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.”