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The benefits of business mobility

Mobile coverage across Australia has reached new levels and competition between providers is seeing wireless data costs fall. So, how will business mobility change the way you, and your competitors, get the job done?

The mobile landscape in Australia has changed. In place of coverage limited to population centres and painfully slow data transfers, next generation speeds and much wider geographic availability are opening new possibilities on the mobile business front.

In fact, we’re on the cusp of a huge expansion in mobile business applications. Until recently, business mobility has been the domain of early adopters and experimenters, but now that mobile platforms have matured, mobility is poised to have a real effect on the way business in Australia is done.

More PDAs, cheaper data
Several factors are driving mainstream mobility preparedness. The first is the proliferation of mobile and PDA devices. According to Sensis, internet-enabled mobile devices have the fastest growing adoption rate of any telecoms technology. More than a third of mid-sized organisations already have mobile email. The upshot is that the technologies used by businesses today are already capable of supporting serious mobile applications, meaning expensive hardware investments aren’t required. Secondly, with increased competition and demand, providers are offering cheaper and more flexible data plans. Importantly, some are even offering options that allow data to be used across an entire workforce, not just single users.

Real time business tools
With the boost to mobile coverage and quality, the reach and effectiveness of mobile platforms means they’re finally a potent real time business tool outside of metro centres as well as within. Customer demand for mobile email has driven many of these changes, and, just as innovations on the desktop and internet took advantage of developing platforms, mobile business applications are ready to exploit the new mobile environment for productive ends.

Mid-sized businesses can expect a range of benefits. At the outset, mobility offers enormous scope for productivity improvements. With the proper systems in place, the only type of information flowing through your operation can be real time information, meaning decisions made in the field and the office can be based on the best and most current data available. Field staff can have instant access to inventories and business systems and can lodge sales or repair requests on the spot.

Other prime benefits include improved efficiencies and asset utilisation, as well as improved sales and cashflows and a lowering in administration costs. Ultimately, however, it may be the opportunities to deliver new or unique levels of customer service that really drive a significant wave of investment in mobile solutions.

The new handsets

So what will these applications actually look like? While most mobile handsets have a built-in web browser, implementing business mobility via this method can be more trouble than it’s worth. Many of us have experienced web pages accessed over mobile devices: the majority of the time they’re cumbersome, difficult and slow to use, displaying limited information and usually in ways that are formatted for a desktop browser, not a mobile device. They consume unnecessary amounts of data by transferring HTML pages or images that often aren’t cached by the handset, and, most importantly, all information becomes truly inaccessible when reception fails. This can be exceptionally frustrating in the field, especially if you’ve just keyed in information that can’t then be posted to the system.

Native applications

The better solution is to develop native applications for mobile devices. These are a much more effective way to take advantage of the capabilities and smaller interface of your selected phone or PDA. By developing native applications that run on the phone itself, the software can be designed from the ground up to provide the best user experience possible for the task at hand. Designing for speed of use is critical, and native mobile applications can also be made to deal with lost connectivity by storing data locally and syncing when network access is restored. This kind of native approach ultimately makes for simpler and more reliable systems that don’t rely on third party browsers over which your IT department has little control.

Dave Stevenshttp://www.brennanit.com.au
Dave Stevens is the founder and managing director of Brennan IT, an IT services business that provides a complete range of fully managed and secured IT and telecommunications solutions in Australia and New Zealand. Follow them on Twitter: @brennan_it