Report Card: 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

Before developing our 2013 predictions, we wanted to assess how we did on our 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions. Here’s our take–please let us know what grades you would have given us!

And stay tuned for our Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013, which we will post in a couple of weeks!

Note: On this grading scale, 5 means that we came closest to hitting the mark, and 1 means we missed it entirely.

Prediction Score  Comments
1.     Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets 4 Year-over-year data from our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies indicated that more small and medium businesses (SMBs)* were forecasting flat or decreased IT spending heading into 2012 compared to 2011. Given SMB budget constraints and the plethora of solutions aimed at SMBs, vendors had to work harder to convince budget-constrained SMBs that their solutions would really help address top SMB business challenges to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. More SMBs turned to lower-risk, pay-as-you-go cloud options, and several vendors (IBM, Dell and HP, to name a few) introduced new and/or enhanced financing options to help SMBs overcome financial hurdles.
2.     The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground  5 We identified a distinct category of SMBs that we termed “Progressive SMBs,” who see technology as integral to achieving business goals and to gaining a competitive edge. Progressive SMBs invest more and purchase more sophisticated solutions than their counterparts. Trending analysis from our 2011 to 2012 Routes to Market Studies show that the percentage of SMBs in the Progressive category is growing. Furthermore, Progressive SMBs continue to gain ground over SMBs that skimp on technology in terms of expected business performance.
3.     The SMB Social Media Divide Grows  5 SMB adoption of social media did indeed jump, from 44% to 53% among small businesses (and from 52% to 63% among medium businesses from 2011 to 2012, based on trending analysis in our SMB Social Business Studies. The divide between social media haves and have-nots is also growing: our research reveals that 65% of SMBs that use social business tools anticipate revenue gains, while only 17% of “non-social” SMBs expect revenues to increase.
4.     Cloud Becomes the New Normal 4 SMBs haven’t swapped out all of their on-premises solutions in favor of the cloud–but the puck is clearly moving to the cloud in all application areas. The evolution is continuing at a steady pace, as evidenced by trending analysis in our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies. In some areas, cloud is poised to overtake on-premises solutions. For instance, over 30% of SMBs that purchased or upgraded collaboration, marketing automation, BI and data backup in the past 24 months chose cloud, and over 40% of SMBs planning to purchase solutions in those areas in the next month plan cloud deployments. 
5.     Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications 5 SMBs significantly ramped up mobile business application use and plans in 2012, as evidenced by trending analysis from our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies. More SMBs are providing mobile business apps to employees in categories ranging from CRM to time management to expense reporting.  In addition, adoption of external-facing (for customers, partners and suppliers) mobile apps and websites also rose considerably.  For instance, SMB use of a mobile-friendly website is up 10% among small businesses and 23% among medium businesses.
6.     Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate  3 The avalanche of data generated by cloud, social and mobile has certainly created the need for better analytics. However, year-over year trending data from our SMB Routes to Market Studies reveals a mixed bag in terms of adoption. Use of BI solutions among medium businesses spiked 24% in the past year, but adoption rose just 2% among small businesses. While vendors appear to be doing a good job of developing and marketing BI solutions tailored to the needs of medium businesses, they have not yet figured out the right formula for smaller ones.
7.     Managed Services Meet Mobile 5 We forecast that the explosion of mobile devices and apps, “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon and the increasing concerns about security would spark increased demand for and more solutions to manage mobile on the back-end. Our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies show that SMB adoption of mobile management services—from simple device management to comprehensive mobile management platforms—has accelerated rapidly. For instance, 16% of SMBs have already deployed an outsourced mobile management platform, and 30% plan to do so within a year.
8.     The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions 5 Small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies. We hypothesized that the 2008 recession and subsequent layoffs generated a new and often “accidental” breed of entrepreneurs that would spike demand for—and growth of—applications targeted to meet the needs of these businesses. And they have. New and improved cloud-based and mobile apps from traditional small business powerhouses (Sage, Intuit, Microsoft, Google, etc.), SOHO pioneers (Freshbooks, Nimble, Dropbox, Zoho, etc.), and freelance talent sourcing solutions from companies such as Elance and oDesk are making it easier than ever for SOHOs to get their work done.
9.     Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites 4 Trending from our Routes to Market Study Medium businesses shows that overall, use and plans to deploy collaboration solutions is up year-over-year. Low-cost, low-risk, cloud-based collaboration and communications services have made it easier for SMBs to use integrated collaboration tools, while eliminating the inconvenience of using multiple sign-ons and interfaces.The fact that vendors are integrating more into their offerings—such as  Google integrating Google+ hangouts, IBM SmartCloud Engage adding social communities and Citrix adding video capabilities to GoToMeeting—doesn’t hurt either.
10.   The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift. 5 Cloud, social and mobile trends continue to reshape how channel partners must deliver value across the board. SMBs are increasingly choosing to purchase directly from software and cloud vendors in most areas. And Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have gained ground as a purchase channel over VARs in several solution areas, including security, BI and collaboration. The need for more specialized business and/or technology expertise has also made some types of channel players more relevant in each specific solution category than others.

