The value proposition of a more mobile workforce is an enticing one: improved workforce efficiency, greater productivity, enhanced collaboration, and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) of devices are just some of the touted benefits for SMEs
However, concerns remain for many SME owners. Security, compliance, the challenges of managing a highly mobile workforce, the complexity of rolling-out mobile solutions, integrating and managing devices on the company network, the cost implications of writing off investments in legacy systems, and the hardware costs are all pertinent concerns.
Stuck in the dark ages
The truth is, in such a challenging economic climate SMEs should be focusing on the fundamentals of business, not wasting time and money implementing and managing new forms of technology. Sadly, business prosperity and technology are no longer mutually exclusive. The two now go hand-in-hand and SMEs that refuse to embrace new technologies like workforce mobility will lose competitive advantage and, subsequently, sustainability.
The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with customers, suppliers and employees is an integral part of every SME’s success, which is precisely what mobility enables. A more mobile workforce means that staff can be on site with clients while remaining connected, in real-time, to the office.
This allows them to place orders, access vital customer information, check emails, schedule meetings, communicate with office-bound team members for rapid issue resolution, or even action items themselves while on the go. This speeds up the business process, reducing lead times and increasing responsiveness to enhance customer service and delivery.
Enabling mobility within SMEs has become mission-critical. Stifling mobility is akin to stifling business growth. Thankfully the concerns that the small business owner has, while justified, are easily addressed.
For instance, with the increased speed and capacity of mobile and fixed-line broadband in South Africa, with an accompanying reduction in cost, workers now have access to high speed Internet access from the office or while on the move.
This makes the adoption of key technologies like cloud computing, possible. Cloud computing gives SMEs access to enterprise-grade applications and systems that are hosted in a centralised data centre. These services are available on a pay-per-use, scalable model and the entire environment is managed and maintained by managed service providers.
This has significantly lowered the TCO of technology for SMEs as there is no longer a need for large capital outlays to implement new technology and the burden of IT management is now outsourced to industry experts.
As software, data and information is hosted in a data centre it can also be accessed from any Internet-enabled device, as long as there is suitable connectivity. This is the key enabler of mobility within the SME as there is no complicated integration or new hardware required.
Accessing other new technologies that can further enhance business performance and efficiency, like unified communications and collaboration tools for instance, are also more accessible when SMEs move their network into the cloud.
Advancements in consumer electronics have also played an important role in making mobility a viable option for SMEs. The mobile devices consumers buy and use daily for personal use are becoming increasingly more sophisticated.
Employees are also bringing these smartphones, tablets and phablets (phone-tablets) into the business environment and using them to access the company network.
Mobility on demand
This trend, termed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), gives employees access to technologies like voice calling, Internet access, e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing and access to hosted applications and databases, all from a single device.
This means that SMEs can often enable mobility without the need to invest in new hardware and the cloud computing model negates any concerns around integration as everything is now web-based and accessible through a portal.
The headache normally associated with the management of the rapidly growing number of mobile devices entering the network is also less of a concern thanks to automation and mobile device management (MDM) solutions.
These solutions manage mobile devices from the same platform as desktops, laptops and servers, ensuring business continuity, and provide secure access to the network without exponentially increasing the demands and workload placed on internal IT staff.
Automation can also provide a variety of other benefits, including savings on bandwidth as it manages software updates, automates security updates and automatically applies configurations and settings to new devices.
With all of these services and capabilities now available to SMEs as part of cost efficient, fully managed offerings there should be no hesitation from SMEs to embrace mobility and benefit from the strategic and competitive advantages it offers.