RAPID advances in technology have led to enormous changes in how small businesses operate, with the advent of smartphones changing the game completely. Small businesses across Ireland are using smartphone technology to manage their firms more efficiently and effectively, and many are using it as a tool for business growth.
Research commissioned by Three Ireland and carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes shows that half of business owners believe their smartphone is the single most important piece of technology allowing them to do their job.
Gone are the days when business owners had to be tied to a desk or in their place of business to receive all-important calls. Now they can stay in touch with clients, do deals from their car, or order from suppliers while moving between business meetings. They can check their emails before making it to the shop or office, and if they forget to send a mail, can do so from the comfort of their home without having to get the laptop out or turn on the home computer.
The study found that seven in 10 business owners use smartphone technology for their business needs, with four in 10 reporting that technological developments are responsible for business growth.
Eoin MacManus, business director at Three, says: "A smartphone is one of the most vital tools that a business owner can have. It's seen not just as a phone, which allows business owners to check email and manage schedules, but as a tool to stay up to date with industry news and trends as well as keeping in touch with colleagues. Our survey suggests that mobile technology is a key component to businesses adapting and thriving in the modern economy."
The figures speak for themselves: 85pc of business owners use their smartphones to check and respond to emails, while over two thirds keep in touch with remote teams using the technology.
Mobile technology can help enable collaboration and improve engagement with staff working remotely.
"Business apps are being used to improve efficiency and cut costs. This research shows that almost half of business owners are using apps to help manage banking as well as CRM and payroll while on the move," says MacManus.
Asana is a task management app, which can be shared among team members, with tasks prioritised, delegated and given deadlines. Dropbox is becoming increasingly effective, as businesses can share and synchronise files across a range of devices, including their smartphone app. Evernote Business allows firms to share information across the entire company. Documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be edited using Microsoft Office 365 and Google Drive on android and iPhone devices.
Other areas of growth in communications are tethering and VoIP, with businesses reporting they are using them more frequently than last year. Apps like Skype provide a good, free alternative to face-to-face meetings.
"Some 44pc of businesses are tethering - using phone internet connection to access internet on PC/laptop/tablet - and almost a third (32pc) are using it for VoIP such as Skype or Viber for international calls," says MacManus.
Security remains a concern, with 61pc of owners being more concerned about hacking through their PCs, laptops and smartphones than they were a year ago.
"With heightened use of mobile technology comes the responsibility to ensure the appropriate level of protections are in place. What is becoming increasingly pertinent is the security and manageability of mobiles due to the amount of sensitive data that might be contained on them," says MacManus.
But, he adds, there are ways to improve security and keep smartphones safe from thieves and hackers through passwords, PINs, encouraging staff to keep mobiles safe, enabling security apps like Apple's Find My iPhone, and ensuring the Remote Wipe option is available.
Three Ireland, which acquired O2 in July last year, offers business customers a market-leading range of mobile, fixed and ICT services backed up by excellent value and an award-winning business care centre in Limerick.
For more information, contact Three's dedicated business team on 1800 200 017 or see three.ie.