With smartphones in our pocket and access to thousands of apps, we have become the mobile generation -- performing a wide range of information intensive activities on mobile phones wherever we are -- from viewing latest baseball scores of our favorite team or conducting banking transactions to searching for a local restaurant and sending messages to our Facebook friends. Mobile phones have become such a part of our daily lives that I expect mobile computing to seamlessly flow into our business lives as well and become an integral part of how we will work. I am not alone in this thinking.
According to a recent global report, Digital Megatrends 2015, by Oxford Economics, almost 60% of senior corporate executives expect mobile technology to provide the biggest boost to their businesses over the next five years, versus about 35% for business intelligence and cloud computing, and about 30% for social media. The percentages add up to more than 100% because survey respondents were asked to rank among six choices.
Why will mobile computing for business use accelerate? Here are my five reasons.
Powerful Devices and Network
A few years ago, the mobile phones were bulky and not powerful, and the networks were cripplingly slow. The current generation of smartphones is equipped with dual-core processors, fast memory and storage, and surprisingly sharp displays. Another difference is bandwidth. In 2001, the mobile phones puttered along at 14.4 kilobits per second. Now, the Wi-Fi hotspots abound, while fast 3G and even faster 4G enables mobile users to download lots of data and graphics at very fast speeds. Gartner says by the end of 2016, 1.2 billion people will carry these powerful smartphone handsets and tablets, such as Apple's iPad and devices based on Google's Android mobile operating system. They have come to value instant access to information for personal use and will expect the same for their work environment.
Availability of Pre-integrated Apps
Apps have played a significant role in the exponential adoption of mobile in the consumer space. We have apps for everything from searching for nearby restaurants to checking out latest baseball scores and playing games. Apps are expected to play a similar role in accelerating the use of mobile for work environment. Many vendors of enterprise systems are already pre-packaging mobile apps, downloadable from iTunes and other market places, to enable their customer's mobile workforce to quickly make decisions no matter where they are. These apps allow them to perform activities such as:
- View upcoming tasks and scheduled activities, so your employees can always be on top of their game
- Get alerts on specific events such as deviations from approved discounts, prices, credit limits, or targeted gross profits
- View and complete approval requests or ask for additional information or provide comments to requesters in the approval and rejection process. These include PO requisition approvals, invoice approvals, discount approvals etc.
- Access real-time operational reports from the system to have up to date dashboards and key performance indicators at their fingertips
- Access and manage customer and partner information, including contact details, historical activities and past orders
- Monitor inventory levels, and access detailed information about products, including purchasing and sales price, available quantity, manufacturer, shipping type, product specifications etc.
Basis of Competitive Advantage
Use of mobile technology during customer interactions not only allows organizations to become more responsive to their customers (a great competitive advantage over other companies), but more important, it enables them to appear bigger in size and richer in resources than they actually are (a huge coup in perception management for mid-sized companies). They can also get access to the latest operational scorecards on their mobile phone to know where they are (by the minute) in terms of meeting their metrics. Since ERP and BI vendors are offering pre-built mobile apps at no additional cost, even small organizations can afford to mobile-enable their workforce and increase their business.
Gartner recently stated that "The quality of the experience of applications on these devices, which can apply location, motion and other context in their behavior, is leading customers to interact with companies preferentially through mobile devices. This has led to a race to push out applications as a competitive tool to improve relationships and gain advantage over competitors whose interfaces are purely browser-based."
Shift to Cloud Computing
Organizations are accessing business applications and business intelligence software using SaaS (Software as a Service) model. In addition, more and more of company data increasingly residing on a cloud. Most of these SaaS applications have web services APIs and most of the data on the cloud is consumed using web services. Unlike traditional systems, SaaS applications and cloud-based data can be easily accessed using web services by mobile platforms.
iPad was one of the most popular Christmas gifts last year -- many senior executives of companies got an iPad for Christmas and asked the IT department to help them access their corporate systems using their new toy -- whether it is for reading their email or checking the status of their customer's order or approving a purchase requisition for their department or reviewing a product plan. As a result of the success of iPad with executives, interest in mobile computing has got the attention at the highest levels.
These reasons suggest that mobile computing at business in not only here to stay, it will become the very fabric of how we will work. Organizations that do not deploy the mobile apps from their enterprise vendors (or build their own apps on top of their applications and data) will become less competitive.
Thomas Tan is Senior Director of SME Marketing at SAP and responsible for marketing the SME (Small Business and Mid-sized Enterprises) product portfolio.