Remote working is a trend; popular because it cuts office costs and improves productivity although perhaps a little daunting for the uninitiated.
I know first-hand how hard it is to recreate the level of IT support found in a big enterprise with nothing more than PC World’s finest. Even though I like to think that working in technology elevates me above the average IT user, I have to admit that cobbling together a remote working system would stretch my talents.
BT’s recent research into people management and IT recognised the difficulties SMEs face when trying to set up and run remote working. The channel, we think, should be focusing on the technology that enables remote working.
It is important to stress that the key to making remote working possible for a business is to keep it simple.
If it proves difficult for someone with a technical background to build a remote-working system from scratch, I dread to think what SME owners in non-tech industries make of it all.
There are plenty of new remote working technologies ripe for channel adoption: cloud computing, for example, which has attracted interest from a number of big players – Google, Amazon, and tech giant Dell, who saw fit to patent the domain name “cloudcomputing.com”.
However, whether it’s cloud computing, portable storage devices or encryption for off-site workers, one rule applies: the technology needs to be easy to use.
This principle of simplicity needs to be applied to remote working technology. When workers are outside the typical office IT support network, their need for intuitive, usable IT becomes paramount.
Think of it as the iPod rule: the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player on the market, but it mastered the usability equation and this fed into its customer appeal.
Remote working has a growing number of advocates. IBM, AT&T and American Express have all used remote workers to great success and SMEs are following their lead.
There is also the cost-saving aspect: by taking employees out of the office, businesses can cut down on space and IT requirements, saving on rent and electricity.
In the UK the government is considering extending the remote working rights of parents from those with children under six to all parents with under-16s – a real chunk of the workforce.
With grass-roots demand from employees combined with legal requirements, it’s clear remote working is more than a fad. It would be a shame, therefore, to miss this channel opportunity by overestimating how tricky remote working is to set up and run.
The next question is why do people overestimate the complexity of remote working? To an extent I think some vendors find it hard to avoid the pharmaceutical model of marketing – market the illness and the cure sells itself.
The recent and steady stream of lost data stories in the press (missing memory sticks, laptops left on trains) is enough in itself to put some employers off remote working, who reasonably assume that everyone is liable to forgetting a memory stick.
Exaggerating the risks of remote working to sell more technology to customers merely adds to negative perceptions and can come across as patronising.
Instead, vendors and resellers need to head off these concerns by emphasising what we believe is tried-and-tested, easy-to-use technology that protects customers from human error.
It’s actually very easy to secure portable data even when it’s been left on a train: credit cards and mobile phones already do so and it’s so integral to both products that I suspect most users don’t give it a second thought.
The technology in both is SIM or smartcard based. This system is trusted – for the most part -- to protect mobile phone data and bank balances.
Resellers can capitalise on the familiarity of SIM cards and their daily functions to then promote their use in remote working technologies.
Customers will build up their trust of the technology by building a relationship with the brand and by drawing parallels with existing products like mobile phones and bank cards.
Resellers and vendors alike should resist the urge to market technology through fear. Don’t risk eroding your own business model by scaring away customers.
If, however, you can prove that you’ll be making someone’s life easier, you’re guaranteed an audience.
Look beyond the concept of ‘plug and play’, too, to cost savings, financial and even psychological benefits. Best of all, look at timing.
SMEs all over the country are starting to investigate remote working options and if a reseller can provide timely, simple and instantly deployable solutions to customers who are just about to take the plunge, they will be welcomed.
If the salesman in PC World had been able to offer me a remote working solution in a shiny little box, I would have shaken his sweaty paw and invited him round for tea.
Adrian Burholt is chief executive officer at The Key Revolution
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