SMB Technology: Mind, Matter, Money–and the Cloud

SMB Group recently wrapped up our 2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, in which we looked how U.S. SMB (small businesses are defined as those with 1-99 employees, medium businesses as those with 100-999 employees) technology adoption and the buying cycle in ten key solution areas. As part of this study, we gather SMB perspectives their top business challenges, how technology impacts their businesses and technology spending plans.

Top of Mind: SMB Business Challenges

As SMBs grow, so do their top business challenges, as shown on Figure 1. Small businesses with are most concerned with growth and cash flow issues, such as attracting new customers (57%), growing revenue (47%) and improving cash flow (37%).  These challenges remain important for medium businesses, with growing revenue (45%) and attracting new customers (40%) continuing to top the list.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Challenges

Slide1

Business growth creates added complexity and some very significant differences in terms of business challenges. Most notably, medium businesses (33%) are twice as likely as small (16%) to view attracting and retaining quality employees and securing and protecting my company information as threats (22% and 9%, respectively) as one of their top three priorities. Medium businesses are also much more likely to put improving customer experience and improving employee productivity as a top challenge than small businesses.

Technology Matters

Regardless of what their top business challenges are, SMBs share a mostly positive view about technology’s role in helping their businesses. As Figure 2 reveals, 67% of small and 81% of medium businesses say that technology solutions help them to run their businesses better or that technology solutions help them to significantly improve business outcomes.

Figure 2: SMB Views About Technology’s Role in Business

Slide2

SMB IT Spending: A Mixed Bag

While most SMBs’ believe that technology helps them achieve business goals, IT spending plans are a mixed bag. Although 46% of small businesses plan to increase IT spending over the next year, 45% anticipate flat or decreased spending on technology (Figure 3). Considering that 51% small businesses spend less than $10,000 annually on IT (excluding salaries).

For medium businesses, the calculus is more bullish, with 57% expecting to spend more on technology, and just 35% expecting flat or decreased technology spending. However, most medium businesses plan for a relatively modest 1% to 10% IT spending increase.

Figure 3: SMB Technology Spending Outlook

Slide3

SMB Group recently wrapped up our “2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study,” in which we

And the Cloud…

The good news for technology vendors is that most SMBs are making the technology-business performance connection. In addition, cloud-based solutions are making easier than ever for SMBs to benefit from technology. Our study shows that SMBs are steadily moving to the cloud, which eliminates the barrier of big upfront capital investments. All else being equal, the cloud has made it easier for SMBs to digest technology—both financially and technically—than comparable on-premises offering.

However, given IT spending constraints, and the exponentially expanding array of tech solutions, vendors need to double down on demonstrating a direct relationship between helping SMBs gain business outcomes in the areas most critical to their businesses.

Reading between the lines, it may be time to look at cloud pricing models the financial ability of SMBs to absorb additional monthly subscription costs. In anecdotal conversations with SMBs, I’m hearing more lately about what I call “subscription fatigue.” While price of an individual cloud solution may be quite reasonable, the costs for multiple solutions can add up quickly–and so can the complexity of managing different contracts. As monthly bills mount, solution vendors will need to go the extra mile to prove value–and continue to prove it month to month.

In addition, especially in the small business space, some vendors, such as Google and Intuit, are moving to push the cloud price curve significantly downward. All of which points to the fact that its time for cloud vendors that target SMBs to take a more realistic look at the pricing and pricing models that they will need to build significant volume in these markets.

For more information

SMB Group’s 2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study examines how U.S. SMB technology adoption and the buying cycle in ten key solution areas:

Business solutions: ERP, financial and accounting; collaboration; marketing automation, contact and customer management, workforce management, business intelligence and analytics.

Infrastructure solutions: security; data backup, online storage and sharing; server virtualization; desktop virtualization; integration.

The study assesses the entire SMB technology solution purchase cycle, including needs identification, information sources, advice sources, key selection and short-list criteria, and purchase channels. Fielded in February 2014, the study is based on the results of a 700-respondent web-based survey of SMB technology solution decision makers and influencers, and segmented into eight employee-size segments and 18 vertical industries.

Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com for more information about the study, including a Table of Contents.

Cloud Is The New Normal for SMBs—But Integration Isn’t

SMB Group recently wrapped up our “2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study,” in which we looked how U.S. SMB technology adoption and the buying cycle in ten key solution areas, as shown below.

