E-business is often viewed as the driving force behind the deployment of mobile technologies. Why is this?
If e-business is defined as conducting business via data networks using internal applications such as intra- and extranets, then the overlap with mobility becomes apparent. In the field of mobile business, in-house applications predominate in conjunction with wireless or wired data networks.
To what extent do SMBs use mobile technologies?
At the present time, it’s mainly SMBs in sectors such as the service industry, for example IT service providers, and the transport sector who are using mobile business applications. Companies in sectors with an affinity toward e-business and with highly mobile staff who need to be able to access data and information quickly and easily tend to be receptive to mobile technologies.
However, it is clear that some SMBs are still reluctant to deploy mobile applications. This is firstly to do with the fact that SMBs have not been made sufficiently aware of the practical benefits of m-business. And second, the introduction of mobile technologies in SMBs is of course always a question of cost.
How will mobile applications alter the way in which companies collaborate?
Mobile business can effect a smoother and more immediate collaboration between companies because the most up-to-date data and information can be accessed in real time when visiting partners and customers. This produces shorter response times and ensures data is always up-to-date, a fact that considerably improves the quality of service.
It is particularly important for field staff to be able to access up-to-date product catalogs and data, price lists, and customer profiles at any time. Compared to the old-style pile of different printed lists, some of which didn’t even contain the latest prices or product data, this represents more than a technological advance – it is decisive in securing a competitive advantage for SMBs in the future.
And what effect does this have on collaboration between employees within the company itself?
The use of mobile business considerably improves and speeds up communication between the employees within a company. It produces faster business processes as employees who are out of the office can read and respond to important e-mails immediately. Conversely, staff members in the office can be reached by their mobile co-workers. Improved communication naturally also reduces costs within the company.
And last but not least, companies that use mobile technologies as a means of communication also increase employee satisfaction. For instance, a staff member who is conducting a customer discussion can conveniently access the specific data they need without being distracted from the task in hand. This produces contented and motivated staff and – now we come full circle – results in more efficient business processes.
How might mobile technologies improve business processes in the future?
On the whole, mobile technologies are becoming increasingly powerful, which also means faster. In particular this means wider bandwidths, such as in the case of W-LAN and UMTS. Especially UMTS suffered because it was over-hyped, and an unrealistic approach was taken to the technology. With the advent of W-LAN hotspots, the debate turned to whether W-LAN would supplant UMTS technology. In my view, the two technologies will complement each other, because UMTS has advantages over W-LAN in terms of range, while W-LAN provides a higher bandwidth than UMTS. These complementary advantages of UMTS and W-LAN can be used highly effectively, particularly in the business sector.
According to my estimates, full-coverage networks will play a big part for mobile business in the future. This means that users won’t know which technology they are using at a particular time to send an e-mail or access data from a business management system – it may be UMTS, W-LAN, or GPRS. We have already seen the first promising steps towards this situation, giving added impetus to mobile business, and thus also aiding the development of mobile business applications.
What are the main areas in which SMBs are using mobile solutions at the present time?
SMBs mainly use m-business for mobile office functions. According to our figures, this is true for the whole body of companies in Germany that use m-business applications. The mobile office mainly covers the classic Outlook applications such as e-mail correspondence and contact and calendar maintenance. This is followed by CRM solutions and ERP applications, but these still lag a long way behind. However, there is no mistaking the fact that companies want to increase their investments in this area in future.
If you break the figures down into company sectors, you will find that the highest penetration of mobile business has been at management level and in sales. The latter is also usually that part of the company that has the highest proportion of mobile staff. It not only makes sense to give these people access to up-to-date customer data, they actually require it to gain a competitive advantage.
Where do you see the future of mobile application scenarios in regard to SMBs?
Mobile office applications will continue to be the most important mobile applications for the foreseeable future. As mentioned earlier, mobile CRM is also becoming increasingly important in SMBs. This development will also be reflected in the context of mobile business. It encompasses not just retrieving master data but also providing access through SAP Business One or mySAP CRM, for example, to customer profiles and analytical evaluations. Data such as this, which details the last time that a customer ordered specific products for instance, can help field staff to assess which products they can and should offer to a particular company. This is just one example of a possible application scenario. In any case, the accessibility of a company’s knowledge pool by its staff via mobile applications will be a crucial factor in the future.
What added value do m-business applications provide SMBs?
Mobile business significantly increases the flexibility of an SMB’s staff by reducing their dependence on a specific location and providing immediate availability of data. Round-the-clock access to e-mails and files means that companies can minimize unproductive working time. This ultimately means better and more seamless processes and gives the company a head start over the competition.