Answering a challenge to create a mobile-first apps experience, the Office team in India found something interesting after six months of research that included more than 50 focus groups and 150 personal interviews.
They discovered a need for apps that would help small businesses and individuals who rely solely on phones – not just mobile-first, but mobile-only.
With that information, the team created a mobile-only suite of free Android apps – Sprightly, Connections and Kaizala – that can help people manage their lives and businesses better.
“Thinking mobile-only is new ground for a company of our size,” Arun Rajappa, group product manager, says of the apps, which are being released through the Microsoft Garage. The Garage is the outlet for Microsoft teams around the world to get experimental apps and projects out to the public.
The team found three needs for mobile-only small business owners: creating content on the fly, managing contacts in a business context (such as a phone-based customer relationship management, or CRM, system) and a shared space for small teams to collaborate in a secure mobile environment.
These needs must be met within the reality of mobile-only constraints such as low bandwidth, battery life preservation, limited data plans and lower end devices. These kinds of challenges are much more common outside the U.S., and this team took a global perspective in developing mobile-only apps. Other regions around the world don’t have the same experience of mobile found in the U.S., where it’s virtually unheard of to operate a business on a low end phone thanks to tablets, smartphones and devices like the Square, which have revolutionized small business.
In other countries, especially developing ones, the cellphone is the must-have technology.
“These users’ smartphones are essentially the lifeline of his or her business,” says Rajiv Kumar, general manager of Office. “He or she is also aware of online platforms to promote his business and is looking for mobile-based tools that can help manage work-related activities better.”
For those whose phones are their only computer, the Sprightly app can help quickly create digital content for their business and personal needs.
For example, small and medium-size businesses that need to quickly organize product images and share them with customers can use the free app to make fliers, catalogs, price lists and e-card reminders – all on their phones.
Sprightly makes it easy to create professional-looking content on a mobile device, share it on WhatsApp and Facebook, and re-use already-existing content, such as photographs. Users can also choose from templates, with more coming.
“I no longer have to hire a designer to make my marketing collaterals for me,” says Zenab, a boutique owner. “I can create content that looks good and can be easily shared with my customers.”
Another of the mobile-only apps is Connections, which retailers and suppliers can use to manage customer information, quickly taking notes and setting reminders for contacts during and after calls. It can also be helpful as a sales tool for both B2B and B2C businesses.
It’s essential for businesses to build strong relationships with customers, and accurate notes help facilitate that and tailor services to their needs. You can also add pictures from your phone gallery so you can have visual notes and reminders. And you can use the app to set reminders for each contact so you know who to follow up with. Categorize your contacts with tags for easy search and to broadcast a SMS message to groups of contacts. Store SMS templates to quickly send important business and personal details to your contacts.
Early accolades for the Connections app are coming in from customers.
“I get more than 20-30 customer calls in a day, and sometimes it gets difficult to remember all of their requirements,” says Sailaja Cheru, who runs a homemade chocolates business. “Using Connections, I can keep notes of their requirements and refer to them.”
With Kaizala, you can track bills, jobs and much more. Bring all your communication – within your team, as well as with external partners and customers – to one place, through chat. Talk to your team or individuals privately or start a new conversation for each project or team. Keep track of team members with one-tap location shares that include photos, manage bills on the move, and assign and track jobs, as well as their status.
“I can get a head count of my team attending an event in advance and make arrangements accordingly,” says Narayana of Good Seeds organic products.
“Effective collaboration is key to running a successful business. We observed that conversations form the backbone of a business setting and often lead to actionable tasks,” says Prashant Gupta, a program manager within Office. “Currently in the unorganized small businesses space, there are hardly any tools that allow users to add structure and improve the overall efficiency of their business. The important areas which could be streamlined through technology include order procurement, operational efficiency, accounting and HR/payroll related requirements.”
All three apps could come in handy for any number of small businesses, such as boutique stores, restaurants, food trucks, home-based shops, furniture makers and insurance agents.
“A large number of business-related transactions currently happen through the mobile phone. As the number of these transactions increase, it increases the actionable data associated with them,” Kumar says. “We felt technology could help off-load some of these things off the mind of the business owner and help him or her in day to day activities.”
Microsoft News Center Staff