IN FOCUS – Tips from a technophile – How apps can help your business

In case you’ve been away from civilization for a while, here’s a scoop: Mobile apps are a big deal these days. Why? And why replace the excellent browser-based applications of today?

Mobile apps aren’t here to “replace” anything, but rather to offer productivity, convenience and entertainment for a large array of users. According to a recent article in Information Week, 43 percent of cell phone users have apps on their smart phones – and use them regularly. This is big news if you’re in marketing and would like to reach a potential market of a few hundred million people.

But what if you’re the owner of a small business? Or the go-to technology person at a larger firm – the chief technology officer or chief information officer? Or “merely” a smart phone user?

» Apps for small businesses: Small businesses that already have a good website and have already invested in social media – Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging, etc. – may find additional marketing and/or sales value by offering a mobile app. Apps can be developed to communicate with others, check statuses, offer e-commerce services and much more.

» Apps for larger businesses: Larger businesses, or businesses that are highly technology-centric, typically have one or more internal websites that are essentially control panels and dashboards for monitoring critical services. Mobile apps are a natural way to extend this control to virtual resources or simply to resources who don’t want to be tied to a desk.

» Apps for you and me: Generally speaking, the apps that are the most popular and most effective tend to do just one thing well. In other words, they’re simple. The mobile apps I look for are ones that fulfill a basic business need. Here is my current favorite:

» CardMunch: So … you arrive at a Business Connection event hosted by the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and actually connect with four of the people you came to meet. You’ve been professional, direct and well spoken; you’ve followed Diane Roundy’s advice for connecting with new people, in other words. But now what? Will you follow through on that connection and ask for a meeting, or will each of those business cards stay in that blazer pocket until the next event?

Available for free but only available for the iPhone currently (and coming “soon” to Android, according to the company) – is just what you need in this situation. CardMunch allows you to:

1. Take a picture of a business card and “send” that image off for processing. Within a couple of hours, the information is back and you’re notified.

2. Add the resulting information into your Contacts list with the press of a button.

3. With the press of another button, send a quick e-mail. This feature is customizable to suit your needs. My message says simply, “Hi (first name): I enjoyed speaking with you. Let’s keep in touch. Coffee next week?” It also sends a copy of my contact information to my contact.

4. With yet another button press, CardMunch will send out an invitation to connect with your contact via LinkedIn.

Are you interested in learning more about other types of mobile apps? If so, send me a message at edit@insightonbusiness.com and put “technophile” on the subject line.

On the web: www.aligntechsolutions.com.

Jeff Hayes is principal at AlignTech Solutions LLC, a software engineering and consulting firm.