With more and more people making regular use of mobile devices for everything from communications to shopping, it’s vital that small business owners become informed about the best ways to take advantage of mobile trends. Business owners also need to be aware of the challenges mobile devices present, and how to manage them with sound solutions.
What the research is saying
According to CDW Corporation’s Small Business Mobility Report 2012, employees of the companies surveyed reported using smartphones, laptops and tablets at work to assist them on a day-to-day basis with communications, accessing information, and various other processes. Mobile devices provide the advantages of portability, all-day battery power and real-time online applications – making them especially useful while out of the office or travelling.
However, rather than being deliberately introduced, this trend of mobile device use appears to be happening in a more natural and ‘evolutionary’ manner – often being led by employees themselves with IT managers attempting to keep pace! In fact 89% of employees reported using their own devices in their jobs.
The survey results indicate that 94% of mobile device users believe their use of such devices improves their work efficiency. In fact 75% state that mobile device use is critical when it comes to performing their job, while 67% believe they would lose some degree of ‘competitive edge’ without them.
As well as greater efficiency, the benefits cited include improved communications, being more available for customers, better work/life balance, and streamlining of work processes – including faster delivery of goods and improved ability to keep track of schedules.
Potential small business benefits
It appears however that small businesses may not yet be taking advantage of mobile trends to the extent that they could. The study showed that many small business owners have not offered mobile-friendly features to customers, and are failing to use devices and apps for communicating with customers to any great degree. This suggests that while smartphones and laptops and tablets are being utilised by employees in their jobs, business owners could do a lot more to integrate them into their business strategies.
For example, mobile business methods could be used to a greater degree for advertising and marketing, for mobile commerce (m-commerce) for sales, bill payments and so on, and for providing customer access to company websites for information, queries and other activities.
Mobile device use presents various challenges, including the following:
- Good management. Almost half the businesses surveyed did not have an efficient strategy in place for managing employee mobile device use. This can present problems regarding security and consistency of use across the company, as well as data storage issues. Practical solutions include establishing a Mobile Device Management (MDM) strategy to address policy and security issues and the management of employees’ use of devices, and a Mobile Applications Management (MAM) system for consistency of device use across the business and data protection.
- Integrating mobility into ‘normal’ IT and business operations. It’s important to recognise that mobile devices can be useful business tools and as such they should be integrated into existing IT strategies and not treated as something separate. Business owners also of course need to always keep their eye on their main business sales and marketing goals and strategies – technology should never be allowed to become the focus in itself.
- Making it all customer-friendly! When using mobile websites customers should be able to make appointments, order goods, and check prices and other information easily using their mobile devices, rather than having to wait until they get home to access their desktops.
When properly implemented and utilised, mobile devices and software can help small businesses improve efficiency and stay competitive. As such it’s important that business owners do not disregard the emergence of mobile devices and what it means for small business, but instead work out the best strategies for integrating it into their existing business frameworks.