Maximizing Wireless Business Mobility

A breakdown of wireless needs and solution prospects

Here's a tool that can help you find the right wireless devices and services for your small business needs.

For many of you who work in a small business environment, wireless technology is becoming more and more important to your daily routine. As you become increasingly mobile in your jobs, industry observers are taking notice. The Small Business Administration says the U.S. has about 23 million small businesses, and many observers believe that a majority of these firms are interested in workforce mobility. In fact, the Yankee Group predicts that SMB wireless spending will grow an amazing 93% this year, and that number could keep climbing. On a strategic level, approximately 80% of your small business colleagues now feel that it's important to stay connected while out of the office, according to a recent study released by Hewlett-Packard.

Many small businesses see wireless as a way to create service differentiation, redesign business processes, attract and retain top performers, and increase productivity for valuable workers. If you own a smaller firm, you have probably investigated wireless and you may already have investments in mobile technology. As you've looked at wireless, you've probably learned that choosing the right wireless solutions for your business can be somewhat challenging. Matching the right wireless devices and services to the needs of your increasingly mobile business can be difficult - even daunting - so we have developed a simple "thinking tool" known as the Small Business Mobility Matrix to help small businesses examine workforce mobilization (see Figure 1).

The Small Business Mobility Matrix

The matrix is a straightforward tool intended to help small businesses examine and categorize their wireless needs as they think about how best to set up a mobile workforce. The matrix breaks down mobility needs versus skill specialization in an attempt to look at connectivity options and possible solutions for individual employees, key groups of workers, and/or the small business overall. There is not an exact mobile formula for small businesses, but once you begin thinking about your company's unique wireless needs and asking the right questions, you will be on track to mobilizing your employees and maximizing the productivity of your best people. The following is a description of the four quadrants of the Small Business Mobility Matrix.

Quadrant 1: One-Person Show

The first quadrant includes workers who are highly mobile and possess multiple or generalized skills. This quadrant encompasses mobile employees who are charged with doing it all, meaning they have a central job function, but must also consistently perform multiple support functions. These employees are both big picture and tactical, and they need full connectivity and full access to key information from anywhere at any time. They have a broad skill set and are required to utilize their various skills while being away from the office a majority of the time.

A good example might be an insurance adjuster who has multiple responsibilities and very little support from the home office. A mobile claims adjuster may be solely responsible for mobilized tasks such as damage estimation, claims processing, client signature capture, on-site check printing, and high-quality image capture in order to speed up the claims process. Wireless technology is very important to these workers as they perform various duties while on site with a customer or on the road.

Other good examples may include sales representatives or real estate agents, based on the inherent autonomy and mobility involved in their positions. A mobile real estate broker who has to show houses, but also process paperwork and do his or her own lead generation would fit into the one-person show model. This is also the quadrant where some small office, home office, and franchise owners fit in because they need to be a jack-of-all-trades in their businesses.

This group of workers has the highest need for integrated feature functionality and anytime, anywhere access to business applications, e-mail, Internet, calendar, and contact information. They can potentially use a wide variety of mobile devices, as long as their device of choice allows them to perform all of the duties associated with their jobs. "One-person show" employees may use PDAs or "smart devices" that provide in-office levels of productivity by combining the best of voice and data applications into a single wireless device. Alternatively, they may choose to carry a laptop with 3G wireless WAN access via a connection card, which allows the laptop to stay connected to the Internet while the user is in the car, on the train, or at a customer location. Many will want a combination of devices and access technologies to ensure they have the best mobile connectivity at all times. Others may need camera phones, video phones, or even "walkie-talkie" phones, depending on their individual needs. The key is to select devices that fit the exact requirements of these multiskilled professionals who are always on the go.

Quadrant 2: Executive or Team Lead

This quadrant at the top right of the matrix attempts to define the wireless connectivity needs of the small business owner or a top executive/team lead that is highly mobile and performs highly specialized skills in his or her role. Many times, that role is "running" the business itself. These individuals are the ones calling the shots and crafting the strategic direction of the business, but they are not necessarily involved in the gritty details of the day-to-day activities. They need to be constantly and instantly connected to information and employees so they can make the key business decisions from wherever they may be. Workers in this category will want mobile access that allows them to be decisive and directional, while leaving the details and specific applications to their trusted employees.

Since this group may not need constant access to specific business applications and files while away from the office, they may choose a single, multifunctional device for mobilization. A PDA or smart device could be ideal. Many owners have found the Treo 600 wireless phone to be invaluable in staying connected via e-mail, contacts, and calendar functions. The Treo 600 is ideal for team leaders who are "heavy" mobile users who value advanced functionality and ease of use. "Lighter" users may choose a smart device like the i500 from Samsung that offers connectivity options in a more compact form. Simple voice devices may work for certain people in this quadrant, but many lean toward smart devices because they require some level of data access. Device and service selection for this category may center more on individual preferences and work styles rather than on other parts of the matrix. It's important to work with a provider that offers a broad selection, not just across voice, data, and "walkie-talkie," but also across individual categories such as number of PDA devices.

