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SMEs should use mobility as strategic competitive advantage

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa can benefit from the availability of mobile solutions that are tailored to their needs for simplicity and affordability, but without compromising on security and reliability.

Organisations can deploy these solutions rapidly and start enjoying the benefits within days or weeks.

That’s according to Deon Liebenberg, Regional Director for Sub Sahara Africa at Research In Motion (RIM), the company behind the BlackBerry¬Æ solution. He says that smaller businesses should start looking at mobilising workers beyond the executive team and embracing applications beyond personal information management and email to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Many executives employed by SMEs already depend on smartphones to keep up to date with their emails, browse the mobile Internet, access personal applications like Facebook®, Google Talk™ and BlackBerry® Messenger, manage their diaries and more. Yet, this is just the beginning of the potential that mobile holds for SMEs.

Says Liebenberg: “Even though most businesses are cutting back on non-essential IT spend, those that adopt mobile technologies can use them as an effective competitive tool in a tough trading environment. There are many opportunities to be found in offering cost effective mobile solutions to field sales and service staff, for example.””

‚Some of the functions that SMEs can mobilise with smartphones and mobile applications include time management and tracking, electronic forms completion, document viewing, contact management, customer information, and even billing,‚ says Liebenberg.

With BlackBerry App World‚Ñ¢, users can personalise their smartphones by installing applications that help them to make the most of their time. BlackBerry App World offers South African users access to a wide variety of free applications across various categories such as entertainment, instant messaging and social networking, news, weather, travelling and productivity tools.

Businesses can become more responsive to their customers by allowing mobile workers to pull information from customer relationship management databases when it is convenient. They can also save time and get more work done with the same resources by tracking and managing employees in the field.

“”Enterprises need to look beyond tactical mobile solutions, and think about how broader mobile deployments could benefit their businesses,”” says Liebenberg. “”Mobility is all about making information available wherever it’s needed, becoming more responsive to customers and allowing workers to be more efficient and productive, wherever they are.””

Liebenberg says that some of the factors that have held back wider deployment of mobile solutions among SMEs include price sensitivity, a lack of awareness of the productivity benefits, and ‚analysis paralysis’ in the face of the many choices on the market.

SMEs also fear that they will not cope with the challenges of rolling out mobile solutions because they don’t have large IT departments to manage deployment, support and security. But many of these obstacles have been addressed by applications vendors, handset manufacturers and network operators.

‚Smartphones are steadily dropping in price, and are now affordable through bundles and contracts from most major network operators,‚ says Liebenberg.

Mobility platforms have also become increasingly affordable, through options such as BlackBerry® Enterprise Server Express and Hosted BlackBerry® Solutions. These solutions give smaller-sized businesses most of the features that enterprise-class systems offer, but with far less complexity.

The recently released BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express is one example of a mobile solution that is perfect for companies that don’t have a lot of budget to spend on technology. It’s a free new server software that wirelessly and securely synchronises BlackBerry¬Æ smartphones with Microsoft¬Æ Exchange (2010, 2007 and 2003) or Microsoft¬Æ Windows¬Æ Small Business Server (2008 and 2003).

‚BlackBerry¬Æ Enterprise Server Express provides users with secure, push-based, wireless access to email, calendar, contacts, notes and tasks, as well as other business applications and enterprise systems behind the firewall. It’s a cost-effective solution that allows companies of all sizes to support enterprise-grade mobile connectivity for all employees without compromising security or manageability,‚ according to Liebenberg.

Hosted BlackBerry® Solutions, meanwhile, is a fully outsourced solution, available from major Internet and cellular service providers, which turns the mobile server into a predictable monthly cost and frees businesses from needing to own or manage the server and software.

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