Caitlin Fitzsimmons Online editor

Caitlin covers social media, marketing and technology and is BRW's social media editor. She has worked as a journalist in Sydney, London and San Francisco, writing for titles including The Guardian and The Australian Financial Review.

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Mobile tech: The new weapons helping road warriors plug in

Published 15 August 2013 00:46, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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Mobile tech: The new weapons helping road warriors plug in

Cloud-based software makes it easier for users to access their devices from any location. Photo: Bloomberg

As you might expect, the sales staff for online music service Spotify are a tech-savvy bunch.

Spotify’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Kate Vale, says a smartphone loaded with apps is the number one tool for her seven sales staff when they travel.

“We are somewhat under-resourced like a lot of start-ups are. It’s important for people to organise how to spend their time in a way that works for them, and often that’s free apps,” Vale says. “[The biggest driver of productivity is] their phone because it encompasses everything – they live their life on their phones.”

In the past, a salesperson on the road was physically disconnected from the office and team, but developments in computing mobility have changed that. The trend is affecting all businesses, from start-ups like Spotify through to large, well-established businesses such as CGU Insurance.

The Spotify office is headquartered in Sydney but the sales team needs to travel interstate and to New Zealand to meet advertising clients, as well as to Asia to assist with global expansion.

Employees have their choice of smartphones, but the two most popular are the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S4. Staff also travel with MacBooks, mostly to use cloud-based products such as Gmail and Google Drive, but Vale says they are not big users of tablets outside the office.

On the go

There are two main company-wide software implementations at Spotify. Firstly, all sales staff use Salesforce and have the Salesforce apps on their smartphones so they can enter information about their day and update head office while on the go.

The other is expense reporting tool Concur. Vale says the functionality of Concur eliminates the nightmare of processing a pile of paper receipts after a sales trip.

“If they’ve gone to a lunch or to entertain a client or used parking, they can take an image of their receipt and upload into the [Concur] system, which saves them time on expenses later on,” she says.

Spotify’s sales representatives also use a suite of free or low-cost smartphone apps to make life on the road easier, reflecting a wider business trend for software decisions to be made by individuals or line-of-business managers rather than the IT department.

All staff use TripIt Pro to organise their travel plans, including flights and accommodation. Vale says the app is very comprehensive and will even tell you which airport terminal to go to, and whether your flight is on time.

While travelling, the Google Maps app comes into its own. “When they’re going from meeting to meeting, they’ll actually map it all out to understand what the day is going to look like,” Vale says.

Another favourite is the LinkedIn app so that staff can check out information about who they are meeting with, as well as to generate new leads.

If the sales representatives have a video presentation to show clients, they will typically upload it to Vimeo so that it is stored in the cloud and easy to call up from any device.

And then there is Spotify itself.

“Of course I’m going to give Spotify a plug, but it’s also true,” Vale says. “They all have Spotify on their phones and listen to it offline because they’re on the road a bit.”

Micro-moments of productivity

Salesforce.com product marketing director Derek Laney says smartphones are driving productivity because small tasks can be completed on the move.

“We check our phones on average 150 times a day, leading to millions of micro-moments of productivity wherever we are,” Laney says. “This rise of the micro-moment, and the expectation of more engaging apps, has changed what users expect from their mobile app experience.”

Microsoft’s commercial and product manager Emmanuele Silanesu echoes this point.

“We can now be productive in spaces of time that were previously unproductive – we can stand in the coffee line and not only reply to email but update a spreadsheet or revise a PowerPoint document, without having to waste that time that was previously lost,” Silanesu says.

He adds that Microsoft has embraced the idea that work is “something that you do” rather than “somewhere that you go”, both internally and in its range for customers. He once spent an entire day working from the Manly Ferry just to prove the point.

Expanding hardware horizons

The combination of laptop and smartphone remains popular, but other hardware devices are coming to the fore. While the worldwide and Australian market for traditional PCs and laptops is declining, the market for “ultramobile” devices and tablets is growing. Gartner expects worldwide shipments of ultramobiles to grow from 9.8 million units in 2012 to 39.8 million in 2014.

This ultramobile sector includes products such as a number of hybrid tablet-laptops running Windows 8 and also Google Chromebooks, which cost about $300 in Australia and connect exclusively to cloud-based software such as Google Apps.

Meanwhile, the tablet market is set to more than double, with worldwide shipments at 120.2 million in 2012 and forecast to reach 276.2 million in 2014.

When the iPad was first released in 2010, it was one of a kind and mainly a consumer device. Three years later, there are several manufacturers, the operating systems include Android and Windows as well as iOS, and all tablet brands are vying for the business market.

Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa says the rise of tablets is causing the decline in the more traditional hardware market.

“We are seeing the PC market reduction directly tied to the shrinking installed base of PCs, as inexpensive tablets displace the low-end machines used primarily for consumption in mature and developed markets,” Kitagawa says. “In emerging markets, inexpensive tablets have become the first computing device for many people, who at best are deferring the purchase of a PC. This is also accounting for the collapse of the mini-notebook market.”

Apple’s iPad tablets are now the main device for CGU Insurance sales staff when they are on the move.

Ben Bessell, CGU general manager for broker and agency, says the company implemented a mobility strategy when it found the business was drifting into silos.

“We stood back from the business and realised we were in danger of losing sight of what our partners and customers really needed from us,” Bessell says.

Freedom of cloud-based software

CGU’s mobility strategy is not just about iPads but also using cloud-based software, particularly Salesforce products. The company uses Sales Cloud so leads or deals are updated in real time, Chatter so that staff can chat with one another, and Radian6 for social media monitoring.

Bessell says the goal was to connect underwriters with business development managers – in other words, the people who develop the product with the people who sell it.

Microsoft’s cloud offering includes Windows Azure, its platform and infrastructure-as-a-service offering, and Office 365, its software-as-a-service product that gives you the Office suite as an online subscription. Office 365 competes with Google Apps in cloud-based office-productivity software.

A laptop with applications on the hard drive was once considered mobile, but Silanesu says that no longer cuts it.

“The average user has more than three devices, so you don’t want information tied to a single device – you want access on the mobile phone in your pocket as well as the notebook still sitting on the coffee table at home,” Silanesu says.

“That’s where providing those services in the cloud really does drive the mobility story because you’ve got access anywhere in the world . . . it solves the dilemma for those users who want to be mobile but don’t want to take their laptop, their mobile phone and their tablet. They want to be able to take one device on a business trip and have it do everything.”

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