Business Application Solutions

IT Infrastructure Solutions

·   ERP, Financial and Accounting

·  Security

·   Collaboration

·  Data Backup

·   Marketing Automation

·  Online Storage and Sharing (new addition for 2014)

·   Contact and Customer Management

·  Server Virtualization

·   Workforce Management (new addition for 2014)

·  Desktop Virtualization

·   Business Intelligence and Analytics

·  Integration (new addition for 2014)

Cloud Adoption is Soaring

The most dramatic finding is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution, and 87% already use at least one cloud infrastructure solution. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: SMB Cloud Adoption

cloud adopt

Furthermore, when compared with our 2012 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, we see  cloud adoption increasing in every solution area. For example, since 2012, SMB cloud adoption is up 10% for collaboration, 5% for business analytics and 2% for accounting and ERP. The same types of gains hold true for infrastructure  applications. In addition, we see that as SMBs shift to the cloud, purchase channels are also changing to favor direct purchase from software or a software-as-a-service/cloud vendors  and to managed service providers (MSPs).

Integration Remains Problematic

However, while the cloud has made it much easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, it has yet to do much to help SMBs integrate them. Although 63% of SMBs have at least partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, instead of using modern integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Integration Methods

integration

Integration is essential to helping SMBs reap the full business process value of new applications—and of course to gaining a more unified, consistent view of the business. But as this research signals, vendors need to do a lot more both to educate SMBs about the value of application integration, and to make their integration solutions easier to use and more affordable.

For more information

SMB Group’s 2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study assesses the entire SMB technology solution purchase cycle, including needs identification, information sources, advice sources, key selection and short-list criteria, and purchase channels. Fielded in February 2014, the study is based on the results of a 700-respondent web-based survey of SMB technology solution decision makers and influencers, and segmented into eight employee-size segments and 18 vertical industries.

Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com for more information about the study, including a Table of Contents.

 

 

New Patterns Emerge: IBM PureApplication Service Takes to the Cloud

ibmpulseEarlier this week, I attended IBM Pulse along with a crowd of about 11,000 other customer, partner, press, influencer and analyst attendees. Historically, Pulse has been the IBM event that focuses on service management and infrastructure. This year, the vendor positioned Pulse as “the premier cloud computing conference.”

Pulse followed closely on the heels of IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer last year, and on its decision to put SoftLayer technology at the center of its cloud strategy. So it’s not surprising that many industry observers viewed the event as a great opportunity to reassess IBM’s cloud strategy at a time when customers are accelerating towards the cloud. How ready is 104 year-old Big Blue to compete in the cloud infrastructure and platform as-a-service (IaaS and PaaS) space against players such as Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com’s Heroku as technology transforms at a dizzying rate?

The sweeping range of announcements that IBM unleashed signal that it is now all in on cloud computing. IBM launched Bluemix, an open-standards, cloud-based platform to build, manage and run applications; announced its acquisition of Cloudant, a cloud-only database as a service (DBaaS) for building mobile and web apps; introduced Service Engage, which provides cloud-based subscriptions for systems management; and cited plans to bring Power Systems into SoftLayer’s cloud to support Watson-based analytics solutions.

In addition, IBM announced that it is bringing the power of its PureSystems patterns approach to the cloud. Extending PureSystem’s cloud capabilities gives customers and business partners tools to simplify and speed delivery of cloud services across both public and private clouds.

PureApplication Service on SoftLayer

First, IBM announced the beta of PureApplication Service on SoftLayer.  As background, PureApplication Service uses best practice “patterns” to rapidly deploy specific applications. In a nutshell, patterns are like tried and true recipes to set up, deliver and manage the infrastructure plumbing for a given application. Instead of having to piece together all of the ingredients, customers get pre-formulated virtualization, operating system, middleware, wiring, and installation patterns that dramatically slash the time it takes to stand up an application. Putting PureApplication Service on SoftLayer brings these portable, reusable patterns to the cloud, and opens up new opportunities for new use cases. As important, it makes it easier for businesses (and partners) to support a hybrid IT environment that’s consistent regardless of where the app resides.

This will make it easier for some tech-savvy SMBs to take a do-it-yourself approach. But by far, the bigger SMB opportunity is via business partners. For instance, with PureApplication Service on SoftLayer, partners can more quickly move SMB on-premise apps to a public or private cloud, and spend more time on higher value-added business process services.  It also provides the opportunity to quickly provision new services, with the ability to rapidly access a development and test environment, implement disaster recovery, or provide added capacity for peak use periods.