*In SMB Group Syndicated Survey studies, we define small businesses as those with 1-99 employees, and medium businesses as having 100-999 employees.

For more information on our most recent SMB Mobile, Social Business and Routes to Market Studies, please visit our website, www.smb-gr.com, or contact Sanjeev Aggarwal, Sanjeev.aggarwal@smb-gr.com, 508-410-3562.

 

Dell Cloud Client Manager–A Wyse Move For Mobile Management

Earlier this year, Dell acquired Wyse, arguably the pioneer in thin-client computing. Together, Dell and Wyse have wasted little time in putting Wyse expertise to work to launch Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager (CCM), which is designed to help companies address the increasingly vexing problem of managing mobile devices and applications.

Dell is delivering CCM as a cloud-based, self-service offering that gives businesses a centralized mobile management platform from which they can:

  • Manage thin client and mobile devices. Supported devices include Apple iOS, Android, and Dell Wyse thin clients, whether they’re using 3G, 4G or wi-fi networks.
  • Provide users with secure remote access to content on servers, laptops and desktops. Using Wyse Pocket Cloud technology, mobile users to remotely and securely access and manage content stored on home or office computers.
  • Set rules and policies to automate provisioning. CCM enables IT to create rules and permissions to streamline provisioning, and ensure that appropriate policies are applied to devices and users.
  • Real-time monitoring, analytics and reporting. The solution provides real-time feedback on users’ mobile activities, and the ability to send alerts in case of user non-compliance.

Since CCM is a cloud service, you don’t need to install any additional hardware or software, and can be up and running with CCM in less than an hour. As critical, CCM works regardless of your company’s mobile procurement and provisioning policy. Whether your business provides and manages all employee mobile devices, supports a BYOD program, has an employee self-service model, or some combination of these, CCM enables you to centrally manage how employees access corporate data and apps from their mobile devices, and create containers to separate corporate and personal apps.

The price is right for cash-strapped SMBs: Dell offers a free Starter Tier for smaller companies, which has all CCM capabilities except for group-based management. The Pro Tier comes with granular group management capabilities, and pricing starts at $5.50 per month for one user and up to three devices.

Mobile Management is a Top SMB Challenge

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the growth trajectory for mobile solutions is soaring. So it’s not surprising that SMBs are going mobile: SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Mobile Solution shows that 83% of small businesses (1-99 employees) and 76% of medium businesses (100-999 employees) already use mobile solutions in their businesses.

Much of this growth has been driven by consumer demand for new and better devices and apps. As we use mobile more in our personal lives, our expectations for applying mobile solutions in our business lives also rises. But this rapid escalation of mobile use combined with a dizzying proliferation of devices and apps has led to a management dilemma.

As they go mobile, SMBs are taking different approaches in terms of how they provide mobile devices to their employees (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How SMBs Provide Mobile Devices to Employees

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

The velocity of mobile adoption and the convergence of mobile device use for personal and business needs has led to a rash of security and management issues for IT, who must manage a mushrooming and increasingly hybrid mobile environment which extends beyond devices to apps and services (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top SMB Security-Related Challenges In Using Mobile Solutions

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

The result is that many SMBs have yet to address the mobile management challenge (Figure 3).

