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The “Smart” (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show! (Part II)

In Part I of “The Smart (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show” talked about trends in technology for 2011. Here we focus on specific trends that will be advantageous to small business this year and beyond.

Note:  The applications mentioned in the rest of this article will be denoted by the platform(s) they are supported on, using the following key: 
  i   iPhone
 A
  Android 
 W   Windows Phone    
 B   Blackberry  
 S   Symbian (Nokia, etc.)  
P  Palm 
 

Email & PIM (Personal Information Manager) Apps / CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

No matter what business you are in, the #1 key to success is the relationships you have with your customers.  Having access to your email and customer data, wherever you go, synchronized with your business email & PIM/CRM CRM solution is invaluable, for those who spend the majority of their time on the road.

This is the application category that started it all.  In the “dark ages” (2002), the Treo 180 became the first true “smart phone.”  Powered by the Palm OS, it pioneered the use of an integrated contact manager, which allowed you to quickly search for and place a call to one of your contacts or pop up the contact’s information when they called.  This was coupled with the ability to easily sync your contacts with Microsoft Outlook.

Previously, businesses that wanted real-time (push) email and contact synchronization looked to either the Blackberry or Windows Mobile platforms for a solution.  Now, many current smart phones come with a basic contact management app that can sync with the user’s Apple or PC desktop client like Microsoft Outlook, as well as web-based email and contact data from Google, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. 


Google Apps (i,A,W,B,S,P)
Is fast becoming the most widely used, multi-platform suite of apps for mobile email and contact management.  Coming as “standard equipment” on Android-powered phones, it is also available for all of the other major smart phone platforms.  The advantage of using Google Apps for email and contact management is that it’s “free.”  The primary disadvantage is its weak contact management features and lack of advanced integration with back-end business email systems.
 
TouchDown (A)
Is an example of a full-featured mobile email / PIM client.  Like Outlook, it can synchronize email, calendar, task and note* data with one or more of Microsoft’s Exchange email server accounts.  Running exclusively (iPhone rumors are circulating) on the Android platform, it is as close to having Outlook on your mobile device as you can get.  If your company has or is considering having one or more of the estimated three hundred and one million Exchange email boxes in use in 2010, Touchdown is definitely worth checking out.   Note:  When this article was written (December, 2010), Touchdown on Android had significantly greater support for Exchange than Microsoft’s own mobile email/contact client on their new Windows Phone 7 platform!

salesforce (i,A,W,B,S,P – Via Web)
Is one of the best known CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications.  CRM systems designed to be more robust and offer enhanced marketing & sales workflow features, not found in their PIM counterparts.

Unlike many CRM systems, salesforce’s claim to fame has been that it is a hosted SAAS (Software As A Service) application.  True to its roots, it has a mobile SAAS version that will run on all popular smart phones that are Internet connected.

With this type of application, all data stays on the server, which means it is always up to date and no software updates are ever required for the mobile app.  The downside is that it requires a constant connection to the Internet, via your mobile carrier’s Internet services to function.  If your mobile team members need access your customer data inside a building or in a rural area that has poor or nonexistent wireless data coverage, this is NOT the type of solution you should consider.

Social Media Applications

Are probably the most popular mobile application category.  Every smart phone being sold comes bundled with a variety of apps for social media sites like Facebook (i,A,W,B,S,P), Twitter (i,A,W,B,S,P), Youtube (i,A,W,B,S,P), etc.

Small businesses owners will benefit from these applications, by harnessing them to maintain their social media internet presence from wherever they happen to be.  What’s really exciting is the prospect of how these applications can be used by your customers, to help promote your business for you!

There are a number of applications that make it easy to update all of your social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, etc. and even your blog and website with a single post.  Two of them that have mobile apps I like are Seesmic (i,A,W,B) and Hellotxt (i,A). 

Location, Location, Location

The latest trend in mobile social media applications is “Location Awareness.”  Using a smart phone’s built in GPS capability, mobile apps like FourSquare (i,A,W,B,S,P) and Gowalla (i,A,B,P), customers can “Check In,” posting their location and an optional update.  This update is typically published to both the application’s own site as well as the users other social media sites, where it will be seen by all of their friends/followers.  Both Facebook and Google now support this same location-based social media updating in their mobile applications.
 
Customers are incentivized to check in by contests that earn them everything from being named “Mayor” (Foursquare) of a particular location, to unique badges or even loyalty discounts.  Do you remember the old saying “word of mouth is the best form of advertising?”  Every time someone walks into a Starbucks and uses a location-aware social media application to check in, an average of 140 people “hear” about it.  Is it any wonder that signs reminding people to check in are appearing on business doors everywhere!?

Are We There Yet?

The same GIS technology that enables location aware social media apps to post location-centric updates also powers applications like Google’s Latitude (i,A,W,B,S)  Latitude is separate, but tightly integrated with another one of my favorite mobile applications, Google Maps (i,A,W,B,S).  Together,  these two applications have the potential to replace both a stand-alone GPS as well as two-way fleet-oriented GPS systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Google Latitude allows you to see where the people on your team are, accurate to within 30’ when their phone can receive a GPS signal or 1-2 miles when using relative cell tower positioning.  GPS applications like Latitude allow for just-in-time service and delivery dispatching, improved sales management and more efficient route planning.

Data to-Go

Once you’ve connected with your client and navigated your way to their office, you will often want to interact with them using a presentation, brochure, pricing or other account information.  This type of information has traditionally been kept and presented on laptops.  If you are lucky enough to have a good IT department or Managed Services partner and remembered to plug in and sync your laptop to the network before you left the office, your laptop data, like your email would be synchronized and up to date.

Smartphone apps like Google Apps (i,A,W,B,S,P ) or the forthcoming Microsoft Office 365 (W, i,A,B Reported) are designed to give you access to all your important documents via your mobile device.  This is done by using your phones Internet connection to access the documents where they reside, in the “Cloud.”  These applications are “live,” allowing multiple people to view and/or edit them at the same time.  Word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents are/will supported.

Evernote (i,A,W,B,S,P) works slightly differently.  It synchronizes notes, pictures voice clips and web clippings between your local mobile content, the cloud and other mobile, PC or Mac clients.  If you need to keep track of basic tidbits and information pointers, Evernote is a great application that I personally use every day. 

Staying On Top of The Numbers

Every business owner knows how important it is to stay on top of their company’s financial situation.  To meet the demand for mobile access to financial information, top banks like Chase (i), Bank of America (i,A), etc. have rolled out their own mobile applications, specifically designed to securely access and manage the same data you would work with on a web-based portal.

Companies like Quicken and ADP have also begun releasing their own mobile apps.  Quicken’s current mobile called Mint (i, A,B) is aimed more at individuals than businesses, but can be used by both, to keep track of transactions, balances and alerts related to bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts.

ADP’s “Run” application (i, A,W,B) is designed as a full-blown mobile HR and Payroll portal.  With it you can submit, authorize and monitor payroll transactions, employee payroll status and more.  Both you and your accountant can access the same data, using any combination of mobile applications or the connected web portal.

What Else / What’s Next?

We’ve taken a look at the main application categories and some of the associated applications that for many of you who are reading this, will justify you budgeting for smart(er) phones and applications in 2011.  Every day, literally dozens of additional general and industry-specific mobile applications are created, that could make you and your team more productive and help you uncover and win more business.  Keep your eyes open for more mobile application coverage by me on the SBAM and NuWave websites!  Have a specific question about how your business can leverage mobile applications?  Feel free to get in touch with me by email, phone or your favorite social media application on your new smart phone!
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