To provide the best experience during the beta, IBM has selected 8 key patterns that deliver mobile, web, database, analytics, BPM and Java capabilities to help clients create new applications on PureApplication Service on SoftLayer. IBM also has several partner patterns available for beta, targeting the financial services industry.  The goal is that all 200+ patterns on PureApplication System will become available as a service on SoftLayer by the time the offering is officially launched.

DevOps on PureSystems

Second, IBM announced a soft-bundle to help clients jump-start DevOps with PureSystems. IBM’s PureSystems integrate networking, storage, scalability, virtualized environments, middleware, license management and monitoring into one solution for cloud solution development and delivery. DevOps on PureSystems pulls together key components of IBM’s Rational tool set to make it easier for developers to plan, develop and test cloud solutions, and then to monitor and iterate to meet changing requirements or correct problems.

This means that programmers can access a development environment much more quickly and thus dedicate to actually building apps, iterating on the code, and  incorporating timely feedback from customers to deliver a stronger solution.

Today, DevOps on PureSystems is only available in an on-premise model, but I have little doubt that this too will become available via SoftLayer in the very near future.  Again, while few SMBs have internal development teams, this offering—especially once its available in the cloud—should help IBM woo more next-generation developers to its fold. For more on DevOps on PureSystems, see an IBM blog discussing DevOps at Pulse.

Perspective

IBM is betting big on software development for the cloud, with a $1 billion investment in cloud software development on tap through 2015, representing a double-digit percentage increase over the past two years.

The PureSystems announcements—in combination with those for BlueMix, Cloudant and Service Engage—underscore that IBM also intends to get out in front of the next generation of cloud development and delivery. More automated, integrated and accessible cloud delivery and development solutions will fuel new development and delivery options for IBM partners, and help more customers—including more SMBs—to benefit and get more value from the cloud.

For additional perspectives on IBM’s PureSystems announcements, watch my interview with Pete McCaffrey, Director of PureSystems Marketing, recorded at Pulse.

Disclaimer: I attended Pulse as an invited media guest.

 

Six Technology Resolutions for a Happier and Healthier SMB New Year

Happy New Year! While we often make personal New Year’s resolutions, I don’t think too many businesses make them. But you can start to change that in 2014 by resolving to make better use of technology to power your business, and create a more sustainable, competitive business.

With that in mind, here are a few resolutions that can help you work smarter, not harder, and enjoy a happier, healthier business in 2014.

iphone1. Manage your mobile investment. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. SMBs are using mobile apps and solutions to help employees work more productively and efficiently, and to boost customer engagement and transactions. But while mobile apps are often easy to use, you also need to provision, support, and track and manage them on the back-end. Unfortunately, many SMBs are not yet using solutions to manage mobile devices and applications, and to protect valuable data from being lost or stolen. The good news is that vendors have taken notice and are offering cloud-based mobile management solutions specifically tailored to SMB requirements and constraints. Just a few to check out include: AirWatch Professional, Mobile Iron, Tangoe, and Dell Cloud Client Manager.

Social Business People Network  inside Speech Bubble2. Tune up your content marketing strategy. Many SMBs feel overwhelmed by the care and feeding that marketing requires these days. Back in the day, when marketing was a one-way street, businesses could get by with creating a marketing campaign and collateral that would see them through a quarter or even the year. But in the digital age, businesses are under pressure to create new content every week or even every day to keep customers coming back. If you don’t have one, put a plan in place for creating and scheduling content to keep everyone on track. When you create fresh content, think upfront about ways to recycle and reuse it. For instance, if you create a YouTube video, write a blog post about some aspect of it, and tweet out bite-size tidbits from the post. In addition, put a system in place to measure what networks and content click for your target customers. Depending on your business, free or low-cost tools such as HootSuite, SocialMention, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly and/or Buffer may fit the bill. Or, you may want to investigate marketing automation solutions, such as Infusionsoft and Hubspot, that integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications to make your content investments more actionable.

men with puzzle pieces3. Integrate key workflows to get more bang for your software buck. The cloud has made it easy for businesses to add applications to address pain points on a piecemeal basis. But integration is often an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs end up with a hodge-podge of disconnected applications and workflows. People end up wasting time and making mistakes manually re-entering data into different systems, and getting accurate reports for decision-making can become a Herculean task. Things start falling through the cracks because the different applications and processes “don’t talk to each other.” This could be the year you do something about it! If you’re looking to upgrade core business apps, such as accounting, HR or CRM, consider pre-integrated suites from vendors with open application programming interfaces (APIs) and marketplaces. This makes it easier to snap in new, integrated functionality as needed. If moving to an integrated suite isn’t feasible, you can still get plenty of value just from the most repetitive workflows in your business. Many vendors (Informatica, Scribe, Actian (formerly Pervasive), Dell Boomi, Jitterbit and Mulesoft, just to name a few) offer integration solutions that enable you to connect, map fields, and integrate business processes between different applications.