Figure 3: SMB Use of/Plans for Mobile Management Solutions

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

Dell’s Answer to Managing the Bright and Shiny Mobile Challenge

The mobile management challenge will only intensify, especially given the industry’s proclivity to churn out bright and shiny new devices and apps–and users’ desire to get their hands on them. Dell CCM gives companies a secure, affordable and accessible way to manage through this inevitable churn, regardless of mobile policies, virtualization technologies or device choices.  CCM offers both device and app management, and supports Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and other virtualization environments.

CCM also offers management tools to automate and streamline management and offload routine chores. IT can create role-based rules and permissions for users or user groups, which allow or prohibit the use of specific apps. Once a user’s permissions are set up, the user can register devices on their won via the self-service portal. New devices automatically inherit the appropriate policies, configurations, and apps of the user. Employees also can use the portal to reset system passwords, and, if a device goes missing, lock or wipe corporate data. The platform delivers analytics and reporting, including audit trails to help IT monitor user compliance.

CCM provides added through virtual desktop capabilities in Wyse PocketCloud Remote Desktop (a new web-based version is in beta now), which lets users securely access and manage content stored on home or office computers from their mobile devices.

Perspective

CCM doesn’t have everything in it yet, and it competes with many other MDM and mobile management platforms, including other DIY services and fully managed services. But Dell’s approach is solid, and it has removed pricing as a barrier to entry for budget-conscious SMBs with its free version.

Over time, Dell intends to evolve CCM into a one-stop shop for device-agnostic, all-inclusive management of whatever combination of mobile and traditional devices companies choose to use. If it stays true to putting flexibility, ease of use and affordability at the top of the priority list, CCM will provide a very good answer for the mobile management challenges that SMBs face.

Furthermore, CCM represents another step forward for Dell’s vision to transform from a product-centric to a solutions centric company. Although achieving the vision is still a work in progress, Dell’s Wsye acquisition (as with Boomi) demonstrates Dell’s ability to assemble the right building blocks and expand its footprint in cloud computing and remote services.

Got Apps? GetApp Introduces CloudWork to Integrate Them

Last week, I spoke with Christophe Primault, CEO of GetApp, about GetApp’s new CloudWork platform, which provides a growing catalog of pre-built connectors to integrate cloud-based business and social media apps. Listen to the podcast or read the summary below.      

 

Laurie: Good morning, Christophe. Could you start by describing what GetApp is and what it does?

Christophe: Okay. GetApp helps small businesses be successful with cloud business applications. We started a couple of years ago by building a marketplace where small businesses can discover business applications that are suited for their needs.

Laurie:  Great. I know you got started around 2010, a couple of years ago. About how many apps are available in the app marketplace now?

Christophe: Today we have close to 5000 different applications available, and they are split in about 300 different business categories.

Laurie:  Now, I know that GetApp is a little different type of marketplace than say Google Apps marketplace or Salesforce AppExchange. Can you just describe a little bit about what makes it different?

Christophe: Sure. So what we are trying to do is be independent and inclusive and let small businesses see everything that is available in the market. We are not tied to any particular vendor or systems. We access apps that are integrated with Google Apps or Salesforce or any application, but by coming to GetApp you will be able to see all the applications in each category that can be of interest to you.

Laurie: Okay. So kind of like the Switzerland of small business app marketplaces?

Christophe: Yes. Exactly. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for small businesses looking for business applications.

Laurie: And about how many visitors do you have coming to GetApp these days?

Christophe: This has been ramping up month after month, and today we have close to 150,000 visitors coming to the marketplace every month. Overall 95% of these are small and medium businesses (SMBs).

Laurie: Great. And how do you define an SMB? What size company?

Christophe: We are mostly targeting the low-end of SMBs. It’s companies with between 0 to 100 employees, but we do have also larger companies that are coming to GetApp to find applications for their own departments.

