Small businesses need better apps, survey says

A new survey finds that small businesses believe mobile technology is crucial, but many are struggling to find the advantage in it.

Technology is a great equalizer that can level the playing field between small and medium businesses and their much larger competitors. A survey from Bank of the West finds that SMBs have embraced mobile technology and recognize its importance, but are frustrated by a lack of apps more relevant to their specific business needs.

Harris Interactive conducted the online survey on behalf of Bank of the West. It targeted small businesses--defined as having two or more employees and $10 million or less in annual revenue--in July and August.

There are some interesting results. Almost nine out of ten of the small businesses indicated that they use mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. However, 58% wish that mobile technologies were tailored to be more relevant for their business.

According to the survey, small businesses are using smartphones and tablets for the obvious tasks you'd expect. Seventy-six percent utilize mobile technology for voice calls, email, texting, and instant messaging; 48% for calendars and scheduling; and 42% for GPS and navigation. Those uses are basically table stakes for mobile technology, though, and don't deliver specific strategic advantages.

The leading barrier to taking better advantage of mobile technology cited by respondents is a lack of relevant uses. What would small businesses like to see? There was a 94% increase over previous survey results in the demand for apps dedicated to marketing, an 82% jump for mobile technologies to make and receive payments, and a 63% surge for CRM (customer relationship management) apps.

The survey suggests that there is a market demand for app developers. Small businesses need developers who understand the challenges they face and can deliver apps to help. And SMBs that really seek to seize a strategic advantage should consider contracting a developer to design a custom app specific to their needs.

Aside from relevant uses, security concerns SMBs adopting mobile technology. More than 90% of those surveyed claim they've never experienced information or data theft as a function of using mobile devices. However, more than half still reported security concerns as a significant factor preventing them from using mobile technology more aggressively.

Such concerns are not without merit. Smartphones and tablets are easily lost or stolen, and they're increasingly a target of choice for cyber criminals. They store gigabytes of sensitive information, and are often connected to services and resources that attackers find valuable. Small businesses that embrace mobile technology need to be aware of the risks, and take steps to protect data on mobile devices.

Three fourths of the survey respondents believe that mobile technology is important to the future of their business, and they're probably right. There is an opportunity now for developers to cater to small business customers, but small businesses also need to be vigilant about exploring the apps and services that can give them a strategic advantage.

This story, "Small businesses need better apps, survey says" was originally published by PCWorld.

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