Kevin Kevany gets down and technology-focused again to measure the advance of business-class mobile devices and applications.
Since we last looked at mobile networks and productivity, just some nine months ago, that world has moved on radically, even by technology standards. The topic then was netbooks versus smartphones. Do you remember netbooks?
Not even a year later it’s becoming commonplace for the likes of Matthew Key, the boss of Telefonica (better known as O2), to say: “Your phone will be a remote control for your life.”
Key runs a NZ$25 billion, 55 million customer mobile phone company in Europe, without a PC on his desk, or even a laptop in his bag. Just an iPad.
Is it surprising that Apple sold some seven million of these handheld devices just in the December quarter? And that’s before the recent iPad 2 launch.
And we’ve had Twitter come into its own, keeping Christchurch businesses in touch after the second Canterbury quake; while Facebook has become the forum for planning and implementing revolution in North Africa and the Middle East!
But back to what this march in technology all means for you as a business owner-manager.
Let’s first revisit our poster girl for mobile productivity, the now much lauded winner of the 2010 David Award for ‘the most inspired use of technology’, Rebecca McLeod. This working mother with two young lads under five, and her soaring Made4Baby company, supplies natural skincare products for babies. Her company’s products have moved on into Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai and South Korea. In Hong Kong alone, Made4Baby has gone from five to 11 and now 25 stockists in a matter of months.
Could she still be using her Telecom provided Nokia E71 and laptop (largely used for inventory and printing invoices immediately after stocking the shelves of pharmacies and health stores)?
“Yes, but now with some ‘extras’, like Kiwi Fax – which scans and forwards all faxes from pharmacies, who still like to use faxes,” McLeod says. “And with added ‘unleashed’ inventory-control software, which integrates directly with Xero which, in turn, we are still very much linked to.
“And I’ve upgraded my phone to a fantastically user-friendly Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, which also has great camera functions.
“Facebook has become very important to us too – especially for growing our ‘community’. Most Mums are home with their babies, and the Internet and Facebook are very important in keeping them in touch. It’s also a great and free way of showing photos of our products in stores all around Australasia, the East and Middle East.”
Given the rapid expansion Made4Baby has undergone since last we spoke, can she predict when she’s likely to be forced to adopt a more ‘traditional’ way of operating?
“Not at this stage. I recently spent two weeks in Japan with NZTE, and the combination of my T-stick and smartphone was quite up to the task,” says McLeod.
Adele Beachley, MD of Research In Motion, Australasia, has also enjoyed the last nine months as BlackBerry has made a strong come-back.
“Today’s smartphones allow business operators to respond to customer enquiries from their child’s school concert or manage staff while watching weekend sport. Wireless communication amongst team members not only increases responsiveness amongst colleagues and clients, but boosts productivity, and gives you a genuine edge over competitors. The ability to access up-to-date information also helps you capitalise on business opportunities, virtually whenever and wherever they arise.”
Beachley says research undertaken by Canadian survey company, Ipsos Reid, showed that the BlackBerry mobile solution delivers “productivity enhancements” which enable SMEs (small and medium enterprises) achieve an ROI at a minimum of 256 percent – which equates to a payback period of 142 days.
While testing a BlackBerry Bold on a recent overseas trip, I did find a number of the features she highlights to back that claim, more than useful.
They include: Business Trip Expense Manager; VQ Mileage Tracker, which makes it easy to submit an expense report; A Plus WorldClock; AddTo, which creates appointments, tasks or memos out of your emails and TXTs in a single click; and mProductive app, which intuitively helps you decide “what to leave and what to do”.
And the list goes on: Gwabbit; ProOnGo business card reader; WorldMate; and the every-phone-should-have-one Drive Safe.ly, which reads incoming messages aloud and lets you dictate and send messages/emails while your hands are safely on the drivers wheel.
Beachley again: “Ipsos Reid found – and bear in mind this was focused on SME owners/managers – the average SME BlackBerry user converted 60 minutes of downtime into productive time each day; processed 2,500 time-sensitive emails a year while mobile and team productivity increased by nearly 40 percent.”
Supporting the business ecosystem
Aaron McDonald, mobility business manager propositions, Gen-i, can be assumed to be ‘device-neutral’, so his take on this issue is worth hearing.
“It’s less about the device these days, as they change every week. And different devices have various factors which appeal to different users. They are highly personal, so it’s hard to say which specific hardware types are ‘useful’ for SME bosses, and which are ‘toys’,” says McDonald.
“What’s more important is: does the device operating system support a ‘business ecosystem’ well? Does it easily integrate with common business tools and software; is it easy to manage from a security and information risk perspective; and will my employees feel comfortable out at the pub with it as well?