Laurie: I understand that you have a new offering from GetApp called CloudWork. Can you tell us what it is?

Christophe: Absolutely. CloudWork is a new solution that we launched one month ago, and it is a continuation of GetApp. While GetApp is the first step for small businesses looking for business applications to discover what they need, CloudWork really comes in when you start using more than one application in your organization. Let’s say you are using four or five, and you have developed silos of data in each of your applications and you realize that these apps don’t talk to each other. You want to integrate these applications together to increase productivity, so this is what CloudWork is doing. It’s an easy to use platform and you don’t need any technical knowledge to get apps to talk to each other.

Laurie:  Okay. Yes, I think most of us that are small businesses, we can relate to that. We start by using one application to fit a certain need, and then as we need another we add another. Before you know it we have a few different cloud apps, but they don’t necessarily talk to each other. So we’re trying to manually coordinate what’s going on. What was the genesis for deciding that you needed to do this?

Christophe: Yes, that clearly came from our users. We found applications on GetApp or anywhere else, and now we run integral applications, but they don’t talk to each other so we developed processes attached that are repetitive, that are not bringing a lot of value to the organization that could be automated. So, we decided, maybe this is something interesting to do. And then we asked ourselves, as an SMB using over 20 different cloud apps, is it a problem we have?  How could we address this problem and how much value will it bring to us? We realized that we could save a lot of time and be much more productive in doing more value-added tasks in the organization if we had the ability to automate many of the internal processes and tasks. This is how we decided to build the CloudWork platform to do that.

Laurie: So, how would it work for me? Can you walk me through it? Once I go on the CloudWork site, what would I need to do? How much work would it take on my part?

Christophe: I am going to take a very precise use case to tell you how you can use CloudWork. For example, cloud-based CRM is one of the most common applications for an SMB. So, assuming you are using let’s say Zoho CRM, you will come to CloudWork, you will sign up for an account and you will authorize CloudWork to talk to Zoho. You will do that with just a couple of clicks, and then we will show you a list of applications that can integrate with Zoho with the objective of capturing your client’s profile in Zoho all the customers, all the interactions your company had with your customer.

So let’s take an example. You start with Zoho CRM and then you decide that any e-mail that comes in via Gmail to your organization should be logged under your customer profile on Zoho CRM. So you integrate Zoho with Gmail. If you want to see which invoices and payment status of invoices, then you will integrate with Freshbooks. If you want to see when your client has received an e-mail campaign then you will integrate Zoho with MailChimp. If you want to have all your data in Zoho to be backed up on an online storage platform, then you will integrate with Dropbox, and so on.

So, in this specific case,  in just a few clicks you are adding different applications and building a unified view of all your company’s interactions, which of the apps you are using in your company under your customer profile in Zoho. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to set up. No code is needed. You don’t need to have any particular knowledge, and with just a few clicks you can set up your account and then the tasks run in the background.

Laurie: So, at the end of the day you’re saving a lot of time because you don’t have to be manually trying to connect these things. And you’re gaining productivity and cutting down on manual kinds of errors so your information is more accurate.

Christophe: Yes, you’ve covered what are the main objectives of CloudWork. Increasing productivity of your sales people or your customer support people, avoiding making errors when you’re cutting, pasting, or exporting files from one application to another, making sure also that you always back up data outside each of the applications that you’re using. So productivity, saving time, more security are the main benefits of CloudWork.

Laurie: If someone wants to try CloudWork, how can they try it? Is there a free trial?

Christophe: Yes, absolutely. It’s very easy. You go wwwcloudwork.com. You get started. There is a free trial. In fact, the product is currently free for all to use. There will always be a free version of the product. Most companies they will be able to use CloudWork for free. For very heavy users that will be automating a lot of tasks during the month it will be a paid version, but today it is free. We integrate with 15 very popular applications, and we are adding new different applications every week.

