Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) should consider investing in mobile solutions as part of their strategies for coping with the downturn in the economy.
That's according to Chris Scoble, MD of Nashua Mobile, who says that mobile technologies can help SMEs to save time and money by freeing their employees from their desks and allowing them to use their time productively wherever they are.
“Technologies such as wireless broadband, Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular technologies such as GPRS, 3G and HSDPA are all helping SMEs run their businesses more efficiently. Use of these technologies forms part of a move towards convergence in the SME sector,” says Scoble.
South African SMEs are embracing the converged telecommunications environment, agrees Tertia Smit senior analyst at BMI-TechKnowledge (BMI-T). “While ADSL remains the most commonly used Internet access medium in the SME market, the adoption of mobile data cards for Internet connectivity is rapidly increasing,” she says.
Close to 50% of SMEs in metro areas are already making use of mobile data cards. Nearly two thirds of SMEs interviewed by BMI-T research say that they would considering using a mobile operator for fixed line data services whilst 20% are actively requesting quotations for services.
“Mobile technologies allow SMEs to do more work with fewer resources, making it possible for them to be more profitable without compromising on quality or customer service,” says Scoble. “For example, a small business that gives its sales rep mobile access to email, calendars, price lists and other business tools essentially provides them with more time to spend with customers. That could spare the company the expense of hiring another salesperson.”
Some small businesses could even cut back on office space or even completely do away with the need to run an office with a secretary simply to take phone calls and check emails by giving their workforces smartphones and notebook computers.
"Employees carrying an Internet-connected notebook or smartphone can be more responsive to clients and their colleagues," says Scoble. "A small investment in the right mobile solutions can pay its way through efficiency gains, cost reductions and improved customer service very quickly.
“While the range of choices may seem intimidating, SMEs can turn to independent service providers for practical advice about which handsets, data cards, network technologies and tariff packages are best for their needs,” he adds.
Mobile and wireless applications that SMEs are adopting range from personal productivity tools such as GPS and remote access to calendars and email, up to specialised vertical industry solutions such as vehicle tracking systems and GPRS-enabled point-of-sale devices. People in the field can use smartphones and notebooks, coupled with Wi-Fi or high-speed cellular data connections to scan a corporate contacts list, place orders, check inventories or look up contact details remotely.
Scoble says that SMEs should seek out mobile solutions that are relatively simple and can be deployed quickly with little need to roll out new infrastructure or invest heavily in staff training. They should look for simple, reliable technology that is easy to use so that they don't need to spend huge amounts of money on support and training.
“Cellular operators and service providers in South Africa are focussing on creating solutions that are robust and easy to deploy for the SME market. SMEs buy a wide selection of services, solutions and products off the shelf and start using them immediately with no need for an internal IT department for support and implementation,” Scoble says.