MSPs and the Mobile Revolution

Mobile technology is the big buzz in today’s business world, with smartphones and tablets joining laptop computers to help everyone stay in touch, all the time and everywhere. How does this mobile revolution impact the MSP? That’s what we’re going to look at in this article.

Going Mobile
The way we work today is very different from twenty or even ten years ago. Instead of doing almost all of our work at the office, or sometimes at home on a desktop computer, we now carry portable devices in our pockets or bags that are many times more powerful than full tower systems were a decade ago, and that have constant access to the Internet almost everywhere we go. With a smartphone or tablet, we can read and send email, visit web sites, and create or edit documents. We can even connect back to our main workstations to access information that’s stored on our local networks or run applications remotely. We can troubleshoot, make configuration changes and shut down or restart servers from a remote location.

However, many companies aren’t taking full advantage of the benefits of today’s mobile technology to increase productivity and both employee and customer satisfaction. And some of those that have jumped headfirst onto the mobile bandwagon didn’t first formulate a well-thought plan and strategy, and as a result are spending more money than necessary or exposing their companies to security risks.

Deploying mobile technology internally
If you haven’t already, consider issuing all employees or key employees company smart phones with data plans. They will be able to use the phone for the obvious: to make and receive calls at any time, anywhere. Sales personnel won’t have to miss a call or email message that could have brought in business due to being out of the office. IT personnel will be able to troubleshoot computer problems that occur during off hours without coming in to the office.  Customer service personnel will be able to support existing customers in a more timely manner. Marketing personnel can keep tabs on the company’s brand and reputation through the web, and post to social media sites on behalf of the company, regardless of time and location.

The key here, however, is to make employees feel enthusiastic about their expanded access and the flexibility that mobile technology gives them. They shouldn’t feel that this creates a situation where they are “on duty” 24/7 – instead, it should be presented as a means to have more autonomy in doing their jobs, getting the work done when and where they want and relieving the pressure of having to be chained to a desk in order to accomplish their tasks.

Be sure to establish written policies regarding the use of the devices and ensure that every employee reads and signs off on it. You might consider allowing a certain amount (and certain types) of personal use as a “perk” – however, you’ll want to spell out what is not allowed; e.g., accessing “adult” web sites on the device’s browser, “jailbreaking” the device (which voids its warranty) and so forth. Because the devices will connect to your network, use technological controls (ACLs, remote wipe, forced security policies) to ensure that they don’t bring malware or viruses into your network.

Leveraging the ubiquity of mobile devices
Because many of your business partners, vendors and customers will have mobile devices and “always on” access as well, you can forge better relationships by getting to know which communications venues are preferred by different people with whom you deal in your business, or which are most appropriate for particular types of communication. You’ll win friends, influence people and get/keep more business if make voice calls to those who hate email and texting, send email to the phone-phobics, and so forth. If you have a customer or partner who never answers the phone and ignores email, but seems to be logged onto Facebook 24/7, you can private message him/her there. The point is that with modern mobile technology, you have all those options – even if you aren’t sitting at your desk with a computer in front of you.

Another way to put the mobile revolution to work for you is to give customers a way to easily access information they need regarding their accounts and services. Create (or hire a programmer to create) an “app for that.”  Sure, you might have that info available on your web site and they could use the mobile web browser to visit that site, but a dedicated app is usually far more user-friendly. Don’t assume that all your customers use the same mobile platform; make versions of the app available for iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry. If you opt not to create a dedicated app and depend on customers accessing their accounts through your web site, be sure to create a mobile site that will detect when a mobile OS is connecting and display the pages in a format that’s better suited to the small screen and touch interface.

Summary
The mobile revolution has changed the way we live and the way we do business, and that’s at least as true for MSPs as for those in other industries. You can take advantage of today’s technologies to make employees more productive (and happier), to keep in closer touch with customers, colleagues and others with whom you work, and to disseminate information in the most efficient and effective way.

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