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Getting more from mobile

Many SMEs are turning to mobile platforms, like app development and responsive design websites, to maximise consumer engagement.

The articles represent the views of the author only and not those of American Express.


Lawyer-turned-businessman Lee Chiwi can see the inexorable shift away from desktops and laptops to smart phones and tablets as people tailor the ways in which they prefer to access information on the internet.

Lee, chief executive of Rockwills Singapore, a subsidiary of a small Malaysian financial services firm, says that today, virtually everyone has a smart phone and wants to download information instantaneously.

Rockwills, which specialises in the estate planning, management and trust sector, is an early adopter of mobile technology.

"We find mobile technology more responsive than a website,” he says. “With our Rockwills App we are able to disseminate information on new legislation, articles and corporate brochures quickly."

Previously, he says, the firm had to send out emails to alert clients of updates on its website. So 15 months ago, he began exploring mobile technology as an option.

Lee admits that the high cost of app development – ranging from $US20,000 to $US100,000 for an elaborate customised mobile app – can be daunting for many small to medium enterprises.

Rockwills turned to a local Singaporean IT entrepreneur, Willy Lim, who founded Netprofitquest.com, to develop its mobile platform.

Lim says the professional services, food and beverages and retail sectors are among the first to adopt mobile technology.

Few of Singapore's SMEs, which make up some 99 per cent of all company registrations in the city state, have gone beyond a somewhat basic website.

"I would estimate that probably less than 500 SMEs of the 150,000 to 200,000 registered businesses in Singapore have an app," Lim says.

Singapore government statistics show that, at the end of March 2013, the level of mobile phone penetration was 152 per cent higher than penetration at the end of December 2012.

"Two years ago, Microsoft predicted that one in two web visitors would use mobile devices by 2014. The big challenge for companies is how not to lose those web browsers," Lim says.

Depending on the nature of the business, IT experts say a less expensive option to having an app is to upgrade to a "responsive design" website.

Responsive design means having a mobile website – or a website which automatically adjusts itself to the screens of mobile devices, whether a smart phone or a tablet.

Responsive design enlarges all buttons and fonts to allow users to navigate by scrolling up and down, rather than left-to-right as with the desktop version. It also leaves out some data to fit into the smaller screen.

Lim believes that a responsive design website should be used as a contingency, because all companies seek to make the maximum amount of information available on their websites.

Others beg to differ, saying that for some companies in some sectors, a responsive design web adequately allows customers to place orders and make transactions, and that they do not need to go further (to development of an app).

Upgrading the ability of a website to be mobile responsive costs considerably less than having a customised app.

But there are cheaper options. For example, using off-the-shelf modules (for some commonly- used functions) to build mobile platforms can substantially reduce the cost.

"At around $US3,000 (for an off-the-shelf module), you are talking about one- tenth of the cost of a customised app," Lim says.

After five years of helping SMEs design simple websites and training their staff to maintain them, the SME Infocomm Resource Centre (SIRC) at the Singapore Polytechnic in June this year established what is known as its Enterprise Mobility Centre (EMC).

SIRC and now EMC are supported by a Singapore government agency, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA Singapore). SIRC has worked with more than 1,000 Singapore SMEs to build simple sites. It conducts workshops to help them maintain their sites.

Jon [correct: Jon] Tan, manager of both centres says: "We recognise the importance of mobility, and our basic role is to lever up mobile developers (who are themselves SMEs) so that they, in turn, can help SMEs to make the switch."

Tan says some of SME web platform developers lack the resources to acquire hardware and software.

Mobile technology itself is also maturing. Just five years ago it was all about games. Understandably, its use as a business application is still not yet fully understood.

Early usage has been for backroom communication – for example, a restaurant using it to allow waiting staff to communicate orders to kitchen staff.

Now, some companies in the retail sector use mobile technology for promotion to help to retain business and attract new customers.

Government agencies, such as IDA, provide grants to SMEs to help defray the cost of setting up websites and adopting up-to-date technologies.

Quote:
“Using off-the-shelf modules (for some commonly- used functions) to build mobile platforms can substantially reduce the cost.”

Quote:
“The high cost of app development – ranging from $US20,000 to $US100,000 for an elaborate customised mobile app – can be daunting for many SMEs.”

Graphic:

Source – Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore

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Getting more from mobile

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