SMEs can get more from technology

Small businesses have been quick to adopt new mobile technology but slow to use it to its full potential.

According to the March 2013 MYOB Business Monitor, a national survey of 1000+ SMEs run by Colmar Brunton, almost half (46 per cent) of these operators use at least one smartphone in the running of their business and more than a quarter (26 per cent) use a tablet. However, just 18 per cent connect with customers through social media and only 8 per cent accept a payment via a mobile app.

MYOB New Zealand executive director Scott Gardiner said while many local businesses saw the potential of mobile technology - especially in providing a more flexible, connected workplace - a lack of information and concerns about security could hold them back.

"Typically when we talk to SMEs about cloud technology and the devices that enable its use, around half have concerns about security. Key questions are 'where data is stored', 'how safe it is online', and even 'who ultimately owns my online data'," said Gardiner.

Given most adult Kiwis have used internet banking for years, their concern around security of online technologies needs to be put into perspective, he said.

"Yes, businesses should approach technology decisions with data security at the forefront of their minds. However, we'd hate to see it hold them back from enjoying the advantages of the latest mobile and online technology," he said.

Managing director of mobile app development company Sush Solutions, Sulabh Sharma agreed data security was one of the key challenges facing app development in the immediate future.

But he sais there was a shift toward app-embedded security rather than relying on device security which would keep data and functionality safe even if a device was compromised.

He said that as mobile technology use rapidly increases, more businesses would regard good mobile applications as a must-have for growth and competitiveness.

"A good mobile application can help any small business expand their market, and create a much more regular and interactive relationship with clients," Sharma said.

The key was making sure it was a "good" functional application that added value rather than just a modified version of a business website.

"The future of mobile apps lies in products that are custom-made for individual companies. They must create efficiencies - either in dealing with customers or internal management - and help them grow. Increasingly these enterprise apps must also be designed to function across multiple platforms - Google or Android, phone or tablet," he said.

At the outset SME owners had to identify what they want the app to achieve and who their target audience is. They need to think about how clients and staff use mobile devices, Sharma said, and then find an app that helped boost productivity, information flow and manage knowledge.

Globally the IT industry is predicting the number of mobile internet users will overtake PC internet users for the first time this year, fuelled by the rapid uptake of new technology - particularly tablet devices.

"These devices come equipped with all kinds of hardware - cameras, GPS, sound and video recording, all easily portable. That means they offer huge potential for businesses, whether it's to raise profile, generate direct sales or improve internal management,"he said.

Gardiner said the technology sector needed to better address SME concerns about security and confidence using new technology. "We also need to ensure we provide high quality customer support, being there to answer their questions when they need answering, rather than just between 9am and 5pm.

Meanwhile, a survey of 1000 New Zealand businesses commissioned by The Warehouse found that embracing new technology, particularly tablets, made them feel more positive about their future.

The Warehouse managing director Mark Powell said the survey found those that used tablets regularly at work were more optimistic about business growth than those who didn't. "That may well be because the connectivity offered by tablets enables productivity to increase, with staff having the ability to work anywhere rather than being tied to a desk," he said.