Slide14. Go green to save green. You don’t need to be a tree hugger to get value from green technology. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but also money and time as well. Often, these resources could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees.But its easy to be green. For instance, when you buy new products, look for vendors with green certifications from ENERGY STAR or EPEAT; use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste; and use recycled plastics in their products. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device, and recycle old equipment so component materials don’t end up leaching into landfills. Moving up green curve, consider making the switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing, etc. Replace some of your travel with web conferencing and consider creating a telecommuting program (cloud-based collaboration solutions such as Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365 and IBM Smart Cloud make this easier than ever) if you haven’t already done so. Finally, if your business suffers from server and storage sprawl, virtualized server and storage resources, consider solutions such as Dell PowerEdge VRTX, which take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance.

baroquon_Add_Money5. Upgrade and integrate payments with accounting and financials. SMB Group research shows that many SMBs still spend a lot of time manually re-entering and reconciling payments back to their accounting and financial systems. This not only saps productivity, but also results in errors that end up taking even more time to correct. If you’re still doing this manually, its time to look at solutions that automatically integrate payments with accounting, cutting time and errors out of payment processing, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. While you’re at it, investigate whether your business would benefit from being able to accept new payment methods. Chances are, you already take checks and credit cards, but getting set up to accept ACH, mobile payments, gift cards or PayPal may be able to help you attract more customers, gain new business, and enter new markets–or just get paid faster.

cloud6. Take to the cloud–but proceed with due diligence.  Cloud computing promises organizations a faster, easier and cheaper route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. So it’s no wonder that SMBs are moving to the cloud. However, not all cloud vendors are created equal–and some have backtracked on the original cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing and contracts that are about as clear as mud. Others fall short when it comes to taking security and privacy precautions. Seek out vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise as evidenced with transparent pricing, clear and flexible contracts, free trials and clearly documented virtual and physical (data center) security measures.

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s New Midmarket GM Talks About the SoftLayer Acquisition

ibmsmarterplante-150x150Laurie: Hi, this Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s new General Manager and VP for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me on this two-part discussion about developments at IBM in the midmarket and SMB space. In our first discussion, I’d like to focus on the IBM acquisition of SoftLayer, which I understand provides dedicated hosting, cloud computing and cloud services offerings.

Before that though, I’d like to learn more about you and your background. I understand you’re relatively new to IBM. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’ve been and what kind of experience you bring to your role?


John: Thanks Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I joined IBM three months ago. I started my career at Compaq in the 80s. I spent thirteen years there and moved to Cisco, and ran the SME and midmarket business with Cisco in Europe, Middle East, Africa.

Then, I ran global channels for Nokia’s Enterprise business. I also ran a mobile cloud service in eReading and News for a couple of years, and a white label mobile messaging service provider that had been acquired during my time there.

So, when the discussion started with IBM, it was an interesting combination of different hardware, software and services businesses in small and midsize enterprise and across mobile and social. It was the opportunity to combine that with IBM’s amazing global reach in over 170 countries and find ways to get that to the millions of small and midsized companies. Many are possibly not even doing any business with IBM today but can benefit from those solutions.

Laurie: What will you be focusing on in your new role as GM, John?

John: Finding new opportunities to grow the business and bring mobile and social and analytics, and particularly cloud solutions to small or midsized businesses. This means working very closely with our partner organization and focusing on MSPs as the key route market.

Laurie: Thanks for that background. So help me understand a little bit about the SoftLayer acquisition and why it’s so important. IBM makes a lot of acquisitions in general, and I think probably at least a dozen in the cloud area. What makes SoftLayer stand out for IBM?

ibmsoftlayerimage-150x110John: This is one of those few times in our industry where there’s an absolutely fundamental shift that changes everything. When client-server computing started taking off was one, and when mobile really went to a whole new level was another. Now, with cloud, we’re seeing a major shift, which is very beneficial to smaller and midsized companies. They may not have the IT expertise in-house to take advantage of some of the technologies that larger companies are able to use, but now through cloud, they can use more advanced solutions without having to deal with the complexities.

