"The Mobile Cloud Comes of Age:" What it Means for SMEs.

This article was written by Dr Steve Garnett, EMEA chairman of salesforce.com, a cloud computing company founded in 1999 that delivers business software via a subscription model. Dr Steve Garnett started his career with Oracle in 1986 before moving to Siebel Systems in 1996. He then joined salesforce.com and was part of the team that helped take the company to its initial public offering in 2004.

The June 2011 CBI/Harvey Nash employment trends survey (Navigating Choppy Waters, CBI June 2011) reveals growing numbers of employers are moving away from the traditional 9-5 office-based working day. The survey, which covered 335 private sector employers with a collective workforce of 3.5 million people, found that 59 percent now offer teleworking to staff in 2011, up from 46 percent in 2008 and 14 percent in 2006.

One of the most frequently cited benefits of remote working is that it enables employees to work more efficiently. There is growing support for this point of view. In an online poll of readers of Pay and Benefits magazine’s weekly e-newsletter, conducted in August 2011, 59 percent said remote working does improve productivity.

Today, a new breed of systems are emerging, increasing the power of the rapidly expanding remote workforce. These solutions combine the flexibility and convenience of mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad and Blackberry with the latest generation of cloud computing, which supports collaborative working and enterprise mobility.

Today’s SMEs are increasingly aware of the benefits of enterprise mobility and are actively taking steps to implement it. This trend is being fired by advances in technology that are making the creation of a mobile workforce a viable option for smaller businesses.

According to recent research undertaken on behalf of Citrix Online by YouGov into the views and opinions of more than 700 senior SME managers, more than one in ten small and medium-sized firms in the UK are already successfully integrating the use of personal communications devices and smartphones in to the business.

SMEs are equally enthusiastic about the latest generation of cloud computing solutions. They have already reaped rewards from the first generation – in terms of enhanced business agility and improved cost control.

Now the latest variation on the cloud computing paradigm is set to bring them even greater benefits by building on the trend towards a more inherently social, collaborative and mobile approach to business computing. It is allowing companies to transform themselves into social enterprises (organisations that leverage social, mobile and open cloud technologies to put customers at the heart of their business).





Benefits Assessment

The latest Cloud-driven mobile capabilities bring particularly compelling benefits to SMEs, driving business agility by allowing access to their critical business applications via their smartphone or tablet when they are on the road.

For many SMEs, one of the key advantages is the ability to deliver enhanced flexibility to their sales teams. Using the mobile cloud, for example, a sales manager could make a late change to a presentation while the executive delivering the pitch was already en route to the customer. The executive could then download the revised presentation on his or her iPad and deliver it from the customer’s premises.

Using the mobile cloud also enables the sales team to stay in touch with all the latest relevant information about the solution they are pitching while on the road. They can, for example, be alerted - even at the very last minute - to changes in price, enabling them to revise their quotation.

Among other key benefits is the ability to enhance communication across the organisation and to enable key people to keep in touch with all the latest developments. As an example, the approach will allow sales managers that are constantly on the road to check on all the latest deals whenever they want. Equally, they can easily liaise with others to share key information about where they are and which customers they are meeting.

In addition, senior management will be able to readily obtain a comprehensive, at-a-glance view of each customer including access to easy-to-read performance dashboards, providing key information about account history, contacts, interactions and assets, helping drive overall productivity levels.

Critically, the combination of the cloud and enterprise mobility allows SME staff, wherever they may be, to collaborate in real time to quickly obtain the answer to difficult queries or to rapidly source key information needed to close important deals.







Driving Flexibility with Application Development

Product and solutions development can be made simpler with the mobile cloud. With the best application development platforms, it is easier than ever for smaller businesses to build and deploy customised mobile applications. Administrators of all skill levels can create mobile applications with point-and-click ease that work across BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows and other popular mobile devices.

Every business has different needs. The most flexible application development platforms, however, give administrators the freedom to design custom mobile applications that meet the specific requirements of a SME’s field users, while allowing them to make quick and easy updates as their business needs change.

With over-the-air management capabilities, administrators can easily add or remove users, instantly erase and shut down lost or stolen devices, and edit profiles to determine which data and applications a user sees. They can also safeguard company data through a combination of security controls, including numeric PIN logins, two-factor authentication, automatic device lock after a set period and assigning a user to a specific device.







Driving Growth

Looking to the future, analyst Juniper Research’s Mobile Cloud Applications & Service report published in 2010, finds that the number of enterprise customers using mobile cloud-based applications will rise to more than 130 million by 2014. It seems likely that SMEs will benefit just as, if not more fully, than their larger enterprise peers from this development.

Embracing technology such as mobile working helps SMEs thrive as the UK continues to emerge – albeit slowly - from recession. According to Julie Meyer, entrepreneur and investor from the BBC's online version of Dragons' Den, firms that are "savvy" about new developments and the internet are likely to perform best.