3 Mobile Trends SMBs Might Be Missing

There's a gap between small and midsize businesses when it comes capitalizing on mobile--but forward-thinking firms can still reap advantages.
10 Everyday Android Apps For SMBs
10 Everyday Android Apps For SMBs
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Small businesses are certainly embracing mobility, but they might not be making the most of it.

That's one of the stories underpinning the SMB Group's 2012 Mobile Business Solutions Study. The research includes plenty of unsurprising findings. Android has exploded onto the smartphone scene. Apple continues to dominate the tablet market. Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is everywhere, whether sanctioned by corporate or not. Carry on--nothing to see here.

The opportunities, however, lie in some of the less glamorous results. Broadly speaking, small businesses (1-100 employees) are at a disadvantage compared with their midsize (100-1,000) counterparts. That's natural--the larger the company, the more money, people, IT, and other resources. They also rarely have any buying power--when it comes to voice and data plans, they're essentially paying retail. Voice and data costs eat up more than half (54%) of mobile budgets at small businesses; applications come in a distant second at 22%, with devices at 20%.

"The smaller you are, the more you're getting socked with the cost," SMB Group partner Laurie McCabe said in an interview. "The smaller the company, the more they're paying per employee."

[ Are your SMB's mobile apps any good? Take some tips from A Formula 1 Racing Team's Mobile Development Makeover. ]

There's no immediate relief in sight for the cost problem, McCabe said. But small companies might be leaving other benefits of mobile on the table. Here are three areas where smaller firms, in particular, could be doing more.

1. Don't Ignore Internal Apps

Small businesses have a clear jones for consumer-facing and other external apps--sometimes at the expense of considering how employees might benefit from internal tools. "Customer-facing apps are going to be number one on a lot of SMB priority lists," McCabe said. The reason is simple: smaller firms see a clearer line between external apps and their top business challenges, namely finding new customers and increasing revenue. Internal apps for things like productivity and collaboration, on the other hand, require a few more dots to connect to the bottom line.

Yet small businesses might be missing out if they skip the internal side of the equation--and plenty of them apparently will. While the basics like email and calendar apps are widely adopted, the lion's share of companies in the SMB Group report indicated they have "no plans to use" mobile apps for functions like conferencing (52%), expense management (59%), or analytics (69%). One of the more surprising finds: 59% of small businesses said they have no plans to manage social media marketing on their mobile devices.

All of this despite an apparent correlation between mobile and money: The SMB Group found that higher-performing small businesses--those that reported increasing revenue--were more like to use both external and internal apps.

2. Just Say "Yes" To Policy

A scant 16% of small businesses reported having a formal policy in place to govern mobile use, in spite of a hodgepodge of company-issued and employee-owned devices and apps. One in four companies said they plan to create one in the next 12 months, but that still leaves nearly 60% with no plans to actively manage mobile usage. That might be fine at the smallest of businesses, but McCabe points out that as the number of employees grows, a lack of policy could end up being a budget buster. "At the end of the day, you're spending more and more on mobile," McCabe said. "If you don't have policies and management, it's really hard to contain costs."

3. Think Beyond Devices And Apps

SMBs have no doubt been going gung-ho on the mobile front--adoption in some form is almost universal. But those that are deploying devices and apps willy-nilly might want to take a step back for a better view of the landscape. "The big value is going to come when they really think about the big picture and how they're going to make all of this work together," McCabe said, noting that the 360-degree view should include integration with non-mobile applications, too. "Most of them are adopting a lot of these apps piecemeal, and they need to take a step back."

McCabe offered up mobile payments as an example--29% of small businesses already accept them, and another 25% said they plan to do so in the coming year. Too few of them have considered how a payment app might (or might not) integrate with their existing banking, accounting, and other related applications. "If you're implementing a mobile solution, is that also an opportunity to do something at the same time?" McCabe said. "It's going to get you a double bang for your buck."

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