Laurie: Tell us about what SoftLayer does and how that will help IBM help SMBs? What does it give IBM you that it didn’t have in the cloud area?

John: The SoftLayer acquisition was driven by a change in the way that customers are looking to buy. I would say it’s as simple as answering these questions. Is this technology solution is going to be hosted at your place or mine? Is this something that I have to build and manage on my premises, or is it something that I can tap into through a web browser to connect to infrastructure that’s sitting somewhere else outside of my physical office buildings? Then, is that going to be dedicated to me or is it something that I share with somebody else? So, it’s really your place or mine, shared or dedicated, and what software brings is the ability to offer the full range of different deployment options.

That’s whether it’s a complete public cloud solution or it’s a private cloud or it’s some mix of some parts public, some parts private in a hybrid deployment. SoftLayer lets us accelerate our ability to deliver those pieces across a broad range of different businesses and different services.

Laurie: What about purchasing and pricing mechanisms for customers?

John: Yes, that’s really key. It’s really important to make it easy and simple to understand what the offering is, and how can I choose the combination that is right for me. Then make it really easy for them to purchase and deploy that solution.

The beauty of SoftLayer is they have a very simple credit card purchase capability. You can be up and running literally within the hour and choose whether you want to be billed monthly or hourly. It’s simple and flexible, and that’s as important as the underlying technology.

Laurie: One of the other things that I’m curious about is that it seems like managed services is another big part of the SoftLayer business. IBM has been heavily courting managed service providers (MSPs) for quite some time. Does this create a conflict with them?

John: SoftLayer is really complementary to what we’re doing with MSPs. In fact, we’ve had a number of key wins with MSPs for SoftLayer with service providers who have said, “I really don’t want to have to manage this infrastructure myself. It’s not my core business. My focus is on security services or hosted exchange services. So, rather than me scarce resources building and managing an infrastructure layer, I’d rather focus on the higher value services on top of that, and I’ll use SoftLayer as infrastructure.”

Laurie: Will they be able to resell SoftLayer?

John: Yes, there’s that too. MSPs can use SoftLayer themselves as part of their own infrastructure, or they can resell it to customers together with other value-add services that they bring to the mix.

Laurie: Where does SoftLayer sit in terms of IBM’s SmartCloud services?

John: SoftLayer gives us the ability to accelerate our own leadership position, scale out the smaller cloud service portfolio, add additional higher value services and solutions across mobile and data analytics, social–together with partners. It’s the combination of all of that into a solution that adds value for customers.

Laurie: What kind of experience in SMB and midmarket does SoftLayer bring that IBM can leverage, and how will you do that?

John: I mentioned this earlier in our conversation when we talked about what attracted me to the role at IBM. Frankly, the SoftLayer acquisition hadn’t closed but had been publicly announced. That was a real additional level of credibility that we could use to address the SMB market because SoftLayer had over 20,000 SMB customers already. They clearly have a very strong focus on that market and a solution that is very simple, easy for the smaller customer to understand, choose, purchase, deploy and operate.

So, to me that said IBM’s not just talking about the midmarket, but actually putting a significant investment in technologies, ease of purchase and deployment to enable this. SoftLayer convinced me that we very serious about this and that was a decider for me.

Laurie: What does the bigger go to market plan look like? Many SMBs still think IBM doesn’t have solutions that are relevant for them. How are you going to change that?

John: First, we need to be careful that we don’t hug SoftLayer to death. We need to give them space to continue to operate their own very successful go to market model. There’s always a risk when a big company acquires a smaller company that sometimes the big company process can slow down the smaller company. We will be very diligent about ensuring that doesn’t happen and that SoftLayer continues to operate somewhat independently with their existing go to market model.

At the same time, we need to take advantage of what they bring and combine that with IBM’s traditional business partners, managed service provider partners, and some of the ISVs that we work with. Really, this is more about connecting the ecosystem that needs to work together to deliver solutions to small and midsized companies. SoftLayer helps us accelerate that with a full range of all types of different deployment options–everything from bare metal dedicated servers, virtualized shared servers, managed private and public cloud through to a full range of storage and networking and managed services.

Laurie: So, what does success look like here if this all goes according to plan?

John: I think we’ll see continued acceleration of cloud adoption within small and midsized companies and SoftLayer will help to significantly accelerate the deployment of both hybrid private and public cloud solutions for small and midsized companies. I certainly expect the 20,000 existing SoftLayer customers will increase significantly without putting a specific number on it. Beyond that, it’s about helping MSPs to accelerate their offerings with more value-add services above and beyond the infrastructure layer. That way we really bring complete solutions for small and midsized companies that are simple to deploy and use.

