View from the Summit: Small businesses are mobile tech-savvy

The image of the American small business is a mom-and-pop shop where things are done with handshakes and face-to-face. So the Take Your Office With You Using Windows Mobile Technology session at the Microsoft Small Business Summit (in March of 2006) came as something of a surprise.

When it comes to mobile technology, it seems small businesses are ahead of everybody else. In fact, small businesses buy more smart-phones than all other business segments combined, according to presenter Lawrence Kim, a Product Manager with Microsoft. Fifty-two percent of small businesses also say they will implement wireless e-mail in the coming year. Based on the questions submitted during this session, a good portion of those attending the Summit are already familiar with Windows Mobile, whether they own a smart-phone or not.

I have to admit that I am a smart-phone owner, or more precisely I am a Pocket PC owner. My "phone" looks like a PDA but makes phones calls, surfs the net and has pocket versions of Word and Excel. I bought it before a business trip so that I didn't have to keep dragging my laptop out to check assignment status and e-mail, as well as to have a central place for my notes, not to mention a phone. It functions admirably for all those things. It also has a variety of functions that I don't really use. One of the reasons I wanted to attend this session was to learn more about my phone and how to make the most of it.

This session opened the door to a world I had barely glimpsed. The information presented was practical and useful. The glitzy features – being able to play music and videos – were mentioned, but the majority of the session was spent exploring better ways to access and exchange e-mail, how to interface with servers and the variety of add-in software that is already available for Windows Mobile. Some of the add-ins, like the traffic planner and mapping software were really cool, particularly if you spend time on the road. Others were more useful, like add-ins that allow users to collect data using their mobile device and import it into everything from a database to QuickBooks.

Attendees asked so many questions and some of them were so technical that they had to be taken off-line and are still being answered on Kevin Clarke's Left Coast Blog. Questions ran the gamut from how to push hotmail e-mail messages to a mobile device, to the differences between Pocket PC and Windows Mobile. A list of add-on applications and a list of devices is available from If you have, or are considering purchasing a Windows Mobile device, Blackberry, Treo or smartphone, both these sites are worth a stop. I think you will be as surprised as I was by the breadth and variety of information available.

The image of the small business may be old-fashioned. The reality is that we are the early adopters of mobile technology. Best of all, mobile technology allows small business people to spend quality time out of the office without being out of touch. Not to mention how rewarding it is to pull out a bleeding edge mobile device the next time some big business type gives you that "how nice you're a small business person" smile, and watching them drool!

By Jay Hammond

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