Big Boys get the small toys

IT industry research

Companies issue mobile devices like laptop computers and personal digital assistants strictly according to the pecking order in the company, rather than the needs of staff.This was among the key findings of a research study conducted by World Wide Worx as part of its Mobility 2005 project, which is backed by Cell C, First National Bank and Sentech. In the latest leg of the project, entitled The Impact of Mobile Technology on SMEs in South Africa, 1149 small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs) were interviewed from November 2004 to January 2005 on their deployment and usage of mobile technologies. The report, released this week, reveals that SMEs are no different to large corporates in how they dish out mobile devices to staff.

Almost a third of SMEs, 31% of respondents, said they issued laptop computers to senior management, while only 5% issued them to junior management and only 13% to sales and field staff – who would presumably get the most use out of them. Less of a disparity occurs in the issuing of cellular phones – with 43% of senior management benefiting, versus 38% for sales and field staff. But again, junior management is at the bottom of the device chain, with only 11% of SMEs issuing cellular phones at this level.

The only mobile technology for which field staff is given precedence is two-way radio, with 7% of respondents issuing the devices to field staff, and only 2% issuing them to senior management. A small proportion of respondents, 4%, issue personal digital assistants to senior management, but only 2% issue them to sales or field staff.

These findings follow the trends uncovered in The Impact of Mobile Technology on Corporate South Africa, the previous phase of the project, announced during February. In the study of 100 large corporations, it was found that 69% of corporations interviewed issued laptop computers to senior management, 51% to middle management, 41% to sales and field staff, and 11% to junior management.

“This is an indication that business in general does not yet appreciate the full value that mobile technology can bring to their workforce,” says Len Pienaar, CEO of Mobile and Transact Solutions of FNB. “It should not be seen as a reward for position in a company, but rather as a tool for the work that needs to be done.”

The study of SMEs’ mobile habits also revealed that the cellular phone was regarded as the single most important mobile technology among SMEs, with 63% rating it as important. However, this compared with 86% among corporations interviewed during the previous phase of the project. 57% of SMEs rated laptop computers as important, versus 85% among corporations.

The one aspect of mobility in which SMEs seem to outshine corporates is in just how advanced they believe they are in the use of basic mobile technologies like cellular phones and laptops: 49% of SMEs said that their usage of such devices was advanced or very advanced, versus 41% of large corporations interviewed. At the same time, however, 27% of SMEs described their usage as basic or very basic, versus only 10% among corporates. And in cutting edge mobile technologies, such as wireless broadband and Wi-Fi, SMEs were left standing: 88% described their usage as basic or very basic, versus 33% among corporates.

“The study confirms our view that advanced mobile technologies are still at an early stage of adoption and use in South Africa,” says Winston Smith, product manager of wireless broadband provider Sentech. “Once small and medium enterprises begin to understand what it can do for them, we can expect explosive growth in this sector. Already we are having to tailor our offerings to the specific needs of SMEs.”

The study includes scrutiny of preferred providers for each category of mobile technology and the criteria for selecting providers.

As was found among large corporations, price was not the most important criterion. Reliability came out top for SMEs, followed by quality of product or service, while quality was the single most important criterion among corporates, followed closely by lack of downtime and maintenance. Company procurement policy was the least important factor for both large corporations and SMEs.

For further background information, please contact:

Celeste Whitaker, Fizz Marketing, on (011) 467-9332 or by e-mail on Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, by phone on (011) 782-7003 or by e-mail on

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