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Can You Run A Business via a Smartphone?

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Smartphones have come so far in the last decade. But could you ditch your laptop for one? The answer is maybe.

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockAccording to ComScore, mobile digital app use has grown by roughly 50 percent in the past two years, with more than 75 percent of that growth "directly attributable" to the mobile app. "Mobile has grown so fast that it's now the leading digital platform, with total activity on smartphones and tablets accounting for 62 percent of digital media time spent, and apps alone now representing the majority of digital media time at 54 percent," ComScore adds.

But has mobile app technology grown so advanced that an entrepreneur or small company owner run 100 percent of their business on smartphone apps?

MORE: Enterprise Mobility Management 101

Increasingly, it's becoming apparent that companies think it's doable. For example, Sapho's Micro App Platform sits securely on top of existing enterprise systems and identifies important business events and changes so that employees can work from their mobile devices easily.

Or how about the Superbook, from Androidium, a shell that turns your Android smartphone into a complete laptop? Or if you want to alternate between and Windows and Android phone, there's the $299 Mirabook. It connects any phone with a USB Type-C connector. These and other emerging smartphone apps are giving backbone to the notion that, from a hardware standpoint, at least, small business owners can run their companies with a mobile device, and a host of helpful apps.

"Yes, absolutely, you can do so," says Sinan Eren, enterprise mobility expert and vice president of Avast Mobile Enterprise.  "Actually, you can especially run a small, mid-size business with mobile apps much more effectively over legacy desktop software. Anywhere from contract drafting, payment processing all the way to e-signature apps are the mainstay of scaling an SMB business."

Others agree, adding that the proof really is in the pudding.

Yuval Scarlat, chief executive and co-founder of Capriza, a computer software firm located near San Francisco, Cal., says small business owners can easily run their businesses from their mobile device, and growing businesses are actually the ideal candidates to go mobile-only.

"Smaller businesses can be more agile because they likely don't have as many complex legacy technology systems as key parts of their infrastructure compared to larger companies, allowing them to have an easier and shorter path to adopting a mobile-only approach," Scarlat explains.

When Scarlat cofounded Capriza in 2011, he made the decision to practice what he'd been preaching and run the company from his phone. "Over the past 25 years I'd grown frustrated using too many different systems of record in the workplace, spending unnecessary time trying to find pieces of information," he explains. "I realized that instead of needing in-depth access to the various backend systems, software and applications at all times, what mattered was having snippets of information readily accessible to me. Essentially, having a one-minute experience through an app on my mobile device was much more productive that sifting through multiple systems on a desktop."

Now, Scarlat oversees and runs every aspect of Capriza from his mobile device. "When I open my phone, I'm able to see a snapshot of our company forecast, sales leads, marketing dashboards and approvals and associated costs," he adds. "Running my business from my phone allows me to be exponentially more productive."

As an example, Scarlat says that if he's waiting for a flight at the airport and wants to quickly see how his different departments are doing, mobile apps make it easy to do so. "If I need to approve anything urgently, I'm able to quickly pull out my phone and check, rather than trying to find a Wi-Fi connection and get my laptop up and running," he adds. "Also, I'm able to highly customize my work experience by setting up my mobile apps and device the way I want, not the way that IT may dictate on a desk."

On the downside, apps don't exactly excel at business-oriented tasks like storing vast amounts of company data, or hosting company-wide meetings. Plus, there is a risk of cyber-theft when company business owners rely solely on smartphone apps.

"The advantages far outweigh the drawbacks," says Eren. "With that said, business can be exposed to increased risk of data theft due to lost or stolen smartphones. Thankfully this risk can be effectively managed."

Those concerns may melt away once business owners the benefits they earn by going mobile to run their companies. "First, the rapid handling of order flows saves businesses and their employees from repetitive and tiresome clerical work," Eren adds. "You also have painless legal contracts, payroll and benefits management, simple payment processing and invoicing all come in a mobile package nowadays. These apps perform as good, if not better, than their legacy desktop counterparts."

To get your mobile-only campaign rolling, Scarlat advises knowing exactly what a mobile-first working environment looks like. "That can be the first major obstacle," he says. "A major reason is that for mobile employees to be productive, applications need to be user-centric instead of business-centric."

Scarlat says that many of the systems that businesses have in place were developed with little thought given to user experience. But in a mobile environment the user experience is vital. "Considering how to best condense business functions into one-minute experiences that can be accomplished on a mobile device is pivotal to any mobile strategy, and shifting to a user-first model is the first major challenge many companies – regardless of size – face," he says.

Given fears that corporate data could be stolen or leaked through a mobile device, Scarlat says it's important to select mobile software and applications that have security built directly into them. "In addition, the process of transitioning existing applications and software into mobile apps can be costly and time intensive if the business relies on numerous different legacy on-premise or cloud systems," he adds.

For a small business owner or even an entire business looking to transition to a mobile-only approach, a mindset shift is required, Scarlat adds. "For generations, corporate information was built by the business to serve the backend office, but missed out on providing an easy-to-use experience for a regular user," he says. "In our personal lives, we expect a user-centric experience on our mobile devices and mobile apps, and this same expectation is now being carried into the workforce. We're in the midst of a mobile revolution – one that could very well make everyone mobile-only in the next few years."

To leverage the most helpful business-running mobile apps, start with building blocks like Google Drive, which enables managers and staffers to share files and collaborate on projects (unlimited storage goes for $10 per month, per user.). Also try Ooma Office, which bills itself as "a big business phone system for your office for a fraction of the cost."

"Ooma is a cloud-based phone service that allows small business owners to run their business solely from their mobile phones," said the company. "Ooma Office for Mobile provides all of the advanced business communications features without the upfront hardware and installation costs typically associated with a business phone system."

Users can download the Ooma Office for Mobile app on iOS or Android receive a phone number for their business (including access to toll free numbers) or port their existing business number. Ooma Office for Mobile is free for the first 30 days and costs $19.95 per user, per month.

Beyond just apps, sometimes hardware also matters. With the HP Elite X3 business owners can use their phone as a phone or as the brains behind a desktop set-up. The $684 phone packs a powerful 2.15-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 CPU and comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. It runs Windows 10 Mobile, and comes with HP Device Hub, Continuum and Cortana software preloaded. With the optional Desk Dock it becomes a full computer. 

Another option is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, which works with the Samsung DeX. When you connect the two you can plug the dock into a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The smartphone becomes the brains of a PC, and on the monitor you see a desktop-like interface unlike a normal Android experience. It features a dedicated app tray and notification area. It can even support right clicks and keyboard shortcuts. 

Ask any tech-savvy business owner whether he or she can run their business from their mobile phone, and you'll likely get "yes" for an answer. Expect that chorus to grow louder as more advance business-friendly mobile apps hit the marketplace in 2017.

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