“With that in mind, our view is that in the business ecosystem the best smartphone device operating systems at the moment are Windows Phone and BlackBerry, followed by Apple’s iOS and then Android.
“As far as feature phones go, where basic functionality and reliability are concerned, then Nokia and Symbian are still king,” says McDonald.
But he also notes: “iOS used to be in this category and while they have not quite hit the same mark in terms of business features as Windows Phone or BlackBerry, they are catching up quickly, helped a lot by their third-party application ecosystem, which is filling the gaps.
“Add to this iPad, which to date has been a hit, and over time will replace the laptop for many, and it’s a proposition which will have much appeal to businesses.”
He dismisses Andriod devices prior to version 2.3 (most of the current ones) as “largely a consumer proposition”, but says version 2.3 goes a long way towards bringing them up to speed.
Let’s hear it for Android
Getting a range of comments for this feature, post THE quake has proved impossible, with all companies stretched to the limit in assisting, repairing and augmenting – even if it’s temporary.
But I did get a Telecom ‘team response’: “Google’s Android has been hugely successful with SMEs. Not only are tens of thousands of applications available, ranging from the incredibly useful to the outright bizarre, but as an Open Source smartphone operating system, Android powered smartphones are also incredibly affordable.
“This allows most SMEs to carry around the computing equivalent of an office in their pocket to stay productive even when away from base,” says Team Telecom (TT).
Telecom currently sells nine Android devices, and is looking to expand its portfolio in the future. They describe the competition between smartphone makers as “extremely fierce”.
“The utility of a smartphone isn’t about brand, look and feel or even hardware, but is more about the number of applications being made for each smartphone. This is also an important ‘buyer beware point’, as any smartphone is only ever going to be as useful as the applications you can download and install on it and the mobile network it is connected to.
“There are a number of factors that impact mobile data speeds and performance such as: the amount of traffic on the network; the time of day; surrounding buildings; mobile coverage; and the device being used.
“Like any data network, a mobile network can only go as fast as its slowest component or biggest bottleneck. Telecom has invested heavily in eliminating as many of these as possible, such as the majority of our XT cell sites (85 percent) are connected with ‘superfast backhaul’.”
TT recommends using MS Outlook, “which is usually supported as a default option on most smartphones” as one of the best ways of keeping in sync with the office.
“All contact, calendar, tasks and emails can be seamlessly synchronised with your office PCs to keep you connected with work. Another third-party option for easily transferring files to a growing number of smartphones is Dropbox, which can give you up to 8Gb of online data storage. Files saved online from work can easily be accessed if Dropbox is available on your smartphone.”
While TT, naturally, punt their XT network, Gen-i’s McDonald is more sanguine: “For most users, to be honest, both of the two big networks will represent, over time, similar reliability, cost and performance. In fact in the not-too-distant future we will be sharing at least some common infrastructure.”
What about relative newcomer 2Degrees then?
Backed by a substantial TV advertising campaign they have hit the local market in recent times with what they claim is “the largest and longest-lasting mobile data prepay plan in New Zealand”, with a jibe at some of the short-term offerings from rivals.
Their 12GB mobile broadband zone Data Pack lasting 180 days for $150 – “buy it once, and enjoy mobile data for nearly six months”, says Malcolm Phillipps, head of product marketing – was quickly followed by what he called “a game-changing move for the mobile industry in New Zealand and great news for people who use their mobile a lot”.
The “all you can eat” mobile plan for individual users/SMEs was “the first ever” monthly plan for single users, covering all national mobile and landline calls for $149 a month, with no contract required, and 250Mb of data included, plus 1000 texts.
“Our research showed that more than 200,000 New Zealanders are paying more than $150 per month for their mobile phone usage. There’s no excuse for this anymore. Sole business operators especially, who routinely rack up a huge monthly bill for their mobile phone calling as part of their job, will find this new plan a God-send,” Phillipps reckons.
Of course, company players push their own products and services. Want an outside opinion from an independent industry-insider? Call Stu Lees. He’ll check out your operation from a user perspective.
“Running a business; there are so many things to cram into your day that the simplest stuff often slips past. First thing we look at is: are your backups working?
“Invariably we find that the SME owner is happily taking home the backup tapes with the assumption that their business’s critical data is safely tucked away somewhere on the tape.
“Or, your server could be a ticking time-bomb. So many SMEs have their trusty old servers running in a cupboard somewhere and they are usually over four years of age.”
He’s widely experienced, is based on Auckland’s North Shore and his company is Zero Down – “your IT Uptime counts”. Ask him about Full System Imaging and Restore.