Networking

10 ways to turn your mobile phone into an efficient business tool

Increasingly sophisticated smartphone capabilities are making it easier for road warriors to accomplish business tasks. Polly Traylor offers some tips on maximizing your mobile phone productivity.

Increasingly sophisticated smartphone capabilities are making it easier for road warriors to accomplish business tasks. Polly Traylor offers some tips on maximizing your mobile phone productivity.


When you're away from the office with only a mobile phone in hand, the application you most desire is email — or for those with less patience, SMS. But beyond messaging, you need much more from your phone if you view it as your business partner. Some requirements are crucial, such as security tools. Other additions just make life much easier, such as my fascination with mobile voice recorders, which let me dictate a note or task and give my thumbs a break, or Google Maps, since I'm often lost in the car driving to an appointment. Here are some tips road warriors shouldn't overlook when using a mobile phone for work.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1. Choose the right platform for your business and role

There's no single best platform for business, even though many say that for office workers, the Blackberry is still king (sorry, Apple). What's essential is choosing a device that maps well to your business and to your individual job requirements.

Consider desktop capability replication, which entails easy access to email, opening and editing files, and accessing the business applications you need on a daily basis, says Frank Wilson, a Bellevue, WA-based product manager for technology services with Tectura. There may also be vertical-specific needs, for instance, if you work for the federal government or within a manufacturing environment.

Paul Langowski, Minneapolis-based chief architect for global services at Tectura, says there are provider-specific issues to consider, as well. "One iPhone issue is that AT&T can't use it in a tethered mode, so it cannot be used as a connection device for your laptop."

2: Consider battery life!

If you're often working away from the office, you better have hearty battery life in that smartphone. If you treasure fast data connections and use Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi, your battery life will be compromised even more, warns Dan Shey, practice director for mobile services at ABI Research. "Some will say as long as the phone has battery life all day that is sufficient because they will plug their phone in at night. In practice, however, busy business customers will not always recharge daily and if their phone is near dead, it is a huge inconvenience to stop and charge somewhere or lose use of the phone."

3: Don't overlook these two security imperatives

Increasingly, smartphones support remote wipe so that you or your IT administrator can erase all the data from your phone if it has been lost or stolen. Then there is encryption, which may or may not be automatic and easily configured in your device. "RIM has done a good job with business customers for meeting the security requirement, since they encrypt all data traffic sent to and from the phone," Shey says.

If you have ultra-sensitive data on your phone and/or regularly access your corporate VPN from it, there are more protections to consider. Langowski warns that a hacker can even steal data from your device when you're offline, so now, you can buy a special case to protect your phone.

4: Fight for proper IT support

Ideally, IT needs to intimately understand the platforms it supports and preconfigure everything as much as possible for users, just as with laptops, says Wilson. "If those devices are critical to your business and you can attribute revenue loss to downtime on phones, your business needs to support the devices equally as servers." Fortunately, outsourcing is always an option. According to Langowski, companies are starting to gravitate toward managed services, which handle provisioning and activation, updates, security, support, troubleshooting, and more. He predicts that those services will soon become affordable enough for small and midsize businesses.

5: Get the right coverage plan for your mobile life

It sounds simple, but you might easily overlook the fact that a coverage plan doesn't support your bimonthly international trips. That could be disastrous. Be sure to align your mobile wanderings with the appropriate coverage plan. Wi-Fi, of course, can be a cost-effective option for filling in those gaps. "Wi-Fi radios will be shipped in up to 90% of all smartphones by 2014," Shey says.

6: Use mobile apps for managing administrative and project-based tasks

There's nothing like using some dead time while on the train, bus, airport, doctor's office, or checkout line to take care of a few mundane tasks, such as tracking client hours and expenses or checking flight schedules. Many of these apps are quite easy to use and also keep the wheels moving on projects, especially if you can access tasks and schedules from a secure project site. Workflow approval applications, such as Microsoft SharePoint, are also becoming configured for mobile access, Langowski says.

7: Get some BI

Mobile business intelligence need not be complicated or expensive. It could be as simple as using your mobile Web browser to access and log into a secure site where you can review reports and other data from your business systems. If you want more, you'll find plenty of interactive applications from vendors big and small (including, naturally, free iPhone apps). Such tools let you drill down into inventory, sales, and customer data, retrieve KPIs and other metrics, and do custom analysis.

8: Take advantage of mobile social networking apps

If you use social networking sites regularly, what better way to access them than from your mobile phone? In fact, I prefer to use my iPhone interface for Facebook — it is simpler and much less cluttered. And if you deliver corporate status updates regularly as part of your job (sales and marketing) or need to network with others on the fly (recruiting, engineering, business development), it might be imperative to have mobile versions of your favorite social networking sites on your device.

9: QWERTY keyboards are key

This might seem intuitive, but it's impossible to overstress the importance of having a highly functional keyboard on your mobile phone. "Any business person who uses any mobile data services — even SMS — should make their life easy with a full character keyboard," Shey says. And think hard before purchasing the iPhone or any other touch-screen device if you are going to be doing a lot of typing — it doesn't work well for everyone.

10: Large-screen devices are best

Shey recommends a minimum of 1.5 inch by 2 inches of screen real estate. "You never know when you will need to review or scan a document on the mobile phone," he says. "In addition, a larger screen is easier on the eyes... particularly for those of us not wanting to admit that we may need bifocals!"

A little restraint

Despite everything I've said above, do use caution when it comes to the smartphone, lest it completely overtake your life simply because it can. How often have you seen a parent at the park with eyeballs glued to the phone instead of on their kids? Langowski offers some sage advice: "You are more productive if you shut down the device occasionally."

Polly S. Traylor writes about business and technology from Golden, CO.


Sign up for 10 Things... the newsletter!

Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.

Editor's Picks