Your business and your clients' businesses need a mobile app! The world is going mobile! Don't get left behind!

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. I hear these warnings all the time.

Yes, we're living in an increasingly mobile world. I've got a smart phone. You've got a smart phone. Our employees all have smart phones. And we all love our smart phones. We get it.

Except in our businesses. And in our clients' businesses. Because there ... we're not really getting it, are we? And neither are our clients. Why aren't our clients' businesses making better use of mobile technology? Sure, they may have purchased smart phones for their people so they can talk or text on behalf of their company. But don't you feel that these devices are significantly underused? Doesn't it seem like there's a lot more you and they can be doing to make everyone more productive? I feel that way.

So, are you missing something? Well, you're not. My company serves over 600 clients. Here's what I'm seeing: None of my clients are truly using mobile technology very well. So don't worry - you're not alone. And neither are your clients.

And don't feel bad. You are not in the wrong, either. Like me, and my clients, and your clients, no one has truly adopted mobile technology for many good reasons.

 

NO PENCIL

Your clients haven't adopted this kind of technology because they probably haven't decided on its objectives. It's not about phone calls or Angry Birds or e-mail. It's about data entry and data retrieval. Imagine a clipboard or an order book without a pencil. It's about instant updating of their back-end systems from wherever the data is entered. It's about speeding up the time it takes to get an order processed, inventory bought and payment collected. It's about scheduling service, completing tasks and doing paperwork without the paper and without having to come back into the office. There are many ways to use mobile technology. But, like me, your clients probably haven't decided where yet. If they don't know the objectives of a technology, then stop right there.

And they may not have agreed on which of their people are most suitable for a mobile solution. It could be about giving that guy in their delivery truck a way to easily fill out a work order and schedule a delivery. Or a sales associate on the shop floor who needs to ring up a sale, swiping a credit card while updating their accounting system and automatically adding a customer to their mailing list. Maybe you've got professionals who want to check on a recent filing or an upcoming schedule. Or sales reps who need to look up pricing or place an order. Or maybe none of these scenarios apply and mobile technology isn't needed at all!

 

WAITING FOR THE TOOLS

Another reason why you and your clients are not using mobile technology: There aren't a lot of pickings to choose from. Sure, there are task managers and calendars and reminder apps that you can download for free from iTunes. But have you encountered many (or any?) enterprise-level applications that will accomplish the tasks I've mentioned above quickly and inexpensively that are easy to implement? Probably not.

So it's not you. It's the software community. They're just getting started. A few vendors have already created some of these apps. But they're still not very good yet. You will have to be patient. Because these mobile applications will mature. It will come. But we're not there yet. Which is why you're not there yet. Or your clients.

And let's also admit that the infrastructure isn't there yet either. Software developers are making mobile apps that increasingly rely on accessing and downloading data in the field from your back-end systems or cloud-based data sources. These apps must rely on your wireless carrier's capabilities. And we all know what that means: dropped connections, loss of service, dead zones and other inconsistencies that hinder true mobile usage. The sad fact is that our country's infrastructure for conducting business in the cloud is still very immature. Things will get better. But in the meantime salesmen, service techs and others in the field are still bashfully asking their customers if they can "use their phones to call in this order" because they can't link up to the office. It happens all the time.

You may be confusing "mobile" with "smart phones." iPhones and Droids are great little devices for communicating and playing games -- or getting directions, looking up a phone number and checking e-mails. But they will never be much more than that for a business. Your people cannot use these devices for data input for very long without contracting arthritis and slowly going blind.

The right devices for mobile technology are tablets. And while the tablet industry is growing fast, it's still relatively young. Right now most tablets are for consumers. The iPad is amazing, but it's expensive and very locked down. Although lagging significantly behind in sales, Android-based tablets like the Samsung Galaxy may be a better solution. Besides being significantly cheaper, Google's operating system is much more open than Apple's - and you get better integration with Google apps like Gmail and Google Docs. But this comes at a cost: security. And what about Microsoft's new Surface tablet, which is expected to hit the market this year? Besides being priced comparably with Android tablets, Microsoft tells us it will run Windows 8, work well with Office applications, come with a built-in keyboard and be ready for their huge partner community to use as a basis for developing business apps. Sounds pretty good. But then again, it's Microsoft. ...

So you haven't yet adopted mobile technology for your business. Good for you. And neither have your clients. Good for them. Everyone's being prudent and careful. You don't invest in something that's not yet proven. You have better things to spend your money on.

But you're keeping a close watch on this, right? I hope so. I am. Mobile technology will mature. The applications will get better. The infrastructure will catch up. The devices will become cheaper and faster. And, within a few years, we will all hopefully be able to do things much quicker and better from just about anywhere.

 

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses. He will also be a keynote speaker at Accounting Today's 3rd annual Growth & Profitability Summit, Oct. 28-30, in Boca Raton, Fla.

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