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Mary Kay deploys an HP Labs-developed mobile enterprise solution in China, sees an increase in sales


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist

 Jerry Liu at Discover 2013 Las Vegas_2.jpg

An HP Labs-developed solution is helping a major HP enterprise customer successfully navigate the increasingly complex global mobile ecosystem.


In a presentation at the recent HP Discover 2013 conference in Las Vegas, Jay Kreusch, Technology Manager for Mobile Strategy at Mary Kay Inc., shared how the cosmetics multinational is deploying a new HP mobility platform to improve sales for their independent beauty consultants (IBC), initially in China, whatever mobile device they use.


The system they were replacing was desktop- and fax-based, Kreusch told the audience. Going mobile in partnership with HP, he said, “has changed this process in a transformative way.”


In particular, Mary Kay wanted to provide its sales force with a mobile app featuring up-to-date product information and pricing, educational materials, and improved ordering, mentoring, and new consultant sign-up functions, Kreusch explained. But as a direct seller, the company doesn’t issue devices to its sales network. Instead, each IBC uses his or her own smart device, which meant the company needed its app to operate on most of the thousands of different devices currently in use around the world.


Their solution was to partner with HP, which worked with Mary Kay to pilot an innovative mobile application and mobile device management platform – HP Hydra – based on research conducted at HP Labs. They chose to run the initial program with the company’s IBCs in China, which is one of Mary Kay’s fastest growing markets.


The complexity of China’s mobile device ecosystem made for an especially attractive research challenge, says research manager Jerry Liu of HP’s Printing and Content Delivery Lab. But the issue of device complexity is ubiquitous, he notes. “The various mobile apps on devices running iOS, Android and Windows 8, for example, aren’t compatible,” observes Liu. “And Android devices are particularly complex to handle because they come in different form factors with customizations by the device manufacturers to differentiate their products – it’s a huge challenge to achieve a consistent mobile experience across these different platforms.”


In addition, the Labs researchers wanted to address the BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) trend, where people are using their personal devices to access enterprise data and apps. “While employees like BYOD, and it saves companies money, it’s also a headache for IT administrators,” says Liu.


In response, the HP Labs team developed a cross-platform mobility framework that offers an enterprise two important new functionalities. Firstly, there is a SDK (Software Development Kit) and various mobile device runtimes (one for each operating system) that lets developers create a single mobile app with a standard programming language and then deploy that app to various operating systems, running within the HP runtime environment, while still retaining the look and feel of native OS apps. Enabling cross platform apps to have a native user interface distinguishes HP Hydra from many other mobile frameworks which are based on  HTML.


“Our innovation comes from the device runtime residing on top of the native OS which provides an application container environment and isolates the application business logic from the differences in the underlying OS. We’ve engineered this container to be lightweight and really fast, so apps running within our container have similar look-and-feel and responsiveness as native apps developed specifically for each platform,” explains Liu.


Secondly, the Labs team designed the novel application and device management platform that underlies HP Hydra. “This management system lets enterprise IT departments manage all these devices even though they don’t own them,” says Liu. “For example, they can push app updates to the devices without any user intervention, ensuring that a sales person always has the latest price list. If someone leaves the company, they can block access to the company content. There are also authentication and security features at multiple layers in the system, along with built-in connectors to enterprise data stores and backend systems like SharePoint.”


The Mary Kay pilot – which saw HP Labs working with HP’s Enterprise Services and Technology Services groups – has been up and running for over a year now and has already proven itself. Product orders are up and new IBC sign-ups now take 15 minutes where they used to take at least half a day – embodying a brand message that working with Mary Kay is both easy and fun.


In addition, utilization of the company’s MyBusiness consultant-to-consultant mentoring tool is up from 45% to 60% in 4 months, Kreusch reported in his Discover presentation. “We know through experience with this particular number that when we have our leadership more engaged in managing their people, we get better bottom line results,” he said. “So it’s not a matter of if this improved our business, but of how much.”


“The mobile solution has now been deployed to over 400,000 Mary Kay independent beauty consultants in China, and we have seen over 4,100 different types of mobile devices running on the platform,” adds HP’s Liu, noting that the pilot has also offered HP valuable insights into how it can help its customers succeed in the broader mobile ecosystem.


The HP Labs research that underpins HP Hydra was also on show in the Mobility pavilion at HP Discover 2013.  Overall, says Liu, "the reactions we received at Discover were very positive. It reinforced our sense that we're on the right track in addressing a need in the market place. We're now looking to extend HP Hydra capabilities to address other challenges in the enterprise mobility space as we move forward with our research program."


Mary Kay, meanwhile, plans to extend its HP-developed solution to IBCs in other regions around the world. It will also add lightweight CRM (Customer Relationship Management) capabilities that will further enable its IBCs to understand and interact with their customers.




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