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How McGraw-Hill jumpstarted its mobile app rollout

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In the spring of 2010, the launch of Apple's iPad shot a wave of excitement through McGraw-Hill Cos.' information & media segment. Editors and business leaders in all four units—Platts, McGraw-Hill Construction, Aviation Week and J.D. Power & Associates—began appealing to Hitesh Chitalia, the group's director of e-business, for apps that would showcase their brands on iPads, iPhones and other smart mobile devices. Chitalia shared his colleagues' enthusiasm, but he didn't have an IT budget to meet the unexpected demand. Digital Directions asked Chitalia, who joined McGraw-Hill in 2003, how he solved the problem and what he learned.

Digital Directions: What did you do when you didn't have the budget you needed to start launching mobile apps?

Hitesh Chitalia: Management of the information & media segment agreed to fund a prototyping program that would allow us to experiment. Our plan was to develop simple apps for immediate launch in the iTunes store and get customer feedback quickly. We hired a third-party partner, ISG (Innovative Strategic Group) Marketing, to create modules that could be reused across brands. This approach lowered the cost of entry, because we could develop the platform once and use it multiple times. And it allowed us to get more apps into the market, so that we would have more opportunities to learn along the way.

In parallel to our prototyping strategy, in 2011 we enlisted Forrester as a consultant to help us create a consistent approach for developing the strategic business cases for mobile delivery. As a result, each business unit is going through a process that includes looking at the audience they want to target, evaluating what their audience members are trying to accomplish, imagining how the mobile application can help them and deciding how the app will be monetized.

DD: Could you give me some examples of the reusable components?

Chitalia: There's always a list view that acts like a table of contents. We have share buttons for Facebook and Twitter, a module for polls and surveys and modules for photo, audio and video. We integrated Webtrends to track app usage, and we are leveraging our OAS (Open AdStream) ad server to serve ads and capture metrics for advertisers.

DD: What business models are you using?

Chitalia: We decided early that the apps needed to be free, so, currently, our revenue comes from sponsorships and advertising. Through advertising and sponsorships, we have gotten back about 40% to 50% of our initial investment in the first year.

DD: How many apps have you launched?

Chitalia: We now have a total of seven apps on Apple's iOS platform and six on Android. Based on what we have learned, we are planning to continue to develop native apps for iOS, but we will look to develop in HTML5 rather than developing native apps for Android and other operating systems, although there will be exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

DD: What is your mobile strategy for 2012?

Chitalia: Each business unit is planning budget dollars for mobile in 2012, and the total budget for our platform is planned to increase by 50% over what was spent this year.

We're going from an experimental phase to making mobile another delivery channel on par with print and the Web. We are working towards a content delivery system that will expose the content and deliver it universally to any channel. In addition to rolling out additional apps for our media brands, we will be maintaining and expanding our event apps and working on a solution to power subscription models. Subscription products will probably be sold to both individual users and businesses.

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