On the Move

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While mobile technology is becoming more widely adopted, businesses can take more virtual approaches to managing staff and operations

Story by Lee Reinsch

Some of us remember the days when you weren’t really at work unless the boss could see that you were cemented to your office chair.

And even though technology forged ahead, being physically at the office became even more important, because that’s where all the information was: On the mainframe.

Remember the mainframe?

Back then, you even had to go to the office to listen to your voicemail. Eventually the BlackBerry arrived and workers felt their leashes extending a smidge, as smartphones let them check email from the drive-thru.

“Mobility became a big topic when smartphones became very prevalent –that was just opening the door to the market,” said Kevin Wirth, director of mobile platforms and development for Skyline Technologies, Inc. in Green Bay and Appleton. “Now (mobile technology) covers the gamut of so many different devices and needs.”

Now we don’t even have to be in the same hemisphere as our colleagues. We can tell our TVs and furnaces to turn on from across the country and attend conferences in our living rooms.

We can do so much from outside our offices, maybe there’s reason to believe that someday, being caught at work will be grounds for suspicion.

Not The SCOOTER Store

The word “mobility” used to refer to one’s degree of getting around and was often used in conjunction with wheelchairs.

These days, being mobile can mean lots of things:

  • Employees working from virtual offices;
  • Cloud computing;
  • Brick-and-mortar businesses enhancing their capabilities with smartphones and apps;
  • Touching up a project while you’re at your kid’s soccer game.

“Being able to check into corporate systems (while off site) would be of value to anyone,” said Jakob Iversen, associate professor of information systems at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Business Administration. “Making an intranet site available in a mobile format makes it that much more valuable.”

One example Iversen gave was of an insurance agent having mobile access to claims filed in an area after a big storm, or being able to submit new claims right from the field.

Executives might check their intranet before the workday begins to see how other branches are performing in order to pinpoint where their priorities should go that day, Iversen said.

Even a small housecleaning service might benefit from letting employees use smartphones to hop on the calendar throughout the day to handle scheduling issues as they arise.

Mobile technology opens up an entirely new range of functions for a business operation. Cleaning staff could use the camera on their phone to take a quick photo of a part of the building previously damaged to document they didn’t damage it.

“If the homeowner is out, they could email and say ‘We need more supplies’ or ‘Here is something we couldn’t get clean,’” Iversen said.

Or they could process a credit card payment on their device.

“They could take calls and emails from potential clients when out and about rather than waiting till they come back home,” Iversen said. “They could do a quote for a cleaning on the spot.”

A nebulous concept?

“The term ‘cloud computing’ is a trendy term for storing stuff in the cloud,” like with Google Docs and Google Drive, noted Amanda Betts, marketing director for Stellar Blue Web Design in Neenah. Her firm presents a variety of seminars on topics such as cloud computing and mobile business technologies.

If you’ve ever stored anything in one of those free email accounts, you’ve more or less cloud computed.

If you’re familiar with Google Drive (formerly Google Documents), then you probably get the gist of some of the other basic cloud tools out there. Google Drive is sort of like pack-ratting your stuff in your Gmail account, except it offers the ability to create documents, spreadsheets, charts, forms, drawings, presentations, etc., and it can allow other people to access and edit. So several people can work on a project and store it in cyberspace, rather than emailing it back and forth five zillion times every time they make a change.

The cloud can replace the hard drive as a storage spot for your stuff. Instead of storing it on your computer, you upload it into the ether.

“What the cloud does is allow us to be more mobile – so if we are uploading and storing our things in the cloud, it allows us to retrieve from any Internet-enabled device – desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone – as long as you have the ability to connect with the Internet.”

Betts suggested a few ways to work from the cloud, both free and subscription-based.

Dropbox allows users to create folders for public or private use or to share entire files or documents within the file, she said. Nothing is stored on local hard drives.

“The fluidity and intuitiveness for their iPad app is fantastic,” Betts said of Dropbox.

Evernote is another tool that enables cloud storage and retrieval.

With Evernote, you can store research from various sites all in one place, share notes with colleagues, as well as have all your notes, files and images available and in sync on all your devices and computers. Each of these capabilities benefits a busy business professional on the go.

“We are seeing more apps developed for the business individual that make your business environment that much more fluid no matter where you are or what (platform) you are working with,” Betts said.

WebEx allows online meetings, presentations and training sessions, as does GoToMeeting.

Remote-access apps allow users to be on the road and access their desktop computer at home or work. A few tools Betts likes include GoToMyPC and PocketCloud.

“These tools are ideal for anyone who doesn’t work in the same space all day long, ideal for industries with traveling salespeople, virtual offices, or a lot of networking,” Betts said, adding that she works with many real estate agents who are always on the go.

Betts uses her smartphone as a sales tool. While paying a visit to a client, she can scroll through the various websites Stellar Blue has designed to illustrate the company’s repertoire.

Getting paid

Betts uses GoPayment, which allows a merchant to use their smart phone to take a credit card payment.

“You plug your device into the audio jack, log on to your merchant account, swipe the person’s card, and you can send receipts and process information on the fly,” Betts said.

She said products like GoPayment and another called Square would work for any business with clients seeing them outside regular business hours or outside the regular retail setting.

“Processing fees are relatively low, so from a financial perspective, there are all sorts of opportunities growing, whether you are a one-person business or a large logistics company, you can sign contracts right on the spot,” she said.

Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.