By Rob Waugh
Now just about anyone is able to dial in from home, pop into meetings via Skype and email reports while waiting at the school gates.
Mobile technology has changed the game. Businesses are now focused on enabling every employee to get their work done as easily as possible, using technology that fits around them and adds value at every stage. So what does that mean for the way the bosses are approaching the next generation of technology investments?
1. Show, don’t tell
Mobile has brought businesses closer to their customers in ways inconceivable just a decade ago. Whether it’s direct messaging for upcoming deals or tap and pay technology with mobile wallets, handheld gadgets are key enablers.
The world of marketing is being particularly shaken up by these new capabilities. Gadgets such as Samsung’s Gear 360 camera allow businesses to create memorable 360-degree videos for customers to explore – and virtual reality headsets such as Gear VR allow customers to ‘teleport’ to other locations instantly, using just a smartphone. Thomas Cook has already used Gear VR headsets to show off holiday experiences in cities such as Singapore.
Georgina Wilczek, director of the upcoming VR and AR World conference cites home furnishings giant Ikea as one retailer that sees virtual reality playing a major role in the future of its customers, changing the way people plan the layout of their homes and shop for home furnishings.
“VR allows retailers and automotive brands to provide customers with tours around virtual shops and car showrooms,” says Wilczek. “In the automotive industry too, the virtual showroom even extends to virtual test drives that allow customers to get the look and feel of a new car, without having to step into it.”
2. Grow bigger, faster
Cloud-based tools and mobile-first technologies have made it far cheaper to start and scale a business, with a host of metrics showing that companies using mobile technologies such as cloud collaboration and mobile payments hit growth and export milestones faster than those that don’t.
A report by the investment database CB Insights found that it used to cost £3.3 million to launch a small business in 2000. By 2011, that figure was £3,200. Jamie Ward, CEO of PayasUgym, says: “The key to start-ups is scaling fast, so removing blockers to achieve that is critical. Cloud-based solutions have allowed us to ramp up seamlessly and deal with seasonal peaks without fear of the dreaded “downtime”. Other cloud-based solutions we use mean my team can work, collaborate, share and communicate, whether they are 5ft or 1,000 miles from each other.”
Tools such as PayPal, Google Drive and Slack have also halved the amount of time it takes businesses to go international – from 41 months for businesses founded in 2003-2008 to 22 months for businesses founded in 2009 or later.
3. Communicate better
Messaging services such as Slack can keep a workforce in touch with each other even if workers are mobile. But such services can also offer a valuable way to stay in touch with customers – and ensure the business communicates effectively. “Estate agents aren’t known for good communication,” says Craig Ferguson, director of realtors Deighton Mckenzie. “When we set up the business, using Slack internally was really handy – it works across platforms, so we can use it with tablets, desktops, whatever.
“But the lightbulb moment was when we started to invite vendors (people selling homes) to our Slack chats. It offers a single channel for them to ask questions – they never get ‘Bev is on holiday’, or ‘Oliver’s not in’. It helps us to be more efficient.”
4. Staying flexible for happier employees
For today’s employees, the ability to work anytime, anywhere is important – 39pc of employees now identify it as the single most important factor in whether they are satisfied with their jobs, according to a report by the wireless firm HPE Aruba. Chris Kozup, its VP of marketing says that today, “most companies and employees understand that a mobile-first approach can be good for business, but if you tell a CEO that their organisation can achieve a 16pc increase in employee output, or HR directors that they can increase loyalty by more than one in five, we believe they would make mobility an even greater investment priority.”
5. Save time, save money
Mobile solutions can shave hours off regular tasks, with apps replacing forms, cloud solutions replacing resource-heaving local filing and scanning and imaging functions helping keep customer or supply chain-focused staff out in the field.
But the benefits of mobile are not just for mobile workers. For small businesses, being able to deal with tasks such as expenses via a mobile app means big savings. It is easier to file VAT returns, and easy to check that employees are sticking to an expenses policy, for instance, putting money directly back into a small business.
Dafydd Llewellyn, managing director of the expenses business Concur, explains that the business has more than 1,000 small businesses in the UK using its app – a cloud-based solution for expenses, which you access via smartphone. “You take a picture of a receipt, and it captures that information. For business travellers, it saves a huge amount of time slaving over expenses reports. Today’s workplace is very much on-the-go – and companies have a responsibility to give workers time back. Technology is incredibly important for that.”
6. Get rid of paperwork
Shockingly, Concur’s research suggests that 70pc of British businesses still rely on paper or spreadsheets when it comes to filing expenses claims. But an increasing number of apps are focused on getting rid of paperwork altogether and enabling on-the-go employees to deal with documents, without the need to forward them to a PC.
Helen Sutton, head of UK at DocuSign – picked out by non-profit organisation Tech City as one of 200 cloud-based tools essential to start-up businesses – says: “Mobile technology is now at the stage where it has rendered paper redundant across almost all aspects of business.
“For instance, cloud platforms allow organisations of all sizes to collaborate and share files and documents at any time, and from any location – completely removing the delays and expense caused by printing documents out and faxing them, or sending by snail mail. Even transactions that require an official authentication, such as contracts and agreements, can now be conducted solely from a mobile device through an eSignature platform.’’
7. Put data at your fingertips
Mobile-friendly software puts today’s businesses in touch with their data in a way that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Using Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software from the likes of Oracle, SAP or Sage puts bosses directly in touch with their accounts with live dashboards, whether they are at their desk, in the warehouse or at an investor lunch. “It puts you in control, 24-7,” says Andy Richley, business development manager at ERP provider Khaos Control Cloud.
“Whether you’re in the office or in a meeting, you can drill straight into your accounts. My managing director will say: ‘I can show you how my business is performing’ [and always be] in a position to do that. Proper grown-up business solutions aren’t just for big businesses anymore.”