With smartphones and now tablets in business use, productivity tools and business management apps are front and center in the world of SMB mobility.
Michael McDonald is a senior associate at AMI-Partners Inc. He discusses the market research firm’s recent survey results on how SMBs are embracing mobility with writer Colleen Frye.
ChannelPro-SMB: AMI research shows smartphone and tablet use on the rise among SMBs. What are the key drivers?
McDonald: The recent 2011 data is even more aggressive. The preliminary results show 15 percent of SMBs [in the U.S.] have already adopted tablets, and smartphones in the U.S. have been adopted by 50 percent of SMBs. We see [smartphones] getting to 90 to 95 percent by 2015.
What’s interesting with tablets is the prosumer is kicking in. The prosumer said, “I want an iPhone in the business world; figure out how to make it work.” The second the iPad came out they wanted the same thing. IT departments were more willing, they had experience, so it became easier to get a home device into business. While 15 percent of SMB [tablets] are business purchased or reimbursed, it doesn’t include [personal]. The ability to use home devices is allowing tablets to be adopted faster. It’s like a trial. You let the guy bring it in [from home]; is it productive? OK. That’s a whole new way of adopting a technology.
ChannelPro-SMB: Your research also shows that SMBs that adopt mobility are experiencing greater revenue growth. What types of mobile apps are they using?
McDonald: There are two different types of [mobile] apps businesses like to run. One is productivity-based tools; [the other is] business management apps like CRM, online storage, financials. We’re also seeing a lot of traction with business analytics/intelligence tools. SMBs in the past used Excel as business intelligence, but more are relying on true BI apps that will help them analyze their business. We also see SMBs turning toward mobile payments solutions. It’s becoming huge, especially in retail, using smartphones more than tablets.
ChannelPro-SMB: What role do you expect the tablet to play in SMBs going forward?
McDonald: The tablet now is confined more to the executive and sales role, but this will continue to evolve. With the newer tablets the capability is beyond what we saw even a year ago with the first iPad. We see that trend continuing—more power, speed, memory. Different industries are more prone to use tablets; there’s significant adoption in healthcare; financial/real estate/insurance have taken on tablets quite quickly; legal services. Retail you would think would be high on the need list, but we haven’t seen the levels of adoption similar to those other industries, which kind of surprised me.
ChannelPro-SMB: Do SMBs face any barriers to embracing mobility?
McDonald: Cost is always an issue, but it depends on where they are in the SMB space. With barebones IT businesses, smartphones are not cost prohibitive. But when you get into larger businesses and more mobile data and the apps become more complicated, you need a mobile security solution [and] management policies. From a tablet perspective, cost is more of a factor—plus the data plan—especially for SMBs on the smaller end. So they are expensive. The good thing is alternatives are coming out at lower price points, which will drive the price down. We expect the price to drop between 30 to 50 percent, possibly over the next five years. As that happens, those barriers will be removed.
ChannelPro-SMB: What role is the channel playing in mobile solutions?
McDonald: For the VARs/custom guys, their main place is in medium business. They still have custom solutions built for tablets. There are vertical-specific apps that are still huge, especially hospitality, printing, media. In the small space the VAR for the most part doesn’t play a major role. For more cookie-cutter solutions [small SMBs] go straight to the vendor or to retail, and that does include SaaS apps. The medium business with the amount of data to migrate will still go to the local vendor/VAR to help with integration.