When budgets are tight, as they are for most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), having a mobile strategy may seem an extravagance. However, most businesses use a mobile device in one way or another, so maximising their usefulness is a must.
According to the Office of National Statistics, (ONS) the amount of people regularly working from home has risen to 4.2 million in the last decade and it’s expected that half of the UK’s workforce will be working remotely by 2020. Furthermore, the latest figures from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BEIS) say that 16.1 million people work for SMEs – 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
According to Myles Leach, managing director at voice-over-IP (VoIP) firm Nfon UK, it stands to reason that SMEs are and will continue to be affected by this change in working trends: “Employees need and want to have the opportunity to work flexibly. But crucially it benefits the SME. It saves on office space and costs,” he says.
“Operations can continue when a site is shut because of bad weather or for maintenance. There will invariably be fewer staff ‘sick days’ as they can still work during school holidays and when children are ill.”
Bringing mobile into SMEs and bring things up to date
What works for one SME won’t necessarily work for another, but before adopting a mobility strategy it’s important to look at what’s already in place, to determine where changes need to be made. According to Andres Richter, CEO at cloud ERP specialist Priority Software, in a survey his firm carried out of 500 UK senior decision-makers, over a third did not have the correct technology to support mobile working, and 43% couldn’t perform business-critical functions on a mobile application.
“If the company already has business software applications in place, they should see if their vendors already offer mobility tools. For example, many modern ERP systems now support mobile application generators which allow users to create a range of applications from their mobiles and use them to perform core business processes no matter where they are. These can be created in a matter of minutes, and don’t require high levels of IT expertise, perfect for SMEs looking to enhance their mobility strategy using existing technology,” he says.
Jon Wrennall, chief technology officer at cloud software supplier Advanced, says that SMEs should look to place employees at the heart of their mobile strategy, “empowering them to use mobile technology to streamline their tasks and minimising the chances of departments working in siloes”.
He adds that SMEs can use the cloud to help facilitate mobile working, which enables users to work on the move and still have all the real-time information they need at their fingertips.
“The cloud is a key driver in making mobile strategies success but implementing such a strategy is often seen as a bold move as some SMEs lack confidence in adoption and don’t understand the positive role it can play,” says Wrennall.
“SMEs should therefore look to take incremental steps. For example, they can trial mobile technology will a select set of employees who can then share feedback with those that aren’t yet familiar with it. It also enables SMEs to assess areas for improvement,” he says.
Device and service choice
Wrennall said that when it comes to devices and service choice, not everyone is familiar with mobile devices. Some will be more receptive to changing their working practices, while others might not.
“SMEs should give more support to those that need it and educate them on the benefits of mobile and the cloud. They should work closely with staff to find out their pain points, as this will determine what devices and services they choose to implement,” he says.
He adds that a move to a mobile strategy should be considered with the same level of due diligence as any other significant investment within a business. Before choosing what device or service to adopt, SMEs must consider how a transition will impact their staff and customers as well as choose a provider that can illustrate a clear and structured pathway for moving staff and data to mobile technology as smoothly as possible.
“Device and service providers must be able to show they are going to be a long-term value adding partner and that they’re in it for the long haul,” says Wrennall.
Organisations would be well advised to use just one type of device or at least minimise the number of unique hardware/software configurations,” according to Jack Zubarev, president at Parallels, a supplier of desktop and application virtualisation software.
“The cost of delivering and supporting applications simply increases with each unique device/software combination. Further device replacement and refresh will become far less expensive if one can standardise not just on device vendors but on the specific configuration(s),” he says.
“But then again, most organisations do not have the luxury of this standardisation as employees bring their own devices. In this case universal remote delivery of applications to any device, will likely provide the most cost-effective solution and isolate software delivery from underlying device hardware.
Making mobility secure
SMEs are in as much danger from cyber criminals as larger enterprises. David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, says that if SMEs overlook mobile security, they run the risk of leaving a big gap in their security defences. He adds that his firm detected 5,730,916 malicious installation packages, 94,368 mobile banking Trojans and 544,107 mobile ransomware Trojans in 2017.
“One of the dangers is that mobile technology ‘creeps’ into the business and isn’t necessarily considered in the same way as desktop or laptop security. Consider the BYOD [bring-your-own-device] trend, for example, where staff use their own devices for business,” he says.
“This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it’s important that businesses include mobile in their risk assessment, just as they would for any other technology they use: i.e. looking at what assets they have, how are they used, how is data stored/moved, who has access to it, who might want it and how might they try to access it etc. In this sense, mobile security should be considered as part of an overall security strategy.”
One of the biggest trends affecting mobile strategy and security is BYOD. “No longer can organisations insist on a device to be used by employees,” says Clive Longbottom, service director at Quocirca. “This is made worse by the changes in workforce – contractors, consultants, specialists and so on cannot be forced to use a specific device, but can be forced to allow the organisation to create a secure partition on their device.”
Read more about mobility
- Rolling stock leasing company Angel Trains is demonstrating edge computing over a wireless mesh network to make life easier for its customers’ on-board staff.
- The self-styled “Uber of Wi-Fi”, iPass is using Databricks’ Unified Analytics Platform and machine learning to monitor its worldwide network and help its customers get the best mobile experience.
- Food retailer Co-op plans to introduce a smartphone self-checkout system so customers can pay for goods without visiting a till.
Employees at smaller companies may not realise that, when downloading an app, where that app came from.
“Employees can search on an App Store and find any number of apps that purport to be able to do what they want. Individuals tend not to even check to see where the developer comes from (for example, Russia or China) and will have no capabilities to check the traffic between their device and the backend servers,” says Longbottom.
“By creating a secure partition, users can be prevented from loading apps on to it, with only the company-approved apps being available to them. Sure, the individual can still install apps on their part of the device, but these apps will not have access to any corporate data.”
Putting best practice into your mobile strategy
Priority’s Richter says the best tip is to understand where in the business a mobility strategy will add value. “Is it more important for your HR and accounting team to be mobile, or your field service reps? Although the end goal should be full mobility across the board, initially, instead of trying to do everything at once, being selective about what parts of the business would benefit from going mobile will increase the chances of a strategy sticking,” he says.
Leach says that line managers must be confident that staff are aware how to use, and are using, technologies available so that employees are just effective at their job when out of the office.
“There also need to be clear policies for working from home, such as allocated days and shared calendars. However, the most crucial factor to ensure a successful mobile strategy is creating a positive culture for mobile working. Do employees feel comfortable asking for and then working from home? Do you trust that they will be working, or do you think that they will be swilling tea all day whilst signing for neighbours’ Amazon deliveries?” he says.
Should SMEs worry about 5G? What does the future hold for SME mobile strategies?
At some point in the next few years, 5G networks will begin to be commercialised. 5G devices should be expected to consume less energy and thus improve battery life. 5G networks will have higher data rates and lower latency than previous mobile generations.
These new networks will come with features to give companies better mobility and flexibility. This will be useful for SMEs with remote employees being able to work anywhere and retain workplace-like bandwidth and connectivity.
The internet experience of 5G for field employees will be better in a number of ways. Internet-connected vehicles and machinery can be more easily monitored in real-time. It should also be easier to get analytical data into management hands to enable quicker decisions wherever employees are. These should make an impact on a business’s productivity.