shutterstock_8114050Of all the transformative technologies explored in this series, including IT security, big data, and cloud, mobility may be the most ubiquitous, but the least valued or fully exploited by small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Pricing pressures and a dispersed workforce are forcing businesses to rethink how their employees work, communicate, and collaborate. Mobility plays a significant role in the thought process behind improving employee productivity and ease of collaboration, two common top-of-mind goals for SMBs.

At its best, mobility can transform how businesses engage with their customers, employees, and partners. It can elevate a small or midsize business from one of many organisations stuck within the middle of the pack to an industry leader. Mobility can also free your workforce to work anytime, anywhere, and from any device.

At its worst, mobility can make your company and its data vulnerable to hackers. Openness and easy access can create security and compliance nightmares. Additionally, the effort to manage the varied range of mobile devices, networks, and apps can be complicated due to a lack of proper integration.

A recent Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) study, as created and fielded by Coleman Parkes, surveyed 1,500 SMB senior-level decision-makers about their use of technology. Participants were from organisations all over the world and across numerous verticals, including finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail.

Based on the survey responses, these decision-makers were divided into three profiles: basic, moderate, and proactive adopters of technology. Each group displayed distinctive traits when it came to technology adoption.

When it comes to mobility, the survey revealed only 26 percent of total respondents have fully adopted and implemented mobility solutions for their business. Others have partially implemented solutions or have future plans to implement, and some have no plans to adopt a mobility solution. However, 58 percent of total respondents declared improving employee productivity as a top business priority for the next two years. They also described customer engagement as central to achieving their desired business outcomes.

Mobility can help achieve both of these goals, and it’s surprising more have not exploited mobility technologies. For those looking to incorporate a mobile strategy into their business, here’s how some organisations, including proactive SMBs, are using mobility to help their overall business, and how you, too, can set your organisation up for successful mobility adoption.

Motivators for adopting mobile technology

According to the HPE survey, the top motivators for proactive adopters to implement mobile technology are improving profitability (47 percent), modernising IT systems (46 percent), and creating better flexibility (45 percent). Achieving these business outcomes through mobile technology comes in many forms, including: enabling a remote workforce with access to business data and collaboration tools, promoting bring your own device (BYOD) policies, creating a digital experience that lets customers choose how and when to interact with you, and establishing a mobility-ready IT foundation with easy connectivity for employees and customers that does not compromise security.

Greater agility in the business was a motivator for 43 percent of proactive adopters. With properly implemented mobile solutions, you may be able to complete customer orders quicker, respond to service issues faster, generate leads more efficiently, and close deals due to streamlined access to the right sales materials at the click of a button. Real-time data access and collaboration within your team often means you can respond faster than your competition, as well.

Specific business outcomes from mobility technology use

Proactive adopters of mobile solutions saw their need for teleworkers increase as their businesses expanded. Of this group, 33 percent currently employ remote workers (1). Mobility solutions permit the addition of remote staff who could perform their jobs from any location.

This group views mobility as an enabler of staff efficiency. In the survey, 41 percent of the proactive adopters reported the link between mobility and employee productivity. The same percentage also saw productivity increase for one employee group in particular: IT staff. Mobility paved the way to make employees, overall, and the IT function, specifically, work better.

Proactive adopters found that mobile devices enabled business growth and connected workers better. Beyond employee productivity, mobility also enabled new customer acquisition, another common goal for SMBs. Among proactive adopters, 43 percent viewed mobility as essential in launching new products and services or moving into new markets. Additionally, 41 percent saw an improvement in their ability to quickly respond to changing business requirements.

1. For the purposes of this survey, “remote workers” are defined as employees who spend more than 50 percent of their time working out of the office with access to business/IT systems.

Embracing the many sides of mobility

One aspect of mobility is employee-facing. Another side is customer-facing. These two sides intersect when mobility enhances communication between employees, customers, and business partners. Mastering the multiple sides of mobility is essential to harnessing its full power.

Mobility and employees

Multiple survey respondents described their employee work environments as “on the go.” One survey respondent, an IT decision-maker in financial services in North America, viewed mobility as “the new way of the future in order to survive and be on the go always.” Mobility solutions enable quick and easy internal communications and external communication from your employees to customers and vendors. This ability liberates your staff from the limitations of the 9-to-5 workday.

Businesses also see the recruitment and retention benefits mobility offers. As one survey respondent reported, “We have been able to offer employees greater flexibility in work arrangements” (senior executive, financial services, North America). Another respondent said mobility “allows us to retain high-quality employees. This helps us motivate thought leaders and innovate, keeping employee turnover low” (IT decision-maker, manufacturing, North America).

You can also empower your workforce through mobile-based business apps created by or developed for your company. The goal of these apps is to help your employees do their jobs faster and more efficiently.

