April 1, 2008

3 Min Read
Column: Ask Steve  Mobility Tools Keep SMBs Competitive

By Steve Hilton

What Do SMBs Want?
Ask Yankee Group analyst Steve Hilton. Send your questions to [email protected]. Please include your name, city, state and a phone number. Only first names and locations will be published. 

Does anyone work 100 percent of the time from the desk anymore? I doubt it. SMB employees become more mobile every year and the technology tools needed to support them must change at a faster pace. If you don’t believe me, just ask my father-in-law, a sixtysomething, “retired” freelance theater director. Empowered with his mobile device, instant messaging and hosted backup/restore applications, he’s a one-man virtual worker. Mobility and collaboration applications are front and center this month in Ask Steve.

Q: With all the talk about wireless, what tools do SMBs really need?

— Diane, San Antonio, Texas

Productivity Tool Winners and Losers Inside and Outside the Office Environment


Comsumer IM

Mobile SMS

802.11 Laptops

EV-DO Laptops

Smart Phones

Voice-Only Cell Phones



Second Life

Online Travel Services

Online Auction Services



MP3 Player

Source: Yankee Group 2007 Mobile Professional Blended Lifestyle Survey – SMB (U.S.)

A: Let’s set up the discussion with a little SMB data, Diane. There is a lot of industry talk about wireless, but are SMB employees really that mobile? In fact, they are; 44 percent of all SMB employees are mobile workers. The type of mobile working (e.g., intraoffice, local travel, long-distance travel and telecommuting) varies based on a variety of characteristics including socioeconomic characteristics of an employee and his or her job specifications and requirements.

Of the 44 percent SMB mobile workers, 49 percent are mobile professionals (senior executives, managers, IT workers, consultants, knowledge workers, etc.). Another 31 percent are field force workers — employees engaged in sales, technical support or other field-related services. The remaining 21 percent are a mishmash of mobile specialty workers including delivery personnel, drivers, factory/production staff, construction/trades people, public safety/service employees, faculty and others.

All this added mobility requires new types of working relationships and collaboration between employees, suppliers and customers. And many of these types of tools come from the consumer world rather than the enterprise world. Employees need real-time, near-real-time and non-real-time communications to effectively and efficiently get their jobs done. Often, the SMB IT departments haven’t implemented enterprise-class (or SMB-class) solutions, so the SMBs use technology tools from their personal lives for work to get the job done.

According to Yankee Group research, the top mobility- and collaboration-centric solutions for SMB employees are blogs, wikis, smartphones, wireless wide-area device-enabled laptops (EV-DO or HSDPA) and instant messaging. The best of these solutions can increase SMB productivity by 30 percent to 40 percent. Of note, these solutions drive employee productivity outside the office environment, which is where many mobile workers are spending upwards of 50 percent of their work week. Strangely enough, these types of mobility- and collaboration-centric solutions do not increase productivity inside the office, so SMB employees that have high levels of travel are the ones who will benefit most from these solutions. In addition, many of these solutions supplement real-time communications with text-based communications, facilitating near- or non-real-time communications and allowing mobile workers to multitask and prioritize their hectic work lives.

There are many other solutions that can aid SMBs in a mobile environment. Many of these solutions are classic enterprise-based solutions, generally requiring implementation for the entire company. Solutions including unified communications (often integrated with IP PBX or hosted VoIP solutions) fit this bill. Knowing unified communications adoption by SMBs has been slower than hoped, it’s important for partners to understand the other types of mobility and collaboration tools that drive SMB employee productivity.

Thanks for the great question, Diane.

Steve Hilton is the vice president of Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research Group with an expertise in converged solutions for SMBs. Hilton manages a team of analysts delivering consulting, research and programs to help vendors and service providers better serve SMBs, midmarket enterprises and large enterprises globally. Visit Yankee Group online at www.yankeegroup.com.

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