Laurie:  So with GetApp, you addressed that discovery challenge, how do I find applications that I might need to run my business. I know people will also find there is a lot of guidance in terms of reviews, and evaluations, and discussions that small businesses can look at to get information about the apps as well as just getting the apps. So, you’ve addressed that discovery, with CloudWork you’re addressing a lot of the integration issues, what’s next? What’s the longer term vision for GetApp and CloudWork?

Christophe: You’re absolutely right. We are not going to stop there. Our plan is to be what we call a cloud operation center for small businesses. Really the idea is you start with GetApp where you discover applications. You also get a lot of education material on how to get started with cloud applications, what are the pros and cons, which ones you should keep for your business, and then as you start to be a heavier user of applications you will have integration needs. This is one of the first services we offer in CloudWork, but in the future you will be able to access different applications with a single password as an example, or you will be able to have a better view of who is using which kind of application in your organization. So, basically we are going to add additional services to CloudWork so it becomes a single place in your organization where you can manage all your cloud services.

Laurie: That sounds fantastic. For small businesses, if you have not been to the GetApp.com site, I would advise you to check it out because there are a lot of great applications and advice on there. Thank you so much for your time today, Christophe, and for talking to me and sharing this information with us.

Christophe: Thanks a lot Laurie. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and sharing with your listeners the benefits they can get out of GetApp and CloudWork. Thanks a lot.

Can HP Turn Infrastructure Solutions Into an SMB Mobility Play?

The mobile explosion is causing a major disruption in businesses—and holds the promise of helping SMBs boost employee productivity and customer engagement. SMBs are rapidly picking up on that promise: SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study shows that 80% of small and medium businesses (1 to 999 employees) already use mobile devices and services to support business operations.

Our study also reveals SMBs are rapidly moving beyond basic mobile collaboration solutions (such as email, contacts and calendars) to deploy more business applications. For instance, they’re equipping employees with mobile apps such as CRM, time management, expense management and analytics, and providing mobile purchasing, payments, and scheduling apps for their customers.

HP Infrastructure Solutions for a Mobile World

With adoption of new applications poised to double over the next year, SMBs will also be faced with new infrastructure and management challenges. Recently, HP announced new virtualization and infrastructure solutions that it is positioning as a solution to help SMBs prepare for and meet some the challenges that mobility brings to the forefront, including:

  • HP StoreEasy NAS Appliances. This is a file consolidation play designed to simplify data management, including the  chore of managing the additional data that new mobile applications will generate. HP is positioning StoreEasy as an alternative to continually adding and individually managing new file servers, and a way to improve security, availability, and responsiveness. StoreEasy can be deployed with Windows tools that many SMBs are familiar with, eliminating the need to learn a new storage system.  SMB 3.0 provides native file de-duplication conducted at the block level to save space; and secure data encryption to protect application data as it is moved across networks.  Pricing starts $5,192 for 8 terabytes.
  • HP StoreVirtual Storage, a virtualized storage environment designed to help larger medium businesses (99 – 1000 users) provision solutions that are re-engineered for mobile access in a virtualized environment. Companies can use StoreVirtual storage to test, deploy, upgrade, and add apps and storage without reconfiguring systems; and to migrate data between virtual and physical locations without taking systems down. Built with HP’s LeftHand operating system and HP ProLiant servers, StoreVirtual Storage supports heterogeneous client and server virtualization solutions. Pricing starts at $11,500.
  • Citrix VDI-in-a-Box with Personal vDisk and HP ProLiant Gen8 Servers is intended to give mobile VDI users more flexibility and efficiency.  HP claims the solution reduces image and storage requirements and adds 50% more users per server than prior HP VDI offerings.
  • HP M220 Access Points, to help deploy and manage a wireless network more easily and reliably. The solution enables SMBs to configure up to 10 access points via an Easy Setup Wizard (with a choice of 5 common configuration set-ups). The SMB or partner can manage all access points via a Web interface. Pricing starts at $389 per access point.

HP simultaneously announced some enhancements to its “Even Better Than Zero” financing program for SMBs, including a new 90-day payment deferral option.

