Small Business Is Big on Mobile

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor — June 25, 2013

This year’s National Small Business Week came to an end on Friday, June 21, but small businesses remain the cornerstone of America. From home-based firms to sole proprietors and growing corporations, small business largely drives the economy. And what drives small business? Mobility.

According to the 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll, “two-thirds (66%) of small businesses could not survive — or it would be a major challenge to survive — without wireless technologies.”

Well, companies might be able to find some way to “survive” but it certainly would not be as efficient or competitive with yesteryear’s tools. Can anyone imagine having to conduct sales calls on a rotary phone? Touchtone technology, introduced to the public in 1963, not only shorted the time it took to make a simple call, but eventually enabled automated customer service.

Now it’s touch screen and smartphone technology that is changing the way business does business. It allows users to stay connected and quickly access and share information in real-time, imperative to companies of all sizes. Not surprisingly, more than 85% of respondents use smartphones as part of operations, according to the AT&T poll.

And if tablets are taking over the enterprise, they are certainly having an impact on small business which was quick to adopt the form factor. According to IDC, “The presence of tablets in U.S. small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) grew over 100% in 2012.” In addition, more than 70% of these devices are due to BYOD.

Mobile Growth
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that 55% of all jobs are because of small business. And they are increasingly mobile. Techaisle, an industry analyst organization that focuses on SMBs, says that by 2016, there will be more than 298 million mobile employees in SMBs globally, with North America accounting for 30 million of these workers.

In addition, while “mobility” has actually been around for ages, its current form of devices and enabling technologies opens up a whole new telecommuting world. SMBs in the U.S., for example, currently have 77% of its workforce mobile as part of the job, with 14% of employees always telecommuting, Techaisle found, and these amounts are expected to grow.

“What most do not know that telecommuting within SMBs has grown dramatically in the last several years,” said Anurag Agrawal, CEO, Techaisle, via email. “It took 10 years for telecommuting to double but only 3 years to double again.”

Here’s another increase: two years ago, 51% of small businesses in the U.S. have used either fee-based or free cloud computing solutions. Flash forward to 2013 and this figure has jumped to over 75% with possibly 100% sometime soon.

“However, what is important is to understand the average number of cloud applications that these small businesses are using which is likely to reach 10 by 2015. That is a lot of cloud applications. Additionally, we project that by 2015, there will be 12.4 million cloud users within small businesses,” Agrawal said.

Which Came First?
Did the mass introduction of mobility devices, along with cloud applications, drive small business or is it the other way around?

“The reasons for mobility adoption are somewhat like a chicken and egg story,” Agrawal replied. “Nevertheless, what is certain is that one would not exist without the other. Actually, the availability of mobile devices, ability to work from anywhere, anytime is transforming the small business productivity which is creating the need for mobility solutions.”

It’s safe to say that small businesses quickly embraced new devices as soon as they hit the market and will continue to do so. “SMBs have always had a strong desire for mobile products as witnessed by the adoption of notebooks over the last ten years,” said Agrawal. “Things have gotten even more interesting since Apple released its iPhone and iPad. As smartphones expanded their empowering abilities, SMBs have strongly taken to using phones as PC adjuncts for mobile applications.”

Because smartphones and tablet adoption was so fast, to some extent the IT industry was actually caught off-guard. “Small businesses were not burdened with establishing policies or legacy solutions so they had the ability to quickly gravitate towards using these new devices. However, once they started to use them they began demanding applications that ran on these devices, better security and mobile device management. And this is where the IT industry started to move rapidly.”

Go Small
To celebrate National Small Business Week, now in its 50th year, events were held around the country. (Google, for example, curated a list of some Chrome business apps and hosted a daily “Hangout” for users to share their experiences with experts.)

Most notably, the SBA held a series of events in major cities; educational panels offered information on social media and how to protect against cyber security threats. On Friday, the SBA named its National Small Business Person of the Year - John L. Stonecipher of Pasadena, CA. President and CEO of Guidance Aviation in Prescott, AZ, Stonecipher founded Guidance Aviation in 1998.

First runner-up was Noah Leask of Mount Pleasant, S.C. President and CEO of Ishpi Information Technologies, Inc., Leask, a service-disabled U.S. Navy veteran, started a cyber-defense business out of his home with his wife Lisa, a former U.S. Naval officer. The company now has 109 employees in four locations in the country. Clients include the U.S. Central Command and the Department of Homeland Security.

Second runner-up was Kari Block, Founder/CEO, Earth Kind, Inc., Bismarck, ND. Founded in 1995, Earth Kind offers rodent repellants made with biodegradable ingredients safe for children and pets, as well as other products for the professional pest management industry. The company employs individuals with developmental disabilities to assemble and package the products.

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