Study finds small businesses see mobile tech ‘critical’ for success

NOTE: This originally ran in the Nov. 12 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Take a close look at your business and your people, then ask yourself: “Could I still do what I’m doing without my mobile devices?”

Chances are, your answer will be in line with the findings of the 2012 Small Business Mobility Report recently issued by Vernon Hills-based CDW. The report surveyed a number of mobile device users and IT managers in five key industries, and the results drive home just how integral mobile technology has become in the workplace. The survey found that small businesses are getting a competitive lift from the use of mobile devices by employees, but that lift is coming from employees using their own devices, leaving business IT managers working to catch up.

According to the report, 75 percent of all respondents agreed that mobile device use was critical to their job, while 67 percent said their company would lose competitive ground in today’s market without mobile devices. In specific areas, 85 percent of those in the construction industry said mobile devices were critical to their job, as did 77 percent of the respondents in the professional services field.

Ninety four percent overall said their mobile devices make them more efficient, as did 85 percent of IT managers surveyed. Among the top benefits of mobile use were improved communication between the office and those in the field (60 percent), increased availability to customers (60 percent), increased employee productivity (55 percent), better customer service (53 percent), increased collaboration between employees (45 percent), improved work/life balance (35 percent) and streamlined business processes (34 percent).

“It revolves more around speed,” said Jill Billhorn, CDW vice president, small business. “I think the speed and accuracy they can get their information to their customers often times will be the difference between them getting the business or not. And the ability to have a lot of current and late breaking information available for their customers is something that tablets and smartphones definitely deliver.

“And the amount of information at your fingertips that a small business can access — when in fact years ago that was only reserved for mostly the largest companies — allows them to compete in marketplaces they were not able to before.”
The report surveyed companies with less than 100 employees in the construction, retail, food service, manufacturing and professional services industries.

Billhorn notes the professional services category includes service and nonmanufacturing based companies, such as accounting firms, graphic designers and advertising agencies.

While small businesses embrace mobile devices as a competitive edge, the “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) strategy has become common among employers. IT managers surveyed said 89 percent of their employees use their own devices for work. Sixty three percent of mobile device owners said they use their own smartphone, while 69 percent said they use their own tablet and 40 percent said they use their own laptop computer.
While employee-owned devices might save the company some money in hardware costs, it presents challenges for IT managers in managing the devices and keeping company data secure. Only 51 percent of IT managers said their company has an effective IT strategy for managing employee mobile device use.

The main challenges for the IT managers were managing the devices (42 percent), making sure they are secure (40 percent), controlling an increased need for storage (19 percent) and controlling an increased need for servers (18 percent).

“Given the number of devices out there, it can get pretty daunting when you have to manage all of them,” Billhorn said.
The CDW study recommends companies adopt a mobile device management application that includes policy and security management capabilities across many different operating systems or platforms. MDMs includes app management, policy development and control, inventory, and security management, including password setting enforcement, encryption and remote device lock and data wipe.

“The whole idea behind mobile device management is to push as much information in a standardized way, whether its applications, issues, policies, etc. to that device and be able to manage any issues that should arise if device falls into the wrong hands,” adds Billhorn.

Surprisingly, 67 percent of IT managers said they were not familiar with MDMs, while 22 percent said they are using or plan to use an MDM.

The study also notes the use of tablets in the workplace is expected to expand over the next two years.

The IT managers surveyed expected tablet use by employees to increase 117 percent, compared to 33 percent more for smartphones. The managers noted 36 percent of employees have replaced their work computer (either PC or laptop) with a smartphone or tablet, and expect another 20 percent to do the same in the next two years.
While smartphones replacing computers still have some limitations, Billhorn said tablets replacing notebooks could be a possibility as tablets become more powerful and able to run complex business applications.

Billhorn points out that the study shows small businesses have a great opportunity to grow and compete as application developers target the market with new products and software designed for them.

