Cisco Canada Blog

Is your small business ready for a mobile workforce?

October 16, 2013

An employee travelling to different cities for business is in no way a new phenomenon, but having that worker completely connected to the office and available instantly to customers is fairly revolutionary.

For your small business to stay competitive, you need a mobile workforce that is connected and engaged. Mobility enables employees to respond to customers and solve problems quicker, improving productivity and competitiveness. With quick access and efficient connections, your employees can work seamlessly while away from their desks, and often without even being in the same city.

To learn more about how your small business can benefit from a mobile workforce, register for our October 17th webinar

When looking to facilitate mobility in your small business, there are six factors to consider.

SMB Mobility blog photoWhat’s your mobility vision?

Before making an investment in new technology, ask what your business case is for creating a mobile workforce. For some small businesses, equipping employees with modern, mobile tools enhances the company’s image and provides a competitive edge, allowing them to win more business. For others, mobile devices improve employee satisfaction and productivity, and make the company a more attractive employer for high school and college recruits.

If you and your employees already have laptops, smartphones or mobile devices, in what innovative ways are they working today? Imagine your company’s future and how it could thrive in a world where employees are untethered and have access to everything they need to do their job from anywhere.

What mobile applications are right for your business?

Once you determine your vision, you need to consider what you want employees to be able to do on their devices. Email is the most common application small businesses deploy, but employees can view documents, spreadsheets, presentations, GPS-enabled mapping tools, directory listings, photos and business applications on their devices. They can also attend web meetings, including high definition videoconferencing, and communicate via enterprise-grade instant messaging (IM) services, to quickly collaborate with colleagues and respond to customers.

What is the security risk?

One downside to having a mobile workforce is increased security risks. When choosing a mobile strategy for your business, assess your security risks. Will employees have confidential data on their devices, like credit card numbers or patient medical information?  If there was a security breach, what’s your exposure? Work with an expert to develop security strategies, policies and procedures to address these risks. Make certain that all devices have secure connections and processes in addition to being password protected. And prepare for the unexpected. If the device is lost or stolen you need to guarantee that your company and customer data continues to be secure.

Is BYOD right for your business?

Based on your applications and security needs, consider whether or not your company will be providing the devices for your employee to use, or if they can bring their own.  A “company owned, personally enabled” (COPE) device gives some IT and security control to the company while allowing employees some personal use of the device.  A “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) approach allows workers to use their own device for business. This option is light on your wallet, but comes with heavier security and manageability risks. Another option would be to provide employees certain devices, such as a laptop, and allow your workers to add optional devices at their own expense. Regardless of the strategy you select, ensure you are providing adequate IT and security to protect your small business.

Which devices and operating systems should you use?

Some devices and operating systems are better suited than others for applications, and it’s important to determine which are right for your business needs. Industry specific applications like merchant card systems, architectural design applications or patient care systems may only work on select operating systems. Decide which devices are needed based on job requirements.  If employees must access a customer relationship management system while visiting customer sites or give online demonstrations, a laptop or tablet may be more appropriate than a smartphone.

What is your budget?

Purchasing devices for your employees can be expensive, but the up-front costs come with increased competitiveness, productivity from standardization as well as lower IT support costs and security risks due to common platforms. If you decide that a BYOD approach is right for your business, be ready to accept the security risks, inconsistency and potentially less secure communication that comes with lower costs.

For more of our four-part series on small business technology, read my post on how to find the right financing plan for your business. And tune in next week for part three where we discuss collaboration technology and what questions SMB owners should ask when they begin their search for the right solution.

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