April 25, 2006
 

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Posted: 01.01.06

Small Office, Big Options

With even industry giants now taking notice, small to medium-size businesses suddenly have a lot more options for going mobile.
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By Michelle Maisto




“It’s been said for years that SMBs are the largest-growing market space. There’s just hundreds of different attributes that point to it as the largest-growing business element in the world. But they have the same problems and the same challenges as enterprises,” says David Appelbaum, VP of marketing for Antenna Software, a leading on-demand mobility solutions company.

“In fact, no small or medium-size business is really content to stay small or medium-size. Their goal is ultimately to be the big enterprise guys. So their requirements become even more critical in that they’re frequently in an infinitely more competitive situation because they are smaller and they don’t necessarily have the wealth of people, or money, to throw at problems. They have to be much more agile and circumspect about how they approach things because money is really an object for them. And they need, in a sense, the really heavyweight tools for them to be effective and stay profitable, even more than the enterprise does,” says Appelbaum.

Antenna recently partnered with Siebel Systems (which was recently purchased by Oracle—now the world’s largest CRM applications company, thanks to the addition of Siebel’s 3.4 million CRM users) and together they offer A3 for Siebel CRM OnDemand, a solution that extends Siebel’s industry-leading CRM software to a variety of mobile devices.

“What we do is provide a truly on-demand, hosted and completely comprehensive mobility solution, in that we manage and maintain all of the communication networks and all of the connectivity. We manage connecting to the different carriers and really being able to provide a single view into an entire wireless infrastructure. So the customer doesn’t have to have mobility experience, and they don’t have to develop gateway access, and they don’t have to follow the ins and outs of communication protocols and device programming. For them, it’s almost like plugging in the telephone. You’re just plugging it in and you get mobility,” Appelbaum explains. “So Siebel is providing on-demand CRM—fully comprehensive CRM functionality when you’re at your desk—and Antenna then enables you to take all that data with you.”

Siebel is just one of the CRM giants now offering a mobile version of its popular desktop software—Microsoft offers its CRM software online, and SAP is expected to announce an on-demand version by press time of this article. Their motivation is a piece of the on-demand pie, a space that’s expected to see revenues of $10.7 billion by 2009, according to research firm IDC. This could mean trouble for vendors such as Salesforce.com, which has courted SMBs with its “no software” approach and now counts them as 80 percent of its customer base, but for SMBs it simply means an increase of options.

HP is also courting small businesses by introducing customers to select solution providers that can enable them to take full advantage of their HP handhelds, notebooks and tablets. “Aside from merely devices, HP offers SMBs unique tools to help them choose the right solutions for their company. For example, through the HP Mobility Solutions Evaluation Center, companies are able to sample free 30-day evaluations of diverse mobility solutions without having to commit valuable budgets and resources. HP worked with 14 application providers to create [this] online resource where customers can learn about and download trial versions of mobile applications such as e-mail and messaging, security, navigation and business solutions,” says an HP representative.

The number of hardware and software providers reaching out to SMBs is without a doubt on the rise; the challenge, now, is for those SMB owners to figure out what types of solutions are right for them.

Download & Go

Econz Wireless of Newport Beach, Calif., has been developing wireless solutions for three decades and now specializes in providing hosted solutions to SMB clients. Early adopters to Econz have been segments such as IT services, equipment repair, HVAC and plumbing, locksmiths and mechanical maintenance contractors. “It’s great for the kind of companies where people turn up on a Monday not really knowing what jobs they’ll be doing on Wednesday,” says Steve Davis, business development manager of Econz.
Its offerings are not for every company, but part of what makes them so appealing to some is that the solutions—EService, a wireless job dispatch and work order management solution, and Timecard, a mobile timesheet solution for logging time, attendance and job information—can be deployed to any Verizon Wireless–supported cell phone.

A few factors make the time right for solutions such as these, suggests Davis. “I think it’s very fair to say that carriers in particular are driving adoption with the SMB market. They’ve got a huge investment in 3G networks, and what they’re looking to do now is get a return on those networks. We’ve seen in particular with our partner Verizon Wireless where they’re now focusing on business solutions as a way to move data across their networks. So the carriers are pushing this.

“The other thing, too,” Davis continues, “is the technology has changed. … Now, because of advancements in cell phones, we’re able to run applications directly on the cell phone. And the beauty of a cell phone for the SMB customer is that they already use them. This is not a new device, there’s not a lot of training required, the guys in the field know what a cell phone will do and they’re used to carrying them. So now that we can download applications directly over the air to cell phones, we’re on a very inexpensive device that’s reasonably powerful, as far as the ability to run applications, and it’s easy to deploy. So these are all things you would normally say are barriers to the SMB to adopting mobile applications—namely, complexity, price and the ability to deploy and see it up in a low-cost and easy way.”

Use of EService is $18.99 per field worker per month and is charged directly to the customer’s Verizon Wireless bill. Simply downloading the application creates the account. “When you look at the SMB end of the market, integration is very important,” Davis stresses. “One of the major benefits we’re looking to offer is productivity in the field—but it’s a cost saving in the office as well. A lot of the office costs with running a field service, or any organization, really, is around data entry. So what we’ve done is install an interface into QuickBooks, which we chose because 80 percent of the SMB market uses QuickBooks.” When a user updates customer information in QuickBooks, Eservice and all inventory and employee lists are automatically updated as well. And vice-versa, a user performing a service in the field can also transfer the information in real time to QuickBooks to create an invoice.