Laurie: John, thank you for joining me, and I look forward to our next discussion, when we will talk about IBM’s other new plans for SMB and mid-market customers.

John: Thank you Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion and certainly look forward to future discussions we’ll have.

This is the first of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager and VP for Midmarket, sponsored by IBM. In the second post, I’ll ask John about other new IBM strategies and developments for SMB and midmarket companies and channel partners.

Auctiva: Automation for eBay Sellers

auctiva screen shotAuctiva: Automation for eBay Sellers

September 2nd, 2013

Laurie: Hi, today I’m talking to Jeff Schlicht, who  is the founder and CEO of Auctiva Corp., the largest third-party provider for eBay sellers. Jeff, Before you tell us about what Auctiva does, can you tell us a little about … Continue reading and listen to the podcast here

(Originally published on SMB Group’s SMB Spotlight)

Collaboration and the Progressive SMB

Almost all businesses aspire to success–but not all achieve it. SMB Group has identified and written quite a bit about what we term “Progressive SMBs.” Progressive SMBs are more growth driven and invest more in technology than their counterparts. They also view IT as a tool to help the business grow, create market advantage, and level the playing field against bigger companies.

Most important, being a Progressive SMB pays off. In our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, 85% of SMBs that plan to invest more in technology anticipated revenue increases. In comparison, only 42% of SMBs that plan to decrease IT spending expected revenues to rise.

Personifying the Progressive SMB: Apex Supply Chain

apex logoI recently had the chance to speak with Karolyn Schalk, VP of IT Infrastructure at Apex Supply Chain. Apex designs and manufactures what it terms “Point-Of-Work Solutions”— vending machines, cabinets, and other devices, as well as software to manage use, inventory, and replenishment. Apex solutions can manage any supplies, tools or equipment that need to be tracked and controlled.

Apex illustrates the kind of attitudes and behaviors that make the fast-growth, Progressive SMB tick. Founded just seven years ago, Apex has grown to become the global leader in automated vending, supplying over 6,500 companies with vending machine solutions. Apex has fueled this growth with new employees, innovative solutions, new locations and acquisitions.

As the company grew, it invested in sales, marketing and service solutions to help increase sales and provide responsive service. But Schalk realized that Apex also needed a better way to collaborate. Sticking with “email collaboration” would eventually slow down innovation, time to market and customer responsiveness–and along with it, growth and expansion.

Cleaning Out the Collaboration Junk Drawer

junk drawer Apex had opened more locations, hired more employees, created new offerings, and made a couple of acquisitions. It’s network of external suppliers, partners, contractors and installers expanded.

But Apex was still using Microsoft Small Business Server and an assortment of email, file sharing and SharePoint for collaboration. Over seven years, Schalk explained, “this had turned into the equivalent of a big junk drawer. Whatever organization was initially in there had been lost.”

As a result, people had problems finding the information they needed, locating the right contacts to get a job done, and tracking tasks. With “end-users living in email, time was wasted and the risk of things falling through the cracks grew,” notes Schalk. “We needed something more manageable and useable to share information and track work.”

Crossing the Collaboration Chasm

Everyone wanted something better. But, despite its faults, end-users were used to the devil they knew–the junk drawer of email and shared files–and skeptical about if and how a different collaboration solution would work.

Schalk realized that successful adoption of any new solution would hinge on users understanding why improving collaboration was critical for the company, and how better collaboration tools would help to facilitate it. She recruited different end-user groups in the company to evaluate collaboration solutions. In the process, Apex evaluated or reviewed cloud-based collaboration solutions from three major vendors, which helped to get people thinking about, seeing and talking about better ways to collaborate and get work done.

Schalk also designated a technology advocate to help end-users understand how a new collaboration solution would help streamline tasks and make their lives easier. As she observed, “My biggest ‘aha’ was understanding we needed a technology advocate. We’re all creatures of habit. People need hand-holding and encouragement to believe that there is a better solution, and show them how it can make it easier for them to share and keep track of work.”

Selecting a Solution

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Apex had decided upfront that it wanted to deploy a cloud-based collaboration solution because, as Schalk noted, “We have a lean IT staff. So the cloud gives us a way to get more value, more quickly and easily than an on-premise solution.”

