Increasing reliance on mobile devices has helped create a new market for channel pros - mobile applications for SMBs. SMB providers can even develop these apps for their own use.
By Martin Sinderman
Growing numbers of SMBs are looking for mobile applications that help run and build businesses, creating opportunities for channel partners to build these apps for their customers—or use them for themselves to market their own businesses.
A recent report from Techaisle, a global SMB IT market research and analysis firm, estimates that 81 percent of U.S. SMBs shelled out some $32 billion on mobility solutions in 2011, with 23 percent of that spent on new development and/or customization of mobile applications.
Apps Businesses Want
SMBs want apps that are focused on marketing, sales, and increasing productivity, according to Techaisle CEO Anurag Agrawal. “They want mobile apps that are able to integrate with their existing CRM [customer relationship management] and logistics solutions,” he says, “as well as with their respective lines of business.”
SMBs also want apps that address issues such as time and billing management, payment processing, productivity, and business analytics, says Agrawal. And those applications need to accommodate social media interaction, he notes, along with GPS functionality, the ability to show whether other parties or employees are available to interact (presence capability), and solutions for lost or stolen mobile devices.
SMBs, channel pros included, also want apps that help them sell their products and services. Apps have become a core part of a smart marketing plan, according to Scott Hirsch, founder and CEO of Deerfield, Fla.-based Appsbar Inc., an app builder that lets users create and publish their own apps for free via its website.
“App stores have become the new commercial arena,” says Hirsch. “It’s where people are engaging with each other and the businesses they want to support.” Apps that facilitate mobile commerce—leveraging the ability to reach increasingly mobile customers on a variety of devices—present the greatest opportunities for channel partners, according to Hirsch.
Apps used by Appsbar clients to identify, reach, and engage customers are diverse, and include, for example, an artist spotlighting an upcoming gallery showing and a realtor driving attention to new property listings. “Chart-topper Kim Sozzi uses her app to engage fans on social networks and share her new song releases,” says Hirsch. “We also have chain restaurants that use Appsbar to build and deliver coupons straight to their customer base, cutting out middlemen like Groupon.”
Get a Partner
Despite their recent successes, mobile apps represent a very new line of business for channel partners, according to Agrawal. IT pros considering a mobile app business should “first make sure they understand what mobility really means, and determine whether they want to get into this business model at all,” says Agrawal. “Look at the vertical markets and understand what mobile apps can be offered in those markets, and then systematically partner with a third party—either one of the small players, or a Cisco or Dell, or an HP or Intel—to be able to build mobile apps.”
In the smaller-player arena, Appsbar, as well as other free or paid app-building vendors such as AppMakr, Bizness Apps, Mobtify, and throngs of others, are available to channel pros who want to provide mobile apps with minimal expenditures of time and money. A lot of these players are start-ups, “and many of them have been doing very well in this area,” says Agrawal. Meanwhile, among large players, he says, “Intel is the farthest along in helping channel partners build a mobile apps strategy.”
More big players are expanding their presence in the mobile apps business. Microsoft recently announced that it was partnering with Nokia in a mobile app development program (AppCampus) at Aalto University in Finland. According to Microsoft, the program will “foster the creation of innovative mobile applications for the Windows Phone ecosystem, and in addition, Nokia platforms, including Symbian and Series 40, to create a new generation of self-sustaining mobile start-ups.”