The bring your own device trend is creating a "be your own IT manager" mindset among small business owners -- and pushing device makers and carriers to be IT consultants, not just sell hardware and services.
That key theme emerged at the Android Solutions for Business event held at the Toronto Board of Trade on Wednesday and sponsored by Rogers Communications Inc. and Samsung Canada. Though the event focused on various Samsung Android smartphones and tablets targeting the Canadian enterprise market, it also explored how the mobile workforce is disrupting the way small businesses manage their IT. In turn, that's forcing carriers and device makers to change the services they offer to SMBs.
"It's not just about the devices anymore. It's about 'Tell me your needs and let's have a conversation about that.' It's needs-based," said Tisha Rattos, director of small business marketing at Rogers.
Under the old business model, hardware companies made devices, SMBs bought or leased them en masse for all their staff, and then carriers provided SMBs with the telecom services they needed to use them.
Now hardware firms are still making devices, but workers - not the SMBs who employ them - are choosing which ones to use at work. This means SMB owners are being directly confronted with IT conundrums: how to make sure devices of different brands and operating systems can all work together and be managed and secured properly. It's a tough new course to navigate for SMBs that typically don't have the resources to devote specifically to IT management.
"You know at the smaller end (of the SMB spectrum) they won't have a CIO (chief information officer)," said Rattos, whose Rogers unit caters to companies with less than 100 employees.
Since many SMB owners don't have in-house CIOs or even IT managers, they have to manage the new BYOD challenges themselves.
How are they doing that? Many are offloading their BYOD issues to service providers like Rogers. As a result, service providers like Rogers don't just sell mobile devices and carrier packages to SMBs anymore; they increasingly advise them on everything from how to manage and secure multiple BYOD devices to deciding which of the thousands of mobile apps on the market would help them run their businesses better.
How do you make them all work?
"They need help to get through all that complex decision making process," Rattos said. "There's so much (mobile technology) out there. How do you start to make them all work?"
The top queries Rogers fields from small business owners these days are how to keep in touch with their staff remotely in real time, how to make sure their staff's BYOD devices are secure at work, and what type of systems and features are available to wipe or recover employees' mobile devices if they're lost or stolen, Rattos said.
SMBs want the solutions to these fairly complex issues to be super easy, Rattos said.
"Ease of implementation is so huge. It has to be dead simple. Small businesses don't have time to fiddle around."
Rogers, Bell and Telus all have small business divisions specifically targeting Canadian small business customers. (Although Bell and Telus have both launched cloud-based services for business users, so far Rogers hasn't entered that particular space.)
Sensing that SMBs want to regain some control over workplace devices within the wild west BYOD landscape, mobile device makers are also tapping into the demand for mobile device management and security systems. They're either building those features directly into the smartphones, laptops and tablets they make, or partnering with providers who can supply those features as service add-ons.
To add extra security, configuration, application and management capabilities to its line of mobile business devices, Samsung has partnered with companies like Microsoft Corp., Sybase, Soti Inc., MobileIron , AirWatch and Trellia Networks Inc. (acquired last fall by Wyse Technology).
Although Apple Inc.'s iPad tablets sparked the BYOD movement when corporate managers started taking them to the office and on the road for work, Android devices are gaining ground in both the consumer and enterprise markets, said Matthew Ettrick, national B2B sales manager for Samsung Canada and the keynote presenter at Wednesday's event.
Recent studies predict the Android OS will be on 60 per cent of all smartphones by the end of this year and that it will be the top B2B smartphone operating system by 2015, Ettrick said. A key driver of Android's growing popularity is its open platform, he added. Unlike the closed Apple and BlackBerry operating systems, Android's open platform means thousands of apps (many of them free) have been developed and taken to market quickly for users. But there's also a downside, he said.
Open source Android security concerns
"The major concern with Android is security (because) it's an open platform," Ettrick said. "IT managers are really weighing the cost/risk benefit."
Samsung has tried to address those security concerns by making all of its existing mobile business devices FIPS 140-2 certified, the highest rating granted by the U.S. government for encryption and other security features, Ettrick said.
Despite the potential security risks, many SMBs are embracing mobile devices not just because BYOD is an unstoppable force, but also because of the cost benefits. By the end of 2012, 20 per cent of companies say they will decrease the in-house IT assets they own, much of it due to employees providing their own devices for work, Ettrick said.
Looking ahead to future mobile trends, Ettrick said businesses appear to moving away from smartphones and more towards tablets. That's why Samsung introduced its Galaxy Note smartphone/tablet hybrid with a splashy Super Bowl ad campaign in January. The device even comes with an electronic pen to add drawing and handwriting capabilities to the touch interface.
It's appealing to Coreen Holder, a small business owner who attended the event. Her Ajax, Ont. firm Strategic Result provides business planning and IT consulting to companies with one to 50 employees. She has a Samsung Galaxy II smartphone but sold a tablet she bought because "I just wasn't using it enough," she said. Now she's considering buying the Galaxy Note because it rolls the smartphone and tablet functions into one device.
Although she's a one-woman business for now, Holder hopes to hire a full-time administrative staffer and take on two or three associated consultants on an as-needed basis in the next year. BYOD isn't a concern for her yet, but she wants to be ready for it as her business grows. Her focus for now is shifting from using her smartphone solely as a communication device into harnessing it as a mobile office -- precisely the kind of mobile IT advice so many small businesses are seeking today from the likes of Rogers, Samsung and others.
"It's a gradual progression," Holder said. "I don't want the function to be so much just on the gadgets."