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
·Online Storage and Sharing (new addition for 2014)
·Contact and Customer Management
·Workforce Management (new addition for 2014)
·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
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the study, including a Table of Contents.
Earlier 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.
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.
Last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to IBM Connect to learn about the latest and greatest developments in the company’s collaboration and talent solutions. Over the years, IBM has transformed its former Lotusphere conference to Connect, grown a portfolio of cloud-based messaging and collaboration solutions, and added talent and workforce management solutions into the mix.
This year’s Connect theme was “Energizing Life’s Work,” which plays across IBM’s collaboration and mail solutions, as well as Kenexa, IBM’s talent suite (IBM acquired Kenexa in 2012). Here, I’ll focus on news in the cloud-based collaboration space, which is arguably IBM’s best possible route to the small and medium business (SMB) market.
IBM’s big news in this arena focused on:
The unveiling of Mail Next, IBM’s web-based, enterprise-focused email service: It combines mail, meetings, chat and content management systems, creating unified hubs for in which users can interact via email and create groups based on shared interests or projects, and track projects. For instance, users can mute email that doesn’t need immediate attention to view later. IBM intends to make the solution available in 2014, both on-premises and via the cloud.
A new name and enhanced user capabilities for IBM’s cloud-based collaboration suite: In 2014, IBM will rebrand IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business (which includes business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail, calendars, etc.) to “IBM Connections for Cloud”. (In 2012, IBM renamed LotusLive Engage cloud suite to SmartCloud for Social Business.) IBM also announced several enhancements for the suite, including the new Mail Next web mail discussed above, as well as improved audio/video for meetings and chat, a better guest model experience, and “mobile everywhere” capabilities.
Automated, dynamic infrastructure capabilities enabled by SoftLayer: On the backend, the company is now running IBM Connections for Cloud in its recently acquired SoftLayer data centers. SoftLayer not only expands IBM’s data center footprint (an increasingly important capability as more countries legislate that cloud providers operate in-country) but also provides enhanced automation capabilities to get infrastructure and applications up and running much more quickly, allowing new images to be set-up in 15 to 20 minutes. This enables IBM to stand up a small footprint first, and expand dynamically as new customers sign on.
Added sales and distribution capabilities: IBM has done several things to fuel sales of its SaaS solutions, including its Connections for Cloud portfolio. First, the company has changed the SaaS compensation model for direct sales. In the past reps got bonus for selling SaaS; now SaaS sales are part of their quota. Second, the application programming interface (API) is now the same for both IBM’s on-premises and SaaS collaboration apps, so that older on-premises apps can now be certified to run in the cloud. IBM hopes that this will help ease the path for traditional Lotus ISVs and resellers to join the Connections for Cloud partner ranks (which currently have about 60 reseller and 100 ISV partners). Finally, IBM is working with Parallels to create an automated platform for telco partners to easily rebrand, provision, sell and bill IBM Connections for Cloud and other SaaS offerings in an integrated, streamlined manner.
IBM said that 2013 was a tipping point for adoption of its Connections for Cloud, touting triple digit growth in new customers and quadruple digit growth in new signings. Although IBM doesn’t release information about the number of active accounts using Connections for Cloud, it claims to have millions of users, and a 50/50 split between large businesses and midmarket accounts. In a breakout session, executives noted that some midmarket customers have replaced Office 365 or Google Apps with IBM Connections for Cloud. They cited IBM’s strong security and governance capabilities, and the fact that the company doesn’t sell ads or mine customer data as key competitive differentiators.
Missing the B2Me Connection
Judging from the demos, IBM Connections for Cloud is making headway in terms of creating a more user-friendly and SMB-friendly collaboration experience and developing lightweight, lower priced bundles. In