Perspective

There’s no question that as mobile solutions become more critical to SMBs, they also fuel new infrastructure requirements for management, security, storage and performance on the back-end. As shown on Figure 1, in addition to cost concerns, SMBs see data, network, device and transaction security, and management as top barriers to moving ahead with mobile solutions.

Figure 1: Top SMB Challenges to Moving Ahead with Mobile Solutions

With the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) and consumerization, more types of devices to manage, more apps and more data, these issues will only become more taxing.

HP is addressing some of the requirements that mobile brings to the forefront with solutions to help SMBs streamline VDI deployment, more easily provision and manage wireless LAN bandwidth, and enhanced on-premises storage options.

But, this announcement does not provide a full picture of HP’s mobile management vision for SMBs–and leaves many questions about HP’s mobile management strategy for SMBs unanswered. For instance, many SMBs would like to offload data storage and management to a cloud provider. What does HP have in this department, and how does it complement these solutions?  The announcement also fails to shed light on how HP can help  SMBs tackle other key mobility related infrastructure issues, including mobile device and application management, and the need to compartmentalize personal and business apps and data.

While HP has put a relevant mobile veneer on its infrastructure story, it needs to paint more comprehensive picture of its full mobile management and infrastructure strategy and portfolio, from on-premises to cloud–along with the guidance SMBs need to figure out which solution(s) will best fit their needs.

MSP Cloud Challenges in the Midmarket–and How IBM Helps Meet Them

In my recent post, A View From the MSP Trenches: Cloud Opportunities in the Midmarket, I examined how MSPs see the midmarket opportunity shaping up, and why they are partnering with IBM to capitalize on these opportunities. I discussed how MSPs are taking advantage of cloud-based technology solutions and IBM’s offerings to help their midmarket companies offload infrastructure management, deploy the leading-edge solutions, and achieve the performance, availability and security required for mission-critical applications.

I also wanted to learn more about the challenges that MSPs face, and how they work with IBM to surmount these hurdles. This post focuses on that side of my conversation with the same three MSPs, who I’ll reintroduce here:

  • Oxford Networks characterizes itself as “a 112 year-old start-up,” which began as a phone company and has since reinvented itself a couple of times over to become a high-end carrier’s carrier transport network. Oxford recently acquired an MSP and a data center, and is building on this to offer a spectrum of IT and telecom services to SMBs.
  • Perimeter E-Security delivers highly secure infrastructure protection and compliance solutions via its security-as-a-software platform, including: firewall management and monitoring, vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection and prevention, hosted email, hosted collaboration, email security, message archiving and mobile device management. Perimeter offers its services in the cloud, and on customer premises.  About two-thirds of its customers are small and midsize businesses (SMBs).
  • Velocity Technology Solutions provides virtual private cloud managed application and hosting services for its customers’ ERP solutions. It also hosts and manages connected applications, such as analytics and workforce automation; and complementary technical solutions, such as imaging. Velocity offers remote managed services for customers’ on premises applications, including a full replication service for disaster recovery.  Velocity’s customers range from businesses with about $50M in annual revenues to the Fortune 500.

MSPs must keep pace with a rapidly changing technology landscape and provide consistent, high performance cloud services. After all, that’s precisely why their customers are outsourcing infrastructure and application management to them in the first place. In their view, IBM provides them with the proven solutions and expertise that they need to deliver superior quality of service. As Tom Bruno, President & CEO, Velocity Technology Solutions, noted, “IBM has the most stable infrastructure. We can tap into the strength and girth of IBM to get the peace of mind that we need to deliver high-availability service.”

