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Mobile Apps Help Executives Manage Daily Business

New smartphone apps allow business owners and professionals to work better, faster and cheaper in many cases.

January 24, 2012
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Reid Carr's de facto mode of communicating with his employees is via his mobile phone, an HTC 7 Trophy Windows phone. With the recent explosion of mobile applications, Carr and other executives can manage their teams and handle much of their other daily tasks while on the go.

These smartphone apps allow business owners and professionals to work better, faster and cheaper in many cases. They also enable quick and critical collaboration, which execs say is the key driver for innovation, productivity and growth for their companies.

"With this thing in my pocket, I have everything I need to run the company," says Carr, CEO of San Diego-based Red Door Interactive Inc., a 10-year-old Internet marketing agency whose customers include Rubio's Restaurants Inc., Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, Qualcomm Inc. and Quiksilver Inc.

One application Carr and his 70 employees (who are spread out between two offices in San Diego County and one in Denver, Colorado) use on a daily basis is Windows Live Messenger. Members of the Red Door Interactive team use this instant messaging tool from Microsoft Corp. whether they're in or out of the office.

"When I come in the office in the morning, for example, I'll say where I am: 'Downtown San Diego, extension 101.' That way everyone will know where I'm going to be," Carr says. "If I have to be out of the office in the afternoon, my employees will know they can reach me on my cell phone."

Carr is part of a growing cadre of business executives using mobile applications to conduct real- time business from almost anywhere they want. It's a trend that will only continue to grow with technology advancements and widespread adoption of Android smartphones, iPhones, tablets and iPads. In fact, market research firm Gartner, Inc. forecast that worldwide mobile app store downloads would reach 17.7 billion in 2011, a 117 percent increase from an estimated 8.2 billion downloads in 2010. By the end of 2014, Gartner forecasts more than 185 billion applications will have been downloaded from mobile app stores since the launch of the first one in July 2008.

One obvious drawback to managing workers through mobile devices is the difficulty of typing on phones and tablets compared with traditional desktop or laptop computers. Still, software developers have helped ease the difficulties with tools such as Siri, a new app for the iPhone 4S that allows voice dictation to create and send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. It's an app that executive John VanZandt says he can't live without.

"When I'm driving using my wireless headpiece I can dictate an email and not even have to type anything," says VanZandt, president and CEO of 10-year-old Irvine, California-based software development firm CEO Softcenters Inc. "These types of applications are improving substantially."

On his mobile phone, Reid Carr uses Evernote to create and save voice, photo, and text files. The "notes" also can be shared with computer workstations—laptop or desktop machines. Other mobile tools Carr taps on his phone are: Adobe Reader for accessing PDF files, OpenTable to make restaurant reservations and Kindle to read books when he has time in between meetings. He even uses an application named Stopwatch for keeping track of time during meetings.

"A part of my job at meetings is meeting manager and keeping everything and everyone on time," he says. "If we can finish a meeting on time, and even cut it short by 15 minutes, that's time and money we save."

Meanwhile, Carr checks in with his colleagues and employees via Foursquare, a tool that lets users connect with friends and update their locations. He says these types of social mobile apps are good for employee relationship-building.

"When I get a little update from the latest Facebook post from our employees, I can know a little bit more about them," he says. "For example, if an employee posted on her Facebook status, 'I had a great lunch at such and such,' I see that at a glance and when I call her I can say, 'Oh, I saw you had a good lunch at XYZ restaurant.' It enhances that conversation with your employees."

Social networking applications are also a great way to keep track of what's going on at the company. So says Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism, an online mobile apps store based in New York.

"For example, if my communications manager wants to post some reviews of our apps, he can quickly and easily share that on our company Facebook page, LinkedIn groups and Twitter. I will automatically get an update on that on my phone," Buckingham says.

Like Carr, Buckingham is a big fan of the Evernote mobile app. One notable feature of files saved in Evernote is that co-workers can share and edit them.

"I maintain, at any given time, about 30 different notes from 30 people in different regions. That way I know what's going on in marketing, sales and in the IT department, and I can get direct reports from them in real time," Buckingham says.

Evernote also keeps everyone on Buckingham's staff aware of the most important company projects—and how those change over time. "I can also make sure my employees know my priorities and what I think they should be working on, and they can let me know as they update those tasks," he says. "For example, if something disappears off of our priority list from Evernote, I assume that has been completed. We work straight off of that shared Evernote so everyone is on the same page. It helps avoid any misunderstandings."

Buckingham subscribes to the Evernote Premium application ($50 a year) because it has offline synchronization.

"I travel a lot and don't always have access to a mobile network. The Evernote Premium keeps a local version of all of your notes offline so you don't need networking connectivity. To me that's invaluable," he says. A 20-year mobile communications veteran, Buckingham knows his way around mobile applications. He worked for global mobile telecommunications firm Vodafone Group, which introduced text messaging way back in 1992.

With so many mobile apps available on the market today, Buckingham says it's wise for executives to shop around and choose about six to 10 apps that best suit their business and personal needs. Most mobile applications have a free version, so it's best to start out with that, he advises. Upgrades are usually available.

"If you want to handle different attachment types or show PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets, you need to invest in premium services," Buckingham says. "You just need to design your infrastructure correctly to ensure that you and your employees are as efficient and productive as possible."

Almost all of these services weren't even available a year ago. Now, Buckingham says, there is no reason executives can't be connected on the road. He adds that in this enhanced mobile world, small and medium-sized businesses enjoy a level playing field with the bigger companies.

"The out-of-office email response is obsolete," he says. "Mobile apps allow you to do whatever you need to do and to respond seamlessly when you're on the move."

Andrea Siedsma is a freelance writer based in San Diego. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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