Companies a little larger than those that would use QuickBooks, says Davis, “can extend their application to the field, out to a cell phone, using our infrastructure. A lot of other companies have gone down the path of saying ‘We’ll build you a system to replace your back-office system.’ But we come at it from the approach that, we have a shrink-wrapped application that’s very applicable for SMBs, and if you have a tried-and-proven application in the office already and you would like to extend it to the field, you can use our [interface] to do that, very quickly and very inexpensively.”

Is Hosted Right for You?

When it comes to choosing solutions for small and medium-size companies, hosted is generally the way to go. Generally, but not always, says Gartner Research Director Dale Hagemeyer. “The thing about it is, hosted is great. I’d start with hosted every time. But it’s like living in New York City: If you’re going downtown, you can take public transportation and life is great. But if you have to go out to the country, you have to take a car. And that’s the kind of decision you’re looking at—cheap and fast, versus do I need something custom.”

Hagemeyer suggests three factors to consider when choosing a mobile solution for an SMB. First, he says, determine whether you need to work in real time. “If your processes require that, that’s fine. But just recognize that there’s a cost associated with that,” he says. Second is to reduce the number of devices. The fewer the better, clearly, though the difference between one or two is again determined by how specialized the work is. If you’re supporting field service workers, you may want to go with a phone and a tablet-style device, says Hagemeyer. “The reality is, if you’re going to be doing things like pulling up schematics, or service warrantees—what people are entitled to, how their product is configured—then I’m going to need something to be able to do voice and give me my dispatch for my queue, but also something to pull up warranty information and schematics.”
Point number three is to know the cost of what
you’re getting into. “When you’re working in real time, with some kind of cellular technology, there’s a cost element involved, and you’re being charged for the through-put. What you want to be cognizant of is that, if you want to get really cool and sexy and have just one device, and you can reach into the company archives with that device and find what that schematic is, that’s all good. But every one of those bits and bytes is going to come across the network, and you’re going to be charged for that. It’s like, that’s fine if you want to take a long shower, but you’re being charged by the drop.”

Still not sure if hosted is right for you? “Two things are your key deal makers or deal breakers for hosted,” says Hagemeyer. “One is, do I have really specific functional requirements?” Pharma reps, for example, perform very detailed tasks with very detailed legal requirements that essentially demand custom solutions. “Pharmaceuticals is a pretty big business, but a Salesforce.com can’t even touch that because it’s very specific functionality, and they don’t want to build out functionality for an industry that just doesn’t have that much juice [for them]. The second thing is, do I need integration into my backend system? Can I, for example, process an order, and as soon as I cradle my device in the evening, that order automatically gets dumped into my SAP ERP system?”

If the answer to both of those is no, then hosted is probably the way to go, he continues. “However, the next question is then, do I have security requirements that keep me from being multi-tenant, or that make me have to keep my information behind my firewall?” Hagemeyer offers the example of WalMart, which makes its point-of-sale information available to partners but requires them to keep the data on a private server.

“But if you just want a vanilla solution to sell copy machines, or software, or advertising space in a newspaper, then those on-demand solutions are great for that.”

Options for Customization

MP2 Solutions is an end-to-end hosted solution provider that’s savvy to the particular needs of SMBs. “While a lot of large corporations may have the resources to thoroughly research and build the right solution for their company, most small businesses are not adequately equipped to do so,” says Todd Carey, CEO of MP2. “They lack not only the resources but the experience to properly build and manage mobile technology. For this reason, MP2 has built a single-point hosted solution that features equipment, software and backend services that quickly enable a small business to launch mobile technology and realize a positive ROI.”

MP2 offers software, hardware and services that together work to drive sales, decrease costs and improve efficiencies. Its Mobile Storefront is a customizable point-of-sale, inventory management, delivery confirmation and mobile survey software for all Windows Mobile platforms. Its Mobile Retail Terminal is a serious all-in-one rugged PDA-style device with a barcode scanner, thermal printer, magnetic stripe reader and embedded capability for Verizon’s 1xRTT CDMA and 802.11b connectivities. And its Web-based Mobility Transaction Server acts as a platform for MobileStorefront and features real-time reporting, analytics, data management and a detailed view of all field operations.

But MP2’s offerings vary from more “shrink-wrapped” hosted solutions, in part, because the solution is built out 80 percent and fully customized the other 20 percent. It’s a formula, says Carey, that really services the customer’s agenda, while also making for a solution that’s affordable and viable for a company of even 10 users.

“I agree with the analysts,” says Carey. “Most hosted solutions offer little flexibility and are simple, vanilla-flavored products. That’s why the SMB space is so underserved. The large mobility providers can’t make their solutions profitable and relevant to small user deployments, so they concentrate on the enterprise space and pass on the SMB market. There’s just no universal fit for mobile technology—it has to be specific to each individual company.”
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