Indian SMBs still reliant on e-mail for productivity

These small businesses may have adopted collaboration tools such as Google Apps, WebEx, Dropbox and Yammer, but a large chunk still rely on e-mail and mobile phones to communicate.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

NEW DELHI--India's small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are implementing newer collaboration tools such as Dropbox and Yammer but for the majority of them, good old e-mail remains the preferred method of communications.

India has around 50 million SMBs, of which 10 million are technology-ready, according to a recent Zinnov study titled, "Indian SMB IT Adoption Insights". SMBs are transforming themselves from the traditional "pen and paper" business culture by increasingly turning to technology. "Modern SMBs are investing heavily in tools like PCs, Internet and Web sites to market themselves and compete in global and domestic markets," it said.

The study found 500,000 Indian SMBs have Web sites which they use to communicate with customers, and 2 million are accessing the Internet. Some 4 million use PCs and this number is expected to double by 2015.

Many SMBs in India are using innovative tools for communication, such as interactive multi-user whiteboards, Google Apps, and WebEx. "SMBs are using communication as a service (CaaS) but the number may be very small," Sanish KB, research analyst at Gartner, said in a phone interview.

According to Sandeep Gupta, managing director of Protiviti Consulting, Indian SMBs generally still rely on e-mail.

Kishan Bhat, engagement manager at Zinno, said: "E-mail is being used as a primary communication tool for most business activities across the front-end such as order processing, invoicing, and so on." That said, there are various segments where other forms of communication are fast catching up, Bhat noted, pointing to a surge in the use of unified communication.

For most SMBs, however, online collaboration means sending and receiving information via e-mail.

He noted that manufacturing SMBs in advanced stages of IT adoption make better use of tools such as product lifecycle management (PLM) for online collaboration within the enterprise and with suppliers and vendors. "Professional services SMBs have also adopted enterprise social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Chatter and cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and SugarSync, which also enable online collaboration," he added.

Mobile, IM a cost priority
SMBs look for simple, easy-to-use communications tools, and for these businesses, mobile is a cost priority, Sanish said.

Noting that mobile has become the "ubiquitous solution" for business problems, Bhat said SMBs use mobile devices used not just communication and Internet access, but also to access applications such as the address book and calculator. "Contact [management tools] on mobile phones act as a simple yet useful CRM solution for most SMBs," he added.

Increased broadband penetration and availability of free tools such as IM, social media and interactive whiteboards have made it easier for SMBs to work in a collaborative environment.

Gupta said: "SMBs don't want lock-in commitment. They are opportunistic, selective, and focused on cost effectiveness."

However, he noted a lack of awareness about online collaboration to which SMBs perceive differently and often are unaware of tools best suited to their needs.

They are also not social media-savvy, using such tools purely for creating market awareness, he added.

Describing social media as a double-edged sword, Gupta said: "If you are there, you have to manage it well. You need to address issues upfront and convert a negative feedback into a positive one."

He said larger organizations are hiring agencies to help them manage their social media strategy, but due to cost constraints, SMBs have to manage this in-house. "Facebook and Twitter maybe very cost effective, but it is difficult to manage," he added.

However, an elite section of SMBs comprising mostly professional service providers have adopted enterprise social networks such as Yammer and Chatter.

"This elite class of SMBs also boasts high usage of mobile in their enterprise IT," Bhat said. This enables their employees to access enterprise networks and systems via their mobile devices, boosting productivity and efficiency.

"SMBs that have adopted back-end systems or enterprise applications such as design, enterprise planning, and procurement also integrate their e-mail or enterprise social networking solutions into these applications," he said. "The upwardly class of SMBs also facilitate their employees to access these solutions on their mobile devices so they are empowered with information on-the-go."

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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