“Functionality was important, but so was simplicity,” explained Schalk. “We wanted all of the collaboration tools–instant messaging, meetings, community, wikis, blogs, email, etc.–but it needed to be integrated and easy to use.” Other key factors included flexibility, support, security and backup, an easy and secure way to bring external contractors and partners into projects, and mobile capabilities.

After evaluating different solutions, Apex selected IBM’s Smart Cloud for Social Business and deployed in March 2012. According to Schalk, “The initial solution was simple to use and the pieces were well-integrated. In addition, IBM gave us great access to the product team. We felt we’d have input into product development so we’d get changes as our needs evolve.” Since the initial deployment IBM has made several enhancements; in particular, Schalk liked the direction IBM was taking with its Mobile First design point, which gave her confidence that Apex would get the capabilities it needed for a more mobile workforce and world.

She also liked that support came bundled into standard Smart Cloud for Social Business subscription pricing, and that IBM provided “corporate-grade security and backup for highly confidential new product ideas and designs.” The Smart Cloud for Social Business guest model, which lets companies set up free guest accounts for external users, was another point in its favor. “The guest model would make it easier for Apex to collaborate with contractors, suppliers and partners in a secure way,” she added.

Keeping Up With the Speed of What Customers Want

Schalk reports that with the help of the technology advocate, end-users began to explore the tool set and found benefits specific to their work groups. Since then, they have quickly begun using more of the functionality in Smart Cloud for Social Business, because “they don’t have to install anything new, its easy to use, and its all integrated.”

Apex is now better able to “keep up with the speed of what customers want.” For example, the solution is easing the roll out of Apex’s new ERP solution. According to Schalk, “People are updating the task list every 20 minutes because it’s easy. They can do work from anywhere, from home, on a tablet. Almost every other day, someone says, wow, it’s so easy to get things done with a pop-up meeting or iPad app.”

On boarding new employees in this fast-growing business has become much simpler as well. Before, people had to “hunt around to find the right info for each new hire. Now we can just point new hires to the places where we’ve published information about projects, policies and procedures,” explains Schalk.

Schalk says that employees are also using Smart Cloud for Social Business as a complement to their Salesforce.com sales and service applications. Although she would like to see the IBM and Salesforce products more fully integrated, customer support and sales teams view them as complementary, and are sharing relevant conversations and tasks between the solutions.

Perspective

Social Business People Network  inside Speech BubbleProgressive SMBs that create and sustain rapid growth are defined not only by larger IT investments, but their attitudes about applying technology to help achieve business goals.

Many SMBs recognize that effective collaboration is critical to building and growing a successful business. Taking steps to develop a more collaborative culture, such as Apex did, pave the way to getting the results you want from a collaboration solution. As the Apex story illustrates, it pays off to:

  • Focus on collaboration as a means to desired business outcomes–such as faster time to market, or faster decision-making.
  • Get people engaged in the process early on to elevate awareness and conversations about better ways to get things done.
  • Lend a helping hand–such as a technology advocate–to help users who are reluctant to change see how a different approach will make their lives easier.

This sets the stage not only for selecting the solution that will best meet your business needs, but also ensures faster user adoption and, ultimately, the outcomes you’re looking for from that solution.

This blog was sponsored by IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business to help educate small and medium businesses (SMBs) about how collaboration tools and social technologies can help their businesses.

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.

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.

A View From the MSP Trenches: Cloud Opportunities in the Midmarket

As discussed in my blog, IBM’s Managed Service Provider Initiatives for Midmarket: An Interview with Mike McClurg, IBM views MSPs as an increasingly critical channel for delivering cloud-based technology solutions to midmarket companies. Just a few days after I posted this interview, IBM announced that it would further strengthen its initiatives to help MSPs meet the growing midmarket demand for cloud services.

Now, all research (including SMB Group studies) points to a rise in midmarket adoption of cloud solutions. But, what do MSPs see as the key midmarket hotspots, how are they turning these into opportunities for their businesses, and how is IBM helping them? To help answer these questions, I spoke with three very different IBM MSP partners to find out their views on the cloud opportunity:

  • 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 is building on this to offer a spectrum of IT and telecom services 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 on demand 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. In addition, 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.

