New research conducted in Europe by Ipsos MORI and Research In Motion (RIM), demonstrates a strong link between mobile technology and business success in the world of the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
According to the research, SMEs in Europe are embracing mobile technologies because they underpin a flexible approach to work and communications that enables small businesses to be more productive and ultimately more successful.
The responses from 900 SME owners based in seven countries across Western Europe show that reacting to customer queries (42%) and communicating regularly with existing customers (21%) are the two most critical capabilities for SMEs to maintain a good relationship with their existing customer base.
62% of European SME owners won a piece of business because they were able to respond to prospects when on the move. Considering 66% of those surveyed explained that they were on the move two or more times a week, the results illustrate that SMEs across Europe need to ensure that they can communicate with the people and access the information they want, regardless of where they are.
In a 2007 survey of 5 000 SME decision-makers, World Wide Worx, which conducts the largest annual study of SMEs in South Africa, found that almost two-thirds of SMEs that use information technology had invested in laptop computers. Of the total sample, 16% were also using PDAs, and 14% were using smartphones.
"The significant aspect of this finding is not the extent of usage, but the impact of that usage on competitiveness," says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "We found that there is a higher correlation with being highly competitive among PDA and smartphone users than with almost all other hardware options."
Deon Liebenberg, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at RIM, explains: "Research from around the world is showing that mobile solutions are now part of day-to-day business for companies of all sizes.
"SMEs in particular need to have the ability to use multiple mediums of communication with customers and employees regardless of where they are – voice, email, instant messaging and even Web applications. That is why SMEs are treating mobile technology as an investment priority – they understand that being responsive on the move is the key to their growth and survival."
More than half of all respondents (53%) to the European survey stated that technology has made setting up a business easier and cheaper. The first asset SME owners would recommend a friend starting a business acquires is technology – with mobile technology, coming second only to a computer. Twice as many European SMEs are setting up at home compared to spending money on rented or purchased office space.
"These trends are echoed in the South African market, where many entrepreneurs depend on a mobile device such as a BlackBerry smartphone to run their businesses," says Liebenberg. "Mobile technology is empowering entrepreneurs to strike out on their own, set up a home office, and use a smartphone to stay in touch while they're on the road seeing their clients.
"SME employees and owners often spend a lot of time out of the office," adds Liebenberg. "Because they don't have the resources that larger companies do, multitasking is a key trait of a SME's business. BlackBerry smartphones provide SMEs with the ability to communicate and access information they need, when and how they want, wherever they are.
"However, SMEs need to make shrewd investments in mobile technology – they need to buy tools that will scale up as their business grows," Liebenberg says.
Previous research undertaken by Ipsos Reid and RIM shows that BlackBerry smartphone users can reclaim up to 60 minutes a day in lost productivity.