Ask small business owners what their schedule looks like on a given day and they will most likely check their schedules on their mobile phones.
Prod them about an employee’s whereabouts, the status of a sales lead or the amount of inventory currently in storage and chances are, the phone will likely come out for the information.
Smartphones and mobile computing devices are quickly becoming an appendage to everyone, from small business CEOs to high school students.
“Smartphones are the fastest growing segment of the phone business,” says Avi Greengart, research director, consumer devices for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis. “If they are not the fastest growing of consumer electronics than they are in the top three.”
The smarter phones get, the bigger the explosion in texting and data plans that include internet usage and applications for everything from GPS navigation to home security monitoring. Can running your business remotely be next?
Home security giant Schlage thinks so. The company launched a mobile offering, titled Schlage LiNK aimed at helping homeowners remotely manage locks, lights, property temperature and surveillance from their smart phones. The system includes a wireless keypad on locks with the ability to program up to 19 codes.
While homeowners make up the lion’s share of Schlage’s customers, small businesses are also taking a closer look.
“About 5 to 6 percent of our customers are small business owners,” says Steve Samolinski, Schlage’s director of solution management. “It is still early in this space, but I definitely think it will be a growing market.”
Small Business Applications
Schlage LiNK isn’t the only mobile-based application that has consumer-to-small business cross-over capabilities. Jeanine Sterling, senior industry analyst, mobile and wireless communications for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Frost & Sullivan, says small business owners are readily using mobile applications originally designed for consumers.
“Look at location based services like GPS and navigation,” she said. “Consumers use those applications, but small businesses can fashion them into something they can use, too.”
Although there are a host of consumer-based products, solutions geared specifically for businesses are out there and quickly growing in popularity, Sterling said, starting with mobile workforce management applications.
“Mobile workforce management applications use GPS and a simple, web-based interface to allow business owners to locate their workers in the field, track them and manage the type of work they are doing out there.”
What’s been the reception to the application?
“This is a hugely positive solution; 80 to 90 percent of companies that have adopted it report high satisfaction,” Sterling said, attributing her numbers to a March survey she facilitated of 300 business owners in the U.S. and Canada. “That satisfaction can be attributed directly to ROI. Business owners are seeing reduced paper work, expedited cash flow, and higher customer satisfaction.”
Sterling expects the mobile workforce management market to grow exponentially in coming years.
“We are within 10 years of its introduction,” she said. “For mobile workforce management solutions alone, we expect to top out at $210 million in the U.S. this year and by 2014, we see the market growing to $970 million.”
Also popular with small businesses are mobile office applications. According to Samir Sakpal, industry manager-Northern America for Information and Communication at Frost & Sullivan, the market is now offering far more than just email capabilities.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen [the] mobile office become more functional,” he said. “More than using email as a collaborative tool, mobile office is now driving day-to-day administration.”
Mobile office apps in this category include time sheets, lead requests and purchase orders.
“If you have a sales person who is meeting a client in the field and they are placing an order, it makes perfect sense for that person to go to a smartphone and enter a purchase order,” Sakpal says. “That order can then be approved by a manager [on another mobile device] in real time. It saves times and drives productivity.”
“It is becoming essential for small and medium size businesses to stay in touch with their workforce,” he said. “Small businesses are always looking for the edge in delivering customer service and higher levels of productivity. This is one of the basic tools that drives that.”
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Katie Morell is a freelance writer based in Chicago, specializing in small business concerns.