Mobility is the future of business. More business is conducted in real time and between geographically dispersed situations than ever before. Mobility also ties closely into collaboration trends including the increasing use of social networking tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The smartphone is becoming a symbol of an increasingly mobile and interconnected population. Companies cannot afford to let the opportunities mobility present pass them by – it is a competitive necessity. So the burning question for the owners and managers of children’s activities centers is “Can you use mobile devices to run your business?”
Owners and managers of children’s activities centers are wearing multiple hats, traveling from location to location, managing multiple business units, and all the while – looking after their families. Demands of the business – managing staff, communicating with customers and reaching out to potential customers – and the need to keep pace with competitors means their business must be 24/7 and they must be plugged in 24/7.
You need a mobility plan
Large corporations aren’t the only ones that need to create mobile plans for their organizations. Small businesses benefit from planning in this area so that devices can be standardized to capture the best functionality, pricing and platform for the organization’s needs.
When deciding how your organization can leverage mobile devices, be sure to consider others in your organization whose processes and tasks have them moving from location to location within your facility or between facilities to do their jobs. It may make sense for a small organization to use multiple smartphones as well as several iPads. The important consideration is whether businesses processes can be significantly improved or access to information and business decisions can be made more intelligently and quickly because of the use of mobile devices.
You’re in the driver’s seat
Obviously, you not only purchase devices, but purchase a contract with a service provider for your network services. As a customer with multiple devices, you are in the driver’s seat. This is a very competitive business sector so look closely at plans and features and make sure you’re getting the best possible deal before signing your contract. And taking a step back, determine what applications you need to run on your devices before you get in the position to sign a contract.
Failing to consider this could be a recipe for disaster in trying to use devices that don’t have enough power or bandwidth to handle the applications you intend to use.
Extend your operational systems
Mobile devices are an extension of the systems that automate and streamline the business and enable it be 24/7 – especially when business systems leverage the Internet. But how do you accomplish this? How do you integrate your mobile devices with the systems that run your business so that you’re maximizing the use of both?
Closely analyze the way your organization works and imagine what forms tasks would take if the people doing them were not tied to their desks or to the building or if they had the ability to work directly in your business management system from wherever their tasks might take them.
What improvements can you associate with altering these tasks?
- Time savings
- Heightened efficiency and productivity
- Increased accuracy
- Better customer service
- More intuitive decision making
More than smartphones
As noted before, we’re not just talking smartphones here. Consider how iPads can be incorporated into your operational processes.
What do tasks require across the course the business “day”? A good place to start is with tasks or processes that require you to print something. Instead of printing, noting and entering the results, why not use an iPad to do your tasks while you’re on your feet? For example, each coach or instructor can take an iPad into class and take attendance directly within your software.
What are the benefits?
- Saves time
- Increases accuracy
- Makes attendance real time
- Improves customer service
For instance, after role is taken at the beginning of the session using an iPad, administrative staff can begin to schedule make up dates for absences before the session is complete.
24/7 availability and accessibility
Issues that previously would go unattended while managers and owners are out of the office can be addressed immediately using mobile devices. Access to applications, business management systems and business data can keep your key people plugged into the organization at all times. Owners can more accurately assess situations while away from the facility. Managers can understand financial questions and concerns and act on them in real time instead of reacting after the fact. Coaches and instructors can know the status of students before sessions begin. Administrative staff can get more accomplished when redundant tasks are eliminated.
One of the bonuses available through smartphones is their integration with social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Using a smartphone enables immediate tracking of your business amongst these sites and real time communication with your social network. Social networks are also a valuable place to track your competition. From posting competition images to seeing your competitors latest offer when everyone else sees it – you can be completely in touch with what is going on “out there” and make marketing through these sites easy and immediate.
Mobile devices don’t replace computers – they enhance your ability to plug in
Businesses can surely be run from anywhere in the world using a laptop and an Internet connection…assuming that a web-based business management system is in place. Today’s laptops are every bit as powerful and capable as their desktop counterparts. You cannot ditch your computers and replace them with mobile devices. You add mobile devices to your tool set because they enhance your ability to be productive when you need to be away from your desk or your office. They make you more efficient so energy can be focused on customer relationships, class curriculum and growing your business – instead of tasks and processes.
