Mobile technologies are changing the face of America’s small businesses. Not too long ago, small entrepreneurs worked in offices that were dominated by telephones, typewriters and filing cabinets. Today, businessmen are opting for leaner, and hopefully more cost effective, offices built around smartphones and tablets. And the change isn’t just surface cosmetics. The mobile revolution is also changing how they manage their enterprises.
Information and communications technology (ICT) analyst Michael Minges suggests that the economies of scale gained from serving the ever growing mobile market are among the most powerful influences pushing the global ICT sector in the direction of a post-PC world. “The emergence of mobile broadband networks, coupled with computer-like handsets, is causing rapid shifts in the ecosystem of the sector,” Minges writes in a report issued by the World Bank recently.
A shift in customer preferences
These shifts are due to a sweeping change in consumers preferences. Mobile use is exploding. Google estimates that, by 2015, more Americans will access the web through mobile devices than desktops. And small business revenues are already beginning to reflect this shift. Forrester Research estimates that mobile payments in the US rose to some $6 billion in 2011. The research organization expects revenues from mobile commerce in America to reach $31 billion by 2016. The projected figures reflect a compounded annual growth rate of around 39 percent from 2011 to 2016 alone.
The information gathered by Computer Discount Warehouse (CDW) for its 2012 Small Business Mobility Report indicates that small businesses have already begun to adapt to the change in consumer habits, and are quickly adjusting to new mobile platforms. Some 79 percent of the information technology (IT) managers working in America’s small enterprises say their companies have deployed smartphones to some of their workforce. Another 55 percent of the IT managers polled said their business firms have issued tablets to a part of their employee pool. Around 85 percent of these same respondents believe mobile devices have made their companies more efficient.
“We travel frequently to client sites,” one small business manager told CDW. “Smartphones allow us to be in constant contact, and collaborate effectively even when in remote locations.”
Productivity and cost reduction
The CDW report further indicates that some 55 percent of America’s small entrepreneurs and IT managers believe that mobile devices have actually increased employee productivity. In turn, some 81 percent of small business employees said they use smartphones for work, and spend an average of around two hours each day on their mobile devices for office-related communications and tasks. Another 65 percent said they use laptops at work while 25 percent said they use tablets.
But increased productivity is not the only reason why small business is going mobile. A good number of small enterprises are starting to rely on mobile devices to reduce telecommunications costs, as well. The ICT sector has made dramatic advances in recent years. RingCentral phone service providers now offer packages that include cloud-based virtual offices and PBX systems — technologies that altogether eliminate the usual telecommunications and hardware maintenance costs.
The next step
According to CDW, the next step for America’s small businesses is better mobility management services. Around 89 percent of the employees working in small business firms use their own mobile devices. To make the most of the advantages offered by mobile communications, small business owners will need applications that include policy and security management capabilities across many platforms. CDW recommends software that provides cost effective management of applications and devices for inventory control, carrier management and help desk services, in particular.
Ultimately, staying ahead in the digital age will require small enterprises to welcome an inevitable measure of uncertainty. There is learning curve, of course. But only by becoming familiar with new technologies and braving uncertainty can America’s small businesses discover the opportunities that lie ahead for them in the emerging mobile business environment.