Despite different technology and market footprints, these MSPs share a similar view of the compelling opportunities to provide cloud services in the midmarket. They are zeroing in to meet  customers’ requirements in several key areas:

1. Offloadinfrastructure management. More midmarket companies want to outsource management of the “IT plumbing” that their businesses require—from infrastructure and telecom to middleware and applications. Demand for IaaS services is spiking as customers seek to move resources from IT to other, more strategic areas of the business. Often, the need for application upgrades trigger a move to an MSP. “Businesses have been there, done that and have little appetite to go through the headaches again”, according to Tom Bruno, President & CEO, Velocity Technology Solutions, “Our opportunity is to take software and turn it into a utility or dial tone for our customers.”But, says Bruno, “the most important thing we can have is our customers’ trust—trust translates into availability. Partnering with IBM gives us the peace of mind that we can deliver.”

Many companies aren’t ready to put all of their applications into the cloud, but still want to offload management. Offering remote managed services for customers’ on-premises applications gives MSPs with another healthy revenue opportunity in the near term.  And, as Bruno puts it, remote managed services also provide these customers with “an on ramp to the cloud.” Bruno envisions that IBM PureSystems will give Velocity even more flexibility to tailor offerings for either an on-premise or private cloud environment.

2. Implement the leading edge technology solutions necessary to grow their businesses. Midmarket businesses increasingly recognize that they need leading edge IT solutions to be competitive. But in most cases, they lack the IT skills and expertise to keep up with these technology changes. According to Craig Gunderson, President & CEO of Oxford Networks, “Our customers know that technology is moving very fast and disrupting the status quo. Moving to the cloud and outsourcing is often the only way that they can maintain a competitive position.” By providing customers with a fully managed data center, PaaS and IaaS solutions, Oxford can “give them far more capabilities than they could have on their own, with fewer limits, and at a lower cost.”

Mobile is a prime example of an area in which SMBs need to innovate, but struggle to keep pace. Perimeter recently rolled out a new mobile security offering that provides best practice guidance and services to help SMBs comply with privacy statutes in world in which “bring your own device” is becoming the norm.

Oxford’s Gunderson and Andrew Jaquith, Chief Technology Officer, Perimeter E-Security, both view new access to IBM’s four new Global Centers of Excellence as key to helping them keep up swiftly evolving market demands. By leveraging IBM’s technical and best practice expertise, they can develop the scalable and reliable new solutions that their clients will require.

3. Provide stronger security, availability and performance levels. Companies know that an IT outage or security breach can seriously compromised or even destroy their businesses. Jaquith asserts that as industries become more regulated, they are increasingly held to higher security standards, similar to what banks have become accustomed to. As a result, “Demand is rising for end-to-end security solutions for messaging—including mailboxes, archiving, encryption, control and reporting, content filtering and more. But the technology needed for this is getting very complicated.”

Jaquith sees IBM as “a technology leader that gets the cloud, and a partner to help us achieve our goal to provide instant-on, scalable and elastic cloud services.” IBM storage and security solutions underpin Perimeter’s current offerings. With IBM’s new MSP initiatives, Jaquith sees opportunities to develop new services built on IBM SmartCloud, which provides enterprise-class cloud computing technologies and services for securely building and using private, public and hybrid clouds.

 The demand for higher availability solutions is also rising. Velocity’s Bruno notes that “Midmarket businesses may have 5 to 20 applications in the back office alone. They want providers to get the formula down for higher availability.” Velocity does this by providing standardized virtualization solutions and a single source of support across applications—from break/fix to functional, “how do I do this” support.

One of the common threads I heard was that midmarket companies are looking for comprehensive services. Although they may want to tap into discrete services in an incremental way, they want them to integrate with each other in a Lego-like fashion. Since few MSPs can provide everything, those I spoke with emphasized the importance of being part of a strong ecosystem. For example, at Oxford Networks, the focus is IaaS and PaaS services. But Gunderson and team work with IBM and its ecosystem partners to also provide SaaS solutions to customers when they are a good fit. Meanwhile, as Velocity’s Bruno explained, “Everything is advancing so fast in the ERP world. There’s a rush of analytics, industry apps, mobile apps, collaboration requirements and more. This creates more complexity in the infrastructure.  We can tap into IBM and its expertise to provide new services more efficiently.”

Clearly, the rapid rate and pace of change in technology—and what it means for business—creates an enormous opportunity. MSPs can leverage economies of scale and skill to provide better-performing and more cost-effective IT solutions than midmarket companies can attain relying only on internal IT resources.

But capitalizing on this opportunity also presents challenges for MSPs, who need to keep ahead of the technology learning curve, improve their marketing skills and programs, and identify and enter new markets. In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss these challenges, and how these three MSPs work with IBM’s MSP program to help address them.

This is the third 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 look at what MSPs see as their top challenges, and the role IBM plays in helping them to meet them.

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