“No longer do you have a situation where manufacturers and software providers develop applications for the largest enterprise customers and then skinny them down to small businesses,” she said. “This is a terrific opportunity for small business to grow with new and better applications. The key would be to be sure you’re looking at a fairly logical management plan and limit your risk as much as you can.”




A year later, Moto spinoff relishes its independence

NOTE: This first appeared in the Oct. 15 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Phil Bolt will be the first to tell you there’s life after Motorola.

As president and CEO of Cambium Networks, Bolt is leading the charge to develop Cambium’s independence from its former parent into the world of wireless broadband and microwave technology.
And, as Bolt sees it, the company’s potential is as big as the world.

“We have an absolutely massive future,” he said recently before a product rollout event at the company’s new headquarters in Rolling Meadows.

Cambium supplies a wide selection of hardware and software for the wireless industry, from point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless services to fixed and mobile connectivity solutions. The company provides products and services to wireless Internet service providers, businesses, government and the military.

Cambium operated as a division of Motorola from 2002 until it was acquired by private equity firm Vector Capital in 2011. It became independent in October 2011 and has since grown into a company with roughly $150 million in revenues.

Bolt sees that growing into the billions as Cambium takes advantage of the increasing demand for high-speed Internet services, both in areas already served by Internet providers, but more so in areas that aren’t being touched by current providers. He notes that Cambium products can provide wireless Internet access to rural areas at a fraction of the cost of cable or wired systems.

“We need to cover the unserved market, especially the rural market,” Bolt said. “If they were going to run out cable to those houses, they would have done it by now. They’re not going to do that. The only economical way of doing it is with wireless.”

As a result, a majority of Cambium’s 2,250 channel partners are wireless Internet service providers, many of them operate in rural or remote areas in the U.S. and abroad, providing service to areas that would not be financially feasible for cable companies. “These guys are so entrepreneurial,” Bolt said of his clients. “Some are companies with six guys, some are big companies with over 100 employees, but they all can go out and put in broadband access on short notice — within 24 hours in many cases.”

While Cambium also provides wireless networking systems that help businesses, government and the military connect with each other on dedicated frequencies, Bolt says the biggest portion of the company — and it’s future — lies in the wireless service providers and the ability to grow the outdoor fixed network segment. What differentiates outdoor fixed wireless Internet from mobile 3G or 4G networks, he said, is the ease and speed of setting up a localized network with speeds comparable or faster than mobile. He added outdoor fixed networks have shown to be more consistently reliable as well.

“Outdoor fixed is an amazing market with huge potential,” Bolt said. “A lot of people don’t even realize what you can do.”

The increasing demand for more broadband access has two fronts, he points out. On one hand, people who have broadband access want more so they can stream large amounts of data such as videos, while there are still many areas in the world that are not yet connected to broadband networks.

“Your existing customer base wants more Netflix, so that’s driving up demand. At the same time, there’s more and more people who want to come onto these networks that they just cannot get now,” Bolt said.

“We consume 1,300 times more data in a fixed establishment — at home or in the office — than you ever do on your smartphone walking down the street,” Bolt added. “That’s where we specialize. We’re beyond 4G in our capabilities.”

And Cambium’s products are best suited because of its quick set up capabilities, ideal for setting up affordable Internet networks in rural or remote locations, as well as in areas where demand for broadband Internet exceeds current needs, Bolt said.

“That’s one of the beauties with our radios, They are so fast to deploy and they’re easy to deploy,” he added.

Bolt stresses that Cambium’s corporate strategy goes beyond selling products and services. The company’s mission is to help its clients develop and grow their business potential, which he said will reflect in his company’s bottom line.

“We look at ways to grow their business,” he added, noting Cambium’s strategy helps encourage and support the development and growth of local businesses.

That mission was reiterated at the recent event rolling out its new PMP 450 point-to-multipoint access solution. Bolt spoke to the 130 customers and partners in attendance — and another 375 watching the event online — about how Cambium’s new independence will mean a greater focus on helping them grow their businesses and markets.

“It’s our new identity now. We are now truly independent,” Bolt said. “Our aim is the growth of you guys. That, in turn, means growth for us.”