Viewpoint: Hot mobile trends for SMEs
As part of our series on how small and medium-sized firms use technology - which will run throughout March - we ask experts for their views.
Steve Hilton is the lead analyst for TMT business Analysys Mason's SME Strategies and Enterprise research programmes, specialising in fixed and mobile communications services, M2M, cloud services and sales channels.
In In case you haven't heard, small business employees are more mobile than ever before. Suffice it to say we all lead very hectic lives, and having access to information, applications and customers at non-traditional business hours (for example, 4am when my 18-month-old is awake) and non-traditional work venues (for example, the football field while a child has practice) is important to help us balance a busy business and home life.
My job is to find ways to make a small business more effective, efficient and energised. I've found right-sized solutions to help small businesses based on the tools that already help large businesses be effective, efficient and energised.
As turn-of-the-century American author Ambrose Bierce once wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don't know."
This succinctly describes some of the best mobile technology finds for small businesses in 2012.
Business spending on mobile data services continues to increase while spending on mobile voice services decreases.
Why? Because employees want access to more and more mobile apps and we expect that trend to continue.
Unified communications (UC) is a technology that links together email, messaging, voice calling, video calling, security, and some other bells-and-whistles into a single package.
It continues to be a top seller for SMEs that want to simplify their technology environment and save some money, while also adding some value-added services to their IT environment.
An example would include Microsoft's Office 365 solution, which is often sold to SMEs through companies like TeliaSonera, Vodafone and many others.
According to our research, a solution like Microsoft's Office 365 can save a SME 67% of its UC costs per year compared with a similar on-premises solution.
There are other good cloud-based UC packages as well from vendors like BroadSoft, Cisco Systems, Siemens Enterprise Communications and others.
All are generally available from your local fixed-line or mobile telecoms provider.
UC solutions offer good mobile integrations for almost all smartphones, so SMEs should make sure they take advantage of this must-have mobile technology.
Are you a little concerned about all those smartphone-toting employees of yours? How are you going to manage usage, secure any information on the devices and monitor those monthly bills?
Mobile device management (MDM) solutions allow a SME to manage all those mobile devices with one unified portal.
They provide security, remote back-up, patch management and various other management features.
Some MDM solutions also provide simple expense management reports, so an SME can keep track of its monthly mobility spending.
Vendors have targeted MDM solutions towards large enterprises for many years, but the surge in smartphone take-up - and the need to support multiple operating systems - is pushing MDM into SMEs.
I particularly like the solution from AirWatch, but there are other MDM suppliers for larger SMEs, including Good Technology, MobileIron, Movero and ubitexx.
Do you have a small fleet of vehicles you want to track? Want to be more precise in scheduling deliveries and keep your customers happier?
No longer the sole domain of large enterprises, fleet-management solutions are coming to the SME market.
Providers have offered this technology for more than ten years, and we're likely to see productised solutions appearing on the market as telecoms operators become more focused on expanding their businesses.
Many telecoms providers will offer fleet management solutions for retailers, wholesale/distribution companies and various trades (such as plumbing and electrical) with fleets of 15 or more vehicles.
We anticipate a slimmed-down set of fleet-management features and a user interface that is simpler than those of enterprise fleet-management solutions.
In addition to telecoms providers, there are many fleet-management vendors, including Agile Access Control, Chevin Fleet Solutions, Roadnet Technologies, Telogis and Trimble Navigation.
In summary, mobility is a huge challenge for SMEs, and I expect this to continue as companies play "catch-up" with one of the biggest trends shaping our personal and working lives.