Communication Revolution: Mobile Technology for Your Business

The cellphone—a novelty 20 years ago—is now standard-issue workplace equipment. Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, an IT management and consulting company, sums it up this way: “Your mobile technology is your connection to your work world when you’re away from the office. It helps you become more productive on the go, which can act as a significant competitive advantage.” Here’s a guide to selecting the best phones and plans for your business.

Factors to consider

First, Landa says, answer these questions: “What do you need to do? Just phone? Just e-mail? Just web browsing? A combination? Social media? Instant messaging? Will the phones be strictly for business or will you allow personal use, too? What support measures will need to be put into place? What security measures?” In addition: Do all employees even need mobile phones? Maybe not, if they spend most of their time in the office filling orders or dealing with customers. Next check out which phones and plans meet your requirements (including budget). A handy site for comparing phones and plans is MyRatePlan.com.

Ways to save

The experts’ consensus: Buy the best phones you can afford. “You don’t want to spend 99 cents on a smartphone because it’s a deal and find that it’s outdated within a few months,” says Todd Haselton, executive director of mobile for TechnoBuffalo.com.

But if your budget demands it, you can cut costs. Start by researching promotions and economical service plans.

You also may want to consider refurbished phones, which can save as much as 25 percent over new phones. Most major cellphone companies have a 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy, and by law, they can’t sell returned phones as new. Or they may have a demo model they’re not using anymore or a broken phone returned by a customer. The seller should clean, test and make necessary repairs to these phones. It is generally recommended to buy refurbished phones from an established dealer such as AT&T or Sprint versus an independent seller.

Another way to trim your spending, at least for hardware, is a BYOD (bring your own device) policy that allows employees to use their own mobile devices to access work email and other business applications. “BYOD is best for companies that want to encourage a culture of freedom of choice among employees,” Landa says. “If your organization requires personal mobile access for maximum productivity, then go for it. But if you’re leading a high-security organization or your company’s industry is highly regulated and requires multiple levels of compliance, a BYOD environment might not be right.” Keep in mind that you’ll need tech resources to support the different devices and platforms.

And Haselton adds the caveat that employees might not use a personal device in the same cautious way they might a work device. “A solution like Samsung’s KNOX [security software preinstalled on select Android devices] can be a great tool since it splits work and personal into two different sections of the phone. If an employee loses a phone, an IT department can remotely wipe the business part.”

Avoid rookie mistakes

Landa says the biggest goof in setting up phones and plans is not creating a policy clearly defining the use of the phones and the data that is allowed on them (and correspondingly, data that isn’t allowed). Haselton advises staying with a single platform because “it makes updating software and providing apps much less of a  headache.”

Top phone picks

When sizing up the best phones for small business, Landa and Haselton praise the Samsung Galaxy S4 ($600*) and the iPhone 5 ($650) for their vast capabilities. Another reason Haselton likes the iPhone 5 is because Apple keeps all of its devices on the latest software for at least two years. Haselton also would consider a Windows phone such as the Nokia Lumia 920 ($450) because it comes with Office 365 for staying in sync across PCs, tablets and more. And he likes the BlackBerry Q10 ($600) for its keyboard but laments its limited apps. If your employees tend to be tough on phones, you might opt for one of the newfangled water- and dust-resistant units such as the Sony Xperia Z.

Best plans

Plans are trickier to choose than phones—the experts hesitate to pick a favorite. Haselton did offer this advice: “Most of us are using our phones for data consumption [like web browsing and streaming video]. Go with an unlimited data plan and keep [talk] minutes to a minimum. Use Skype or other free calling options to keep costs down.” A no-contract plan providing a set number of minutes and data each month may be the way to go, though, if you won’t use your phone all that much or you have seasonal employees you need to equip with phones temporarily.

All major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) as well as regional carriers such as MetroPCS offer plans for small businesses that boast benefits such as waived activation fees and discounts on data and voice services when you activate a certain number of devices. Verizon’s Nationwide Small Business SharePlan, for instance, allows the sharing of minutes across all active lines. Ting for Business offers pay-per-use pricing (you pay for voice, text and data separately) with no overage penalties. U.S. Cellular’s National Plans include a rewards program that earns you points toward perks such as free phones and overage forgiveness. With one of Boost Mobile’s Shrinking Payments plans, for every six months you pay your bill on time, your monthly bill goes down $5. Choose your plan based on the features that are most important to your business.

Data protection

Everything typed or stored in your phone is saved in an unencrypted file, so if you lose your phone, all data—from passwords to personal texts—is at risk. And even if you don’t lose your phone, spies can plant malware that compromises your information. “Connecting to your network remotely, sharing work data and files, etc., can be a security risk on mobile devices,” Landa says, so you must have security measures and policies in place, including making sure employees use a password lock on their phones.

Insurance

“Look at the price of the phone versus the cost of the insurance versus how likely the user is to lose or destroy the phone,” Landa advises. Haselton believes insurance is worthwhile because it’s typically about $10 per month and could save hundreds if you lose or break a device. “If you lose a smartphone during the length of a two-year contract, you could be paying $500 to $600 to replace it,” he says. “And that’s for just one employee’s lost  device.”

*All prices are approximate for a standard model with no signed contract; most contracts offer discounts.

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