Ditching the office for good

Greg Gordon

When contractor Philip du Plessis fell into the swimming pool at a client’s house recently and damaged his iPhone, it wasn’t business as usual.

Phillip du Plessis has made his iPad a vital part of his business

His phone had become so crucial to his ability work that it suffered significantly until he was able to get the phone repaired.

Since re-purposing his company around mobile technology a few years ago, du Plessis literally carries his office with him wherever he goes in the form of his phone and tablet.

For many people, mobile has become the mother of business reinvention, introducing new ways to hammer down costs, raise productivity and work from wherever they happen to be.

Du Plessis, owner of a paint contracting company in Somerset West, says the advent of smartphones and tablets, together with reasonable mobile data speeds and sophisticated cloud services, meant he could redraw his business model and modus operandi, paving the way to better revenues and big time savings on admin.

“I have always spent much of the day driving to clients, checking on jobs and doing quotes,” says du Plessis.

“A laptop computer is too big to lug around so in the old days I had to laboriously write job specs down on site, cart them back to the office, check prices and draw up quotes on the PC before printing them out and faxing them to the client.

“When tablets came out, I finally had a tech solution to this problem because I was able to work more efficiently while on the move. With cloud services and 4G data speeds, I can now perform most business functions on the spot using my iPad and my iPhone.”

Weighing the benefits

While there’s much debate about the pros and cons of offices and face-to-face collaboration between colleagues, this only applies to larger firms with teams of people. Many entrepreneurs work alone or independently and mobile tech lets them take work tools – as good as you find in any office – with them on the road.

Du Plessis says: “Using my tablet and my phone, I can shoot pictures of the building that needs to be painted, draw up a quote using cloud-based software and deliver everything to the client by email. And I can do all this in a few minutes back in the car, getting everything wrapped up before I move on to my next appointment.”

Legions of entrepreneurs and small business owners use their smartphones for voice calls and basic messaging, but a growing number are starting to employ high-speed data connections and cloud software that runs on these devices to incorporate more of their admin duties such as quoting, ordering and invoicing.

Banks are also using smartphones as the platform for their new mobile payment services that completes the entire mobile transactional loop for small businesses.

“These days I can get more done faster because I’m not hamstrung by my location,” says du Plessis. “Mobile tools are convenient for me and for my clients because they not only speed up quoting, but the entire cycle of business.”

He says people still find it a bit of a novelty that someone in a traditionally low-tech business carries and uses the latest mobile tools at meetings and work sites in this way, but that the extra efficiencies are appreciated.

Just as cellphones turned heads when they were introduced two decades ago, but are now mainstream, he predicts that soon most clients will expect the kind of instant service from contractors that mobile and cloud services have made possible.

Mobile device manufacturers already have sub-$100 smartphones available for developing economies – and prices are dropping still further without compromising meaningfully on capability.

It’s likely that you will only be able to buy smartphones of varying degrees of sophistication soon, rather than the old basic so-called “feature” phones.

While not everyone will reinvent and streamline their businesses, as Du Plessis was able to do, mobile devices are starting to provide the kinds of tools and services that can make any enterprise more efficient and productive from the get-go.

Unless, of course, they are required to do so from the bottom of a swimming pool.

This article is part of a series sponsored by MTN Business. While the theme for the series has been agreed to by MTN Business, the articles have been independently sourced by the M&G’s supplement’s editorial team and MTN Business has not seen this article prior to publication. The other articles in the series can be found here.

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