One senior executive in telecommunications in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region described the benefits, stating, “Our salespeople are able to see more clients by being able to travel without the need to return to the office. They can connect to our systems remotely and access any data, examples, or visuals they need in their pitches.” Mobile access to your company data means employees can interact with customers and provide information as it’s needed. Another survey participant said, “Development of mobile apps for [our] sales force enables them to improve data collection from customers and deliver prompt, accurate quotes and order tracking data” (IT decision-maker, manufacturing, EMEA).

A mobile workforce can also dramatically impact business operational expenses. Remote workers reduce the need for office space, which lowers lease expenses and the operational costs of powering, heating, and cooling those offices.

Mobility and customers

Customer demand for knowledge has grown. Your customers want to interact with your business on their own schedule. Proactive adopters recognise the business implications of this desire, and how mobility can provide information access without the intervention or need for a live interaction. However, it can also facilitate the speed of a live interaction, if that’s what your customer wants.

Customer retention is a primary challenge for SMBs. If you don’t offer the services that your customers expect, they will look elsewhere. The ability to provide what customers want when they want it is often a differentiator between your business and a competitor. The race will be won by the business with the most information available and the easiest, most seamless access. Businesses must know how to provide customer service and information in all the ways that their customers want it.

For many companies, a mobile platform that is accessible to customers is the missing piece. This oversight represents a possible revenue source small and midsize businesses have yet to tap. Making that platform available to your customers could be the advantage you need to elevate your business to the next level.

Mobility solutions also provide an easy way to stay in touch with your customers, letting them know about new products, services, and promotions. As one proactive adopter put it in the survey responses, mobility is “great for marketing and promotions.” Mobility makes it “easier to send out info to let our customers know what’s new with us” (senior executive, healthcare, North America).

The potential drawbacks of mobility

Mobile devices are easy to transport, but that also means they’re easy to steal. Passwords and other locks can be easily circumvented by experienced hackers. Access to corporate passwords found on personal devices could be the gateway into much larger targets, like corporate email systems and VPNs.

Mobile malware, spam, and malvertising, using what seem like legitimate or innocuous mobile ads to attack a device, are proliferating and being used to steal data.

Wi-Fi capable devices are susceptible to communication interception. Hackers have learned to exploit the weaknesses of Wi-Fi. The information for how to perform these hacks is shared online, making it easy to find. Hackers eavesdrop on communications, gain access to company data, and can hijack a user’s online services, like web-based email.

Another threat is internal. Employees or other company insiders with access to data can easily download corporate information. The ease with which apps can be downloaded to a device is another possible hacking gateway. Users often download apps to their devices without giving much thought to the creator of the app, threats hidden in the app, or any other ways the download could put their corporate network at risk. Employees may use their personal cloud applications to store or pass data, many times without realising how their business may be put at risk by doing so.

Additionally, the effort to manage the varied range of mobile devices, networks, and apps can be complicated by lack of integration. The need to create and support the integration and infrastructure to manage mobile devices can tax the IT budget. Voice and data costs to the company also grow with the use of mobile. How to fairly divide those costs when work is done on personal devices can also be an issue.

Users often download apps to their devices without giving much thought to the creator of the app, threats hidden in the app, or any other ways the download could put their corporate network at risk.

Making the most of your mobile strategies

As mentioned throughout this series, security paves the way for other technologies to be successfully used. IT can no longer control every device interacting with the network. To take full advantage of what mobility can offer, look for a security model that works for your SMB to protect what matters most. Strategies may include verification of devices, encryption, locks, application blacklists, and internally hosted app stores. You may also choose to categorise data from most to least sensitive and arrange access based on those categories. Your security model should also align with any regulatory and compliance requirements for your industry.

Mobility use will be driven by the user experience. This is true on both the employee and customer side of the equation. An essential strategy will be to ask users what they want and test applications and access to see if you can deliver.

Incentivise users to work with IT and use the corporate infrastructure for access. Employees using personal devices to access sensitive data through their personal cloud, completely circumventing any security and controls you may have in place, happens more frequently than you realise. Educating employees on the potential hazards to the company may help, but delivering a great user experience and meeting their needs and service expectations may prevent anything from happening in the first place.

Clearly define who is responsible for what. On a device, who is responsible for upkeep, maintenance, support, and monthly costs? How will it differ for a personal device versus a company-owned device? Make sure both your users and IT staff understand where responsibility lies.

Realising the essential value of mobility

Look beyond the architecture. See past the device. Mobility does not solve a technology problem. It solves an engagement problem.

How can you use mobile solutions to create more meaningful connections? That is the question your business needs to answer. A truly effective mobility strategy supports convenient, satisfying, one-to-one interactions by users—whether those users are employees or customers.

Scan your business landscape to identify where mobile opportunities exist. The business that delivers meaningful interactions at the right place and time stands to create and sustain a competitive advantage.