SA companies issue mobile devices by seniority

South African 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, FNB and Sentech. In the latest leg of the project, entitled “The impact of mobile technology on SMEs in South Africa”, 1 149 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 per cent of respondents, said they issued laptop computers to senior management, while only five per cent issued them to junior management, and only 13 per cent 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 per cent of senior management benefiting, versus 38 per cent for sales and field staff. But again, junior management is at the bottom of the device chain, with only 11 per cent of SMEs issuing cellular phones at this level.

The only mobile technology for which field staff are given precedence is two-way radio, with seven per cent of respondents issuing the devices to field staff, and only two per cent issuing them to senior management. A small proportion of respondents, four per cent, issue personal digital assistants to senior management, but only two per cent 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, which was announced last month. In the study of 100 large corporations, it was found that 69 per cent of corporations interviewed issued laptop computers to senior management, 51 per cent to middle management, 41 per cent to sales and field staff, and 11 per cent 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 per cent rating it as important. However, this compared with 86 per cent among corporations interviewed during the previous phase of the project. 57 per cent of SMEs rated laptop computers as important, versus 85 per cent among corporations.

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.