Mobile apps gain inroad to SMBs

Small and midsize businesses increasingly adopting mobile applications in their corporate environment but usage not yet critical to business, say market observers.

Mobile applications are gaining favor among small and midsize businesses (SMBs), especially with the consumerization of IT, and will likely grow in importance, market observers say.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Dan Shey, practice director for enterprise at ABI Research, said mobile applications are extremely important to SMBs as employees typically have to juggle different hats. He added mobile apps are most prevalent on the smartphone platform.

Vu-Thanh Nguyen, research analyst at AMI-Partners, concurred. In an e-mail, he noted that more and more SMBs are using mobile apps in their business over the years. In fact, he expects further growth in mobile app use as smartphones and tablets become more powerful in performance, and more applications are developed for or ported to these devices.

Nguyen pointed to three trends driving the adoption of mobile apps among SMBs. The first, he said, is the consumerization of IT, especially with the increasing penetration of consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets in the business IT environment.

The growth of cloud services, which allow users to access their business applications from any connected devices, is another driver, he added.

The third trend, which Nguyen noted as the "underlying reason" for increase in mobile app use, is the business pressure to adapt and respond faster to market needs.

In Singapore, the SME Infocomm Resource Centre (SIRC), an initiative by ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to help SMBs in the country learn more about IT, has observed an increase in queries about mobile apps. In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, SIRC center director Peter Leong attributed the phenomenon to the "spillover effect from the mobile frenzy in the consumer space".

SMB mobile app use not critical
An AT&T survey released in March on mobile app usage among U.S. small businesses--organizations with between two and 50 employees--found that 38 percent of the respondents "could not survive" without mobile apps. AMI-Partner's Nguyen, however, is doubtful that mobile app usage for the SMB market, which he defined as companies with up to 1,000 employees, has reached such a critical level.

"For medium and large businesses, mobile applications are normally not standalone applications but are usually the means to access their hosted or online business applications," he said. Citing AMI-Partner's research, Nguyen added that global adoption of hosted or online business apps is around 26 percent among Internet SMBs, which makes up less than 14 percent among all SMBs.

That said, Nguyen noted that for SMBs with Internet access and mature IT usage, mobile apps are growing very rapidly in terms of importance and adoption levels. This group will also be the main buyers of mobile business apps, he added.

According to Nguyen, businesses have varying needs when it comes to mobile apps but there are some categories that are useful across industries. These include communication and collaboration apps such as e-mail, instant messaging and document sharing; customer relationship management; and sales force automation.

"It is not that businesses cannot live without such applications," he said. "It is just that using such applications will likely help them to save time, increase productivity and enhance their competitiveness."

ABI Research's Shey said the most popular type of mobile app in the U.S. market is social networking, followed by news, weather, music, games and navigation.