Roadmap for a mobile future

Smartphones, tablets and apps have become a central part of our lifestyle, making us more connected than ever before. Many small business are already reaping major benefits following a move to mobile. Krishan Sharma reports on some success stories and outlines the major considerations for others looking to go mobile.
Written by Krishan Sharma, Contributor

Mobility has been a disruptive force, creating new business models, driving customer engagement, improving internal collaboration, and empowering employees to work while on the go.  It also helps businesses circumvent traditional overheads, streamline business processes and increase revenue. Mobility affects every part of a business, from marketing and sales to employee productivity.

While enterprises are still learning to adapt to the mobile revolution, small businesses have pivoted and rapidly adopted mobility to transform their business regardless of industry.

The benefits of mobility are real

A small coffee shop in Brisbane, Orea Cafe, doubled its sales by allowing customers on the move to tweet, use Facebook, or SMS orders in advance to Orea's iPad app-driven Point-of-Sale system. The café's mobile-driven register even accepts Bitcoin payments.

Orea Cafe owners Brittany Vass (left) and Samantha Saunders

Fiedler Brothers Plumbing was losing eight hours a day on paperwork but through the use of mobile devices and apps, the business was able to transform itself.  This has produced less admin and more billable hours from staff, a reduction in invoice turnaround times, and improved financial performance.

AustraliaWOW! was able to move away from the expensive overhead of running a physical office to a completely virtual, mobile-powered operation that delivers software and services to around 30,000 fitness instructors worldwide.

Perth-based Imari Consulting was able to fill a local skills gap by tapping into a global talent pool and now has ten staff members, most of which are based in the United States. Mobility drives all aspects of the business from day-to-day staff collaboration, communication, project tracking, administration and other operations.

Melbourne based shirt maker, Saibu no Akuma, was like many small businesses that couldn't afford to install an Eftpos terminal.  But the business addressed the issue by using an app and a $199 Bluetooth card reader paired to a smartphone to securely process credit card payments.

Research by financial software supplier MYOB shows that two-thirds of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) do not offer credit card as a payment option, and as a result one in ten have lost customers. The ability to process credit card payments on the go immediately brought about increased cash flow while also enabling staff to engage with customers outside of the office.

"We understand that a lot of our clients have full-time work or our hours of operation just doesn't fit into their schedule," says Saibu no Akuma co-founder Tony Wu.

"Being able to meet them at their office, home, café, and still be able to take payment on the spot meant less work for us, and an overall more positive experience for our clients. We also do pop up events in offices [and] bars so having the ability to be completely mobile and paperless aligns to our brand and, of course, reduces time and costs."

Online travel company, TripADeal, maintains a completely mobile workforce of over ten staff in Byron Bay, and satellite teams in destinations such as Bali. Having a mobility centric workforce enabled the business to escape the financial risk of maintaining a city office. By empowering staff with mobile phones, iPads and the Salesforce Desk app, it enabled the company to run a 24/7 virtual support and sales centre. Staff could answer enquiries after hours, no matter where they might be, resulting in a dramatic increase in sales.

"We can offer staff an amazing work/life balance so they can enjoy all the benefits of living in beautiful Byron Bay," says founder Norm Black.

"They can go for a surf in the middle of the day and connect with customers and clients the instant they emerge from the water on their phone. Or, they can spend an afternoon working in the shade of a pandanus tree, in stunning tropical surrounds, while delivering first class customer service with Salesforce Desk. Because we offer a great degree of flexibility, our employees are happy, healthy, full of energy, highly motivated and committed to growing the business. And this is largely thanks to mobile technologies."

Not-for-profit Planet Ark freed staff from physical office locations and improved staff engagement and retention by rolling out a mobility solution that enabled staff to access and share information from virtually anywhere.

These are just some examples of how small businesses are using mobility to punch above their weight and provide a better experience for their customers and employees.

So what are the key things to consider when implementing a mobile strategy? While it might seem tempting to dive in head first, it's best to plan the move to mobility no matter how small the business. A mobility strategy for a small business with only 1 to 20 staff certainly needn't be as complex or involved as an enterprise level mobility strategy, however there are two key areas that should be addressed as a part of any mobility implementation.

Define business objectives

It's important not to begin a mobility initiative with technology decisions such as "we need an iPhone app" or "we need to use the cloud". Mobility exists to serve the business, not vice versa. Develop business requirements or outline the business problem you are trying to solve and devise usage scenarios that will address these problems.

If, for example, you are thinking of deploying tablets to staff, first spend time to understand the requirements.  Be clear about the work-related tasks you expect to be performed by staff on tablets, and the benefits you expect to achieve. Only then should you start looking for productivity app suites for mobile devices. Ensure that there is sufficient wireless network coverage, bandwidth and availability for effective tablet usage.

If you are looking to move components of your business, such as accounting or project management, to mobile apps then document all the business functions and processes you need covered. 

If mobility is being used to drive customer engagement, then make sure you understand your customers' needs — which might be different to the average mobile phone user.

Manage business culture and organisational change

A mobility initiative is more of a cultural change than a technological one and as such, leaders of the business or team must evangelise, grow, and support a mobile work culture. This has not so much to do with technology, and everything to do with getting leadership behind a change management process where leaders not only accept but encourage a working environment where their staffers may often not be in the same building. 

Giving employees access to mobile devices for productivity needs to be met with a more flexible approach to work. According to Forrester, the main place that Australian and New Zealand workers use smartphones for work is at home and while commuting.

"While this increases productivity, organisations must view smartphones as a tool to improve employees' outcomes and lives — not as a way to extend working hours," says Tim Sheedy, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research.

"Making mobile services easy to use, fun, social, and beneficial to each specific user is the key to ensuring continued employee satisfaction and minimising the likelihood of burnout. Mobile should make interactions and services better — not just more available."

Provide training and support

Giving staff relevant training and tools to support mobile working is an important part of managing the change process.

Imari Consulting founder and director Arna Jade

"Early stage training and adopting plans with each team member was important, basically showing a workflow and spending the first week familiarising them with the various systems in place," says Arna Jade, Director of Imari Consulting.

"I have a Dropbox document repository that everyone gets access to with a policies, protocols and procedures manual that outlines how the company works."

Take care of security

No matter how small the business it's likely you'll have valuable data sitting on mobile devices. The last thing a small business wants is for sensitive financial or client data to be exposed due to inadequate security.  Do a security audit, identify the key risks and takes steps to mitigate the risk both for data residing on mobile devices and travelling over networks from mobile devices and back-end databases. 

Almost all small businesses can extract benefits and improve their operation by using mobility.  In some cases mobility can produce very significant benefits as Orea Café found after doubling revenue in a six-month period.  Transitioning to a mobile culture doesn't have to cost much in dollar terms, but it demands time from small business leaders.  They must set the example for their teams by embracing and evangelizing the mobile culture and ensuring staff positively adapt to this new way of working.

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