Some of the specific areas in which MSPs find strong value in the IBM partnership include:

  • Resources to scale and grow. By standardizing on IBM hardware and middleware, they are able to efficiently create and manage a high-availability environment. For instance, Velocity Technology Solutions works closely with IBM to identify and standardize the server, storage, and middleware stack to support “just about any application the customer wants,” according to Bruno.  “One of the biggest challenges is that ERP is advancing so fast–with a rush of analytics, mobile apps, collaboration and process flow. Customers want to upgrade, and with IBM, we can get these upgrades down to a science, and offer customers freedom of choice.” Or, as Craig Gunderson, President & CEO of Oxford Networks told me, “When we acquired the data center, it wasn’t up to snuff. IBM technologists helped us to reconfigure it and build for the future.”
  • Speed and agility. The bar to stay ahead of the technology curve is rising quickly, and MSPs must move at warp speed to stay ahead of it. While MSPs are often small or midmarket companies themselves, their IBM partnerships help give them the agility they need to take advantage of leading-edge technologies. “The IBM SmartCloud, DataFlex, V Systems and other IBM solutions are core to our PaaS and IaaS offerings. This means we can make more capabilities available more quickly to customers,” notes Gunderson.  MSPs need a stable but flexible technology foundation, says Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jacquith. “We add a terabyte of data per day to our cloud email and archiving platforms. IBM helps provide a secure, scalable cloud fabric to support our growth.”
  • End-to-end services. MSPs don’t want to or can’t provide everything a customer may need across the entire technology spectrum. But they are taking advantage of IBM’s ecosystem to broaden their service portfolios and give their customers a one-stop shopping experience. At Oxford Networks, for example, “Customers are asking us to be more of a business solutions provider. This wasn’t our core competency, but we can provide end-to-end solutions via IBM SaaS partners’ says Gunderson. “Partnering with other partners in the IBM ecosystem gives us the ability to meet the converging needs of our customers.”

In late September, IBM launched new global initiatives for MSPs, which provide additional resources to help them meet core technology challenges, including:

  • Access to four new Global Centers of Excellence (in addition to 40 existing IBM Innovation Centers). These centers provide MSPs with hands-on technical skills in technologies such asIBM SmartCloud, PureSystems, storage, security and collaboration.
  • A new virtual briefing center for MSPs to share ideas and knowledge about industry trends, customer requirements and best practices with their peers and with IBM experts.
  • PureSystems, which provides a new, integrated, by-design platform to tune hardware and software resources for data intensive workloads, and gain more flexibility to configure applications for either an on-premise or hosted environment.
  • More options for IBM SmartCloud, giving MSPs the choice to either integrate SmartCloud as an IBM-backed solution, or provide SmartCloud under their own brand.

Profitable business growth is another key challenge for all companies, and MSPs are no exception. The MSPs I spoke with believe that IBM sets itself apart with the quality of business planning and marketing support that it provides. “IBM partners with us to help us plan and capture more midmarket business,” states E-Perimeter’s Jacquith.  “The level of partnering is very deep.”

In the case of Oxford Networks, IBM and its advertising firm, Ogilivy and Mather, helped Oxford to determine which markets to focus on and how to grow intelligently. IBM also brings in Avnet personnel to help Oxford educate customers and prospects.  “IBM is very hands-on. We have never seen another company provide this level of support,” says Gunderson.

IBM new global initiatives for MSPs also offer more marketing and operational support. These included dedicated marketing and sales support, and a new program to help MSPs build a complete marketing plan. Other assistance includes a four-part education seminar to help MSPs use social media to grow their businesses, and IBM analytic capabilities to identify new customers and drive more repeat business.

IBM Global Financing (IGF) is stepping in with flexible, affordable financing options to help MSPs acquire the solutions and services they need to grow. Plans include 12-month, 0% loans for IBM Systems, Storage and Software. MSPs that select PureSystems platforms can also defer their first payment for 90 days.

All told, IBM’s focus on MSPs adds up to a tremendous value not only for MSPs, but for their customers. Instead of just throwing resources at them, IBM has put together an integrated program to address their technology and business challenges. In addition, IBM’s dedicated marketing and sales support provides MSPs with real people who get to know them and understand their individual goals and challenges. With this coordinated and personalized approach, IBM can to get the right resources to MSPs when and how they need it. In turn, these MSPs will be able acquire the skills and resources they need to help their midmarket customers achieve their goals.

This is the fourth of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology solutions and IBM’s Managed Service Provider Channel programs. In the next post, I’ll discuss upcoming IBM’s MSP program announcements slated for November.

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