Quadrant 3: Expanded Role

This group has multiple skills or job requirements but is only periodically mobile. Workers in this quadrant typically have jobs that do not require them to be in front of the customer or out of the office quite as often as the workers or owners in the first two quadrants. These particular employees are required to do mobile work, but their connectivity needs tend to be more general than specialized. Wireless can expand the role of these workers by allowing them to stay accessible and continue performing their varied job functions as periodic mobility needs arise.

Some characterize this quadrant as one for "in and out" managers who need to be accessible at all times to put out fires and solve the big issues. A good example might be a job site supervisor for a construction company. This person may or may not need to be out at the site all the time or dealing with the client, but he or she definitely has broad responsibilities and needs to be connected while mobile. A retail branch manager or regional sales manager type role may fit in here as well. A sales manager in the expanded role may even manage salespeople in the one-person show role. Therefore, his or her mobile needs may be slightly less critical on a daily basis but important when the time comes to visit a large customer.

Similar to Quadrant 2, devices and mobile solutions will vary in this quadrant based on individual roles and mobility requirements. Some managers in this group will need only voice connectivity, while some will need wireless data or walkie-talkie devices. The key is to select devices and services that will provide general accessibility when these workers have to leave the office.

Quadrant 4: Enhanced Performance

The final quadrant also includes workers who are only periodically mobile, but have specific and specialized skills to perform on the job. These workers normally perform very key functions related to the business, so they need to be able to take care of those responsibilities remotely from time to time. Many different employees may fit into this quadrant but one way to think about it is to look at the workers who are part of a lead team reporting to a top executive or business owner. If they have "one good skill" or area of responsibility that can be enhanced through wireless access, this may be the appropriate category.

One example might be a national account manager whose one really good skill is managing high-level clients or national sales relationships. Another possible example could be a creative director or lead executive at an advertising, marketing, or PR firm. Strategic business planners may fit in here as well based on their specialization and reduced need for mobility. These examples are simple, but they are meant to show situations with specific roles - similar to the executive or team lead section - but with a lesser need to stay connected. These individuals need wireless access that enhances their performance in one or two key areas when they are on the road.

As with the previous categories, device and solution selection will undoubtedly vary. Typically, this group will need both wireless voice and data access to the office, but they will not need quite the level of access required by Quadrant 2 (executive or team lead). They will require an integrated device of some kind - one with voice, data, e-mail, Internet, calendar, and contact functionality. Depending on the specific skill these employees need to perform, some may consider 3G wireless connection cards and Wi-Fi access in order to do data-intensive work on a laptop. The key here is to select devices and services that will allow these employees to better perform their "one skill" or specialized set of skills when they are away from the office.

Key Take-Aways

As you are thinking about mobilization, there are a few key take-aways to keep in mind. First, wireless needs obviously vary across different small businesses, so ask questions. Ask your people what they need. Ask them about tailored that would be beneficial to access while away from the office. Let them have a voice in the types of wireless solutions and devices they use to enhance performance. Asking questions is one of the best ways to begin mobilizing your workforce.

Additionally, asking questions and helping employees to find the right wireless fit is one way to retain top performers. Wireless connectivity can improve their productivity and overall job satisfaction, which can create an ideal work-life balance for your best people and help your bottom line at the same time.

Once you've figured out what your employees need, you'll have to set up a wireless service plan (individual versus corporate managed). Some small businesses allow employees to expense wireless plans, but many are moving toward a corporate arrangement to help manage total cost of ownership. With a corporate plan, companies see benefits of volume discounts, shared usage plans, and online tools that help them track call volume, identify calling patterns, pay bills and manage their wireless spend.

Overall, the Small Business Mobility Matrix is meant as a tool to help you begin thinking about mobilizing your workforce or expanding your current level of mobility and productivity. It's a general guideline by which you and your employees may start defining your unique wireless solution needs. Every small business is different, and therefore, every evaluation of mobilization will be different. Mainly, it is important to focus on identifying mobility needs for specific roles and asking for employee feedback as you plan the mobilization of your small business workforce.

Once you've spent this time planning, you'll be ready to start looking at your wireless options. With many choices out there, you'll need to look for a wireless service provider that offers the full array of services you need so you can simplify your support needs and leverage your buying power with a single provider. Using a diligent planning process to determine your needs and select your wireless provider will help you mobilize your business efficiently and effectively.

More Stories By Bob Crawford

Bob Crawford is the director of small business marketing for Sprint; he has been in the telecommunications industry for eight years.

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