With their high proportion of mobile workers, a Small to Medium Business (SMB) is going to best served by instilling some mobile collaboration best practices. I spoke to some collaboration industry leaders to get their insights about mobile collaboration for SMBs.
Mobile collaboration begins with planning and business cases
"Make sure the technology you choose actually fits the needs of your mobile users. It's easier said than done, but spending the extra time to plan and build business cases for your technology spend pays off down the line," advises Barry Jinks, CEO of Colligo, the makers of Colligo Briefcase Pro.
Don't distinguish between mobile and non-mobile collaboration
Alastair Mitchell, CEO of Huddle, sees the collaboration lines blurring, "You shouldn't distinguish by mobile collaboration and non-mobile collaboration. Most people working in small businesses today will be working on many different devices."
"So the first piece of advice is not to think about it as mobile collaboration per se," Mitchell recommends. "It's really about how we do we give access to the content, information, and the customers that the people in the small business need to work with and on from wherever they might be. That might be on a tablet, a smartphone, or even a laptop — but on the go."
"I think that the whole thing we are seeing in the mobile space is that it's not just mobile anymore. It's on the go. It's people accessing information from anywhere at anytime." According to Mitchell, we should stop thinking of it as mobile collaboration.
Select best of breed tools
"Don't choose one tool that does everything," counsels Mitchell. "Then you get a series of mediocre experiences. In the old school, you'd go for the Microsoft desktop stack for email, sign on, security, SharePoint, and more, but it's not better for everything. This way, you choose the best solution for the need you have." Best of breed means the tools have a strong integration with other apps for sharing content and enabling access to content in one place.
Plan the adoption of your collaboration tools
Jinks of Colligo recommends putting some consideration up front about your collaboration tools. He breaks it down, "First, performance. Internet access can be slow or non-existent on the road, so consider solutions that allow your employees to be productive when offline. Second, ease of use. It must be easy for the mobile worker to find up-to-date documents, work with email, and share files with their colleagues. Third, reliability. The technology solution needs to work just as well on mobile devices as it does on PCs, and users need to feel confident that they have access to the same content whether they are working online or offline. Finally, trusted. The location of data should be secure and transparent to the user, and data cached on users' machines should be encrypted and secure."
Focus on people and information in the cloud
Yaacov Cohen, CEO of harmon.ie, works with a number of SMB customers. "The cloud is very compelling for SMBs because it requires no IT staff. It's also a natural fit for mobile."
He recommends a data less tablet and the cloud. While his company develops mobile and alternative client apps for Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint, he points to Salesforce, SkyDrive, and even Office Web Apps as more options to keep corporate data in the cloud vs. on the device.
Cohen raises an interesting question, "Do you really need Mobile Device Management (MDM)?" He sees a more nimble solution for SMBs to be mobile devices and the cloud enabling users to provision themselves. His recommendation frees up IT staff for more billable work.
Who's doing it and when is it due?
Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of Teambox, says, "Every task must have a specific deadline and must be assigned to a specific person. With a mobile team, it's especially important that you communicate very clearly to each person what tasks they are responsible for and when they need to have them done."
"Managers need to keep in mind the bigger picture and be clear with their expectations in order to hold the team accountable," advises Schoenbaum. "Clear communication upfront is key and will save the integrity of the project in the long run."
Ease of use should parallel cloud and mobile security
Huddle's Mitchell offers this security advice, "You'll be most successful by choosing the tools that are easiest and highest adoption to use. Therefore, that includes security. Bizarrely, you'll be more secure if your tools are easy to use than if they are high security and hard to use. That really sounds counterintuitive." With advances in mobile collaboration apps, it's becoming much easier to find a solution that fits into Mitchell's point of strong security and usability. He also points to security becoming more important, rather than less, as more SMB data goes into the cloud.
Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO and co-founder of Clarizen, believes, "Security as a whole is a big issue in a few aspects. One, security at the level of the organization, which is permissioning. You can have challenges in the company itself. Management would like to have documents and discussions and feel secure, so it's very critical that you have the right permissioning in your solution."
He further adds, "There is also the other aspect of people coming in from the outside. When you look at solutions, you need to have the right permissioning that keeps the confidence of the different groups sharing information in a secure way, and you have to have the micro-level security to prevent other people from accessing the data."
The experts I spoke with in this post represent a wide cross-section of the collaboration tools space, but the best practices they cite cover planning and technology practices that SMBs can put in place to make mobile collaboration a competitive advantage and a productivity boost for their employees, partners, and contractors.
What other best practices for mobile collaboration would you recommend to SMBs? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.