rental by app. But that was about the only experience on this whole trip that hadn’t changed significantly since my last visit to the US.

Back home, it was frustrating to be reminded of how far behind Switzerland is lagging in making life easier for people by using mobile technology. I still have to find coins to pay for parking, for example. My e-banking app shows me a graphic of my spending which is so inaccurate as to be useless, even though research shows that online experience is becoming one of the most important criteria for customers in choosing a bank.

True, things are improving: SBB’s app, for example, was overhauled last year and is now user-friendly. But it is still shocking that this took until nine years after the launch of the first iPhone.

Even today, many companies in Switzerland have an app only for Android or iOS. Very few have apps for Windows 10, even though it is likely that a significant proportion of their customers will be touching all three platforms during the course of their lives.

There is no excuse for companies to risk losing business in this way, when cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure take away the hassle of buying infrastructure or patching servers and make it easy to focus on what really matters: a good user experience. With Xamarin, Microsoft now offers the possibility to write and maintain one code while offering your customers the app across all platforms.

At the end of my trip to the US, I stayed in another Marriott. I mentioned to the check-in clerk that I’d stayed at a Hilton, and was able to open my room door via app. She was anxious to assure me that this functionality was coming soon to Marriott, too.

In the US, companies evidently understand that they will lose business if they aren’t at the forefront of innovation in their customers’ daily lives. Does your company understand that, too?

Written by Dave Kurth
Thriving within my current role as Sr. Product Marketing Manager Azure, I'm focused on Azure Hybrid, Azure Stack Hub, Azure Stack Edge