Continuous innovation in smartphones, tablets and the upcoming tide of wearables, such as Google Glass and the Apple Watch, creates a huge opportunity for business-to-business (B2B) mobile software. But to realize this, software providers need mobile strategies that cater to each type of device.
Years ago sales people spent a lot of time out of the office, traveling with a laptop. As laptops couldn’t be connected to the internet by wireless data networks, systems were updated back at the office or at home using dial-up connections.
Given the limitations of communications technologies, software vendors focused on supporting sales people on the road, by providing complete laptop applications and synchronisation.
Now with the pervasiveness of mobile broadband and WiFi, mobile strategies no longer need to focus on connectivity and are being driven by the user’s context – where they are and what device they prefer to use at that particular time.
It’s widely predicted that organizations will deliver more mobile apps to workers in the next few years and that employees will become less reliant on desktop computers. But can mobile enterprise apps create a mobile workforce and could one device cater to all their needs?
The problem for software providers is that with an explosion in the number of mobile devices, it’s impossible to have a single mobile strategy. Mobile devices range in functionality, size, shape and style and you must consider the different capabilities and strengths of each type, whether it’s a standard notebook, ultrabook, hybrid, smartphone, tablet, phablet or wearable. This is constantly in flux.
To encourage employees to use software on a mobile device and adopt new ways of working, mobile apps have to be fast, enjoyable to use and make their jobs easier.
Employees increasingly expect to be able to use their own devices to access company data and there is a growing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work trend. Most staff own a smartphone and if they can use these devices to complete sales, acquire new customers and do administrative tasks when they are out of the office, or even at the office, enterprises can empower their workforce and significantly improve performance and productivity.
But while smartphones are great for communicating, with phone, email and internet access, they’re not designed for creating content. Without a decent sized keyboard and screen, writing documents and creating presentations can be challenging.
To take advantage of smartphones, software providers need mobile strategies that offer new ways of capturing information, such as attaching photographs or voice recognition. Data also needs to be easy to navigate and responsive. This means changing the layout of screens and using visualization to present information.
B2B SaaS solutions tend to have lots of essential functionality that can’t be crammed into a mobile app. Rather than trying to make all their functionality available, software providers should focus on helping users in different situations to work effectively. Native apps that are built for a particular platform tend to offer a superior user experience. But you should not simply mimic the laptop solution, but rather focus on what will work well on that particular device, and in that context.
Nowadays, sales people use a number of mobile devices. They may take a tablet if they are giving a presentation, a smartphone so they can receive business updates on the move, and a laptop for when they get a chance to sit down and work.
Your situation presents more of a constraint than a lack of wireless connectivity. On a crowded train you may only have room to use your smartphone or wearable device, whereas if you are sitting in a cafe you can probably work on your laptop. In a London Underground station there’s now coverage, but in underground tunnels there isn’t. Some airlines now offer WiFi on flights.
Consume or produce content?
The choice of mobile device is also driven by whether you consume or produce content. To keep in touch with what’s happening people use mobile phones to read the news, tweets and blogs and to conduct online research. Wearable devices could also provide updates on the things that are important to your business. For example, alerting you when a new customer has registered on your website. To perform basic tasks such as sending a standard welcome email, a smartphone or wearable might suffice.
However, for most sales and marketing professionals, creating content plays a large part of their role. Even with bigger displays, the new breed of touchscreen mobile devices hasn’t eliminated the need for computers with keyboards yet.
Mobile technology doesn’t exist by itself. Other technological advances have changed the business landscape. Sales people don’t travel like they did, as web conferencing has enabled web-based selling, removing some of the need for a mobile sales force.
But work has infiltrated our personal lives and we expect to be able to deal with work issues outside the office, whether we are traveling, socializing or at home. Phones in many respects represent the device of last resort in that they are more likely to always be available.