Vodafone: Giving small business an edge with mobile technology

Innovation Profile Companies that don’t make the most of mobile technology risk falling behind the competition

Claire Reynolds, Vodafone Ireland small business manager, at the launch of Vodafone’s RED service for small businesses

Claire Reynolds, Vodafone Ireland small business manager, at the launch of Vodafone’s RED service for small businesses

Mon, Sep 30, 2013, 01:00

Business was not meant to be like this. Real businesses are meant to need real offices with real rents and wired connections. And real businesspeople should have to go to the office every morning to sit at a desk before they can do anything else.

But that’s not the way it is any more. Not only are businesspeople not heading to the office in the mornings, they are avoiding having offices at all by utilising the latest mobile communications technology. Rents, rates, and utilities bills are rapidly becoming a thing of the past for this new breed of businesses.

This trend is confirmed by new research which finds that 81 per cent of Irish businesses consider communications and IT technology as a fundamental part of how they operate. The research was commissioned by Vodafone Ireland to gain greater insight into Irish small business trends and reveals that increasing numbers of Irish businesses are embracing new communications technology and the positive impact it has on business performance and growth. Some 60 per cent of them say they are using the technology to differentiate their business from the competition.

The research reveals that investment in communications technology is a priority for over three-quarters of Irish businesses with over half (52 per cent) already using tablets, 90 per cent using smartphones and 38 per cent using managed devices. Significantly, 86 per cent believe that the use of technology within business will increase in importance over the next two years with the take-up of cloud services reaching 60 per cent and mobile data services set to reach 94 per cent.

Moreover, 72 per cent of small businesses said they would embrace technology sooner if they had greater assistance in finding the right solution for their needs.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of small businesses who not only recognise the importance of communications technology but who are actively embracing it and incorporating it into their strategic business plans,” says Claire Reynolds, small business manager with Vodafone Ireland. “It is not just a case of them using the technology as part of their business. They are using it to change the way they do business.”

And the change has been quite dramatic in a very short space of time.

“It’s quite frightening to think that the first smartphone app was only developed in 2008 and our behaviour as customers has changed quite profoundly since then. Our expectations from the companies we do business with have increased sharply and companies which aren’t seen to respond to changes in technology and keep up with them will lose out and the ones making the best use of it are enjoying a competitive advantage. It is also a case of companies having to do a lot more with less.”

She believes this latter point is providing evidence of the innovative capacity of Irish SMEs. “Budgets are still tight and every business has to do the best it can with the resources it has,” says Reynolds.

“That means they are looking around and seeing what’s out there and being very innovative when it comes to its use. They are using mobile technology to forge much closer relationships with their customers. They are in constant contact with their customers and this takes time, but it is much easier if you can do it while you are on the move. Similarly, the technology on tablets and smartphones now means that you can send professional quotes, brochures, statements and so on to customers from the side of the road or from a café or anywhere else you happen to be – you don’t have to physically go back to an office to do it.”

One new service from Vodafone, which is proving particularly useful to the new generation of mobile businesses, is “landline on your mobile”. This is a virtual landline number which looks similar to other numbers in the local area where a business operates but which acts purely as a relay to a mobile number. So, a business without a premises or a landline can have all the appearance of having a physical high street presence with none of the costs.

“I think it’s a very Irish thing but customers want the businesses they deal with to have a landline number – they seem to think it gives them more credibility,” says Reynolds. “That’s why we’ve introduced this new service for our business customers. Each of our new RED business plans include the ‘landline on your mobile’ service at no additional cost.”

One business making use of the new service is the Catering Innovation Agency, which supplies energy efficient catering equipment to the hospitality industry.

“We supply smarter catering equipment to customers such as the Trocadero restaurant in Dublin, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, and the new UCD student centre,” says director Seamus Marnane. “We have moved to a more flexible and productive way of working for the past number of years and having the right advice about new communications technology from Vodafone has helped us to deliver this.

“Customer service and responsiveness is very important. We also have employees out on site so being able to connect back to the office to share customer information has demonstrated our superior quality of service.”

The virtual landline service has been a particular boon. “To be able to network with the office while out on the road and patch calls through to the mobile as if you were transferring it to a landline phone in the next room has been a tremendous benefit. Our customers just have to call one landline number to get through to us and if we have to call them back we can do it from the mobile on the landline number. People are much more comfortable dealing with landlines and much more inclined to call a landline number back so it is a great benefit to us.”

Another benefit is portability. “We moved office a while back and didn’t have to worry about moving the number or changing it – we just had to unplug the system and bring it with us.”

The cost savings are also welcome. “We don’t have to bring brochures with us anymore. We can show the customer the material on a tablet or smartphone and email it to them if they wish. Everything is available on Dropbox and we can download anything we need while we’re on the move. In the old days if you left the office without some piece of paperwork you were banjaxed; now we have access to everything wherever we are. This keeps costs down and helps make us more competitive. It’s so good I wish we could keep it a secret.”