As amazing as it sounds, remember that there are issues that should be considered when integrating mobile devices into operations to run your business. A very basic consideration is battery life. Always make sure your mobile device is charged and that you take re-charge capabilities with you when you’re outside the office for any extended periods of time since the battery life of mobile devices is just about equivalent to that of laptops. Beyond such basics as battery life, being able to effectively leverage your newly-enabled mobility requires that you make sure areas such as your security, your communications capabilities, other office devices, as well as your applications and the documents related to them accommodate their new mobile peers.
Let’s look at security first because ignoring this area could cause chaos if no attention is paid to it. You must make sure that your devices are not opening the rest of your network to risk. After all, your devices enable you to login to your business systems and you want to make sure than entryway is as secure as on every other computer or device. This leads us to the question: What if I lose my mobile device? Losing something is always frustrating – regardless of what it is – but losing a device that keeps you plugged in 24/7 is a catastrophe for those of us who depend on our devices for everything from listening to music and taking pictures to logging into our network and conducting our business communications. Suddenly taking that device away can be devastating in a couple of ways that should be addressed. Back ups can be done from all versions of these devices – usually by going through a simple syncing process when plugged into your computer. Newer versions – with the iPhone leading the pack – are making the backup process wireless. Just be sure you actually do this on a regular basis. Passwords provide protection from anyone getting their hands on your device and actually getting into your network – as long as your password is strong and not something that could be easily guessed. iPhones have a feature that allows owners to trigger reward for return messages and even to destroy data to protect you from exposing sensitive information.
Don’t let this deter you from putting mobile devices to work for you. There are proven security practices for mobile devices that can be addressed through use profile access and configurations and passwords and locking features that protect your systems, your data, your customers’ information and your business.
Mobile devices typically have simple processes and wizards for enabling your communications such as email, phone and Internet capabilities. Mobile devices actually beat out laptops at making this a no brainer. As these devices become faster and faster, using them becomes more enjoyable and easier.
There are still – and will always be – activities that you want to do using a full screen and everyone is not on the mobile bandwagon, so many websites and applications just don’t work well or look right on mobile devices. But the adoption of mobile technology is growing by leaps and bounds so becoming a part of the mobile world will help you maintain constant access to your business so you can make a leap ahead of competitors that aren’t mobility-enabled and put you on a level playing field with those that are.
What about your office devices – such as printers – that you may want to use via your mobile devices? Accomplishing this should be no problem. As long as you are connected to your network, your printers should accommodate your devices in the same way they accommodate laptops.
Determining which mobile device is best can be tricky. It mostly depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with it. iPhones definitely have the upper hand in dealing with applications. It has quite a selection available from its App Store and many are even free and it has become a preferred platform for developers. iPhone apps also have a tendency to perform well. PDAs typically use Windows Mobile software and therefore have quite a selection to access but there performance isn’t as dependable as the Apple-based iPhone. Blackberry App World has fewer apps than are accessible to iPhone users but does give its users options.
While apps available through your application marketplace can be helpful, the applications you want to use with your mobile device are more likely the ones that will be helpful in managing your business. Be sure to research your business management software for its mobile capabilities so you will be able to leverage your devices with these processes. Also consider how easy it will be to use your business applications on a mobile device. Some business applications are designed to be managed using just a few clicks or at the most a few key strokes. Often key performance indicators are tracked through dashboards which are simple to monitor with smartphones. These features will enable you to truly maximize your device in managing your business.
Microsoft office documents such as Word and Excel can be opened using Blackberrys and PDAs and the iPhone has apps for this. These office documents can also be opened using Google docs services. Notice I said these documents can be opened on these devices. Opening and viewing is one thing, editing easily is another. Mobile devices (besides iPads) are very accommodating in this way. And even iPads have their challenges with this.
What is the bottom line?
What is comes down to, is this: You can run your business using mobile devices. You can accomplish most of your management responsibilities using smartphones. And other mobile devices – such as iPads – can be used in conjunction with your internal technologies to help you streamline processes, save significant time and add more polish to your professionalism.
Your mobile devices are awesome for tracking, monitoring and managing through applications that are automated and accomplish most tasks with clicks. That being said, you will still need a laptop to do activities that require intensive typing. If you accept this as a fact from the onset, you can plan your use of your devices accordingly. One of these days – that may not be that far off – we may be able to do everything we want from a small pocket-sized device – but for now opt for your devices with keyboards (laptops and desktops) to create and manipulate files and documents and do anything that requires tremendous speed and bandwidth.
Plan ahead of time and make sure you accommodate the above-noted areas so you can put a highly productive mobility plan in place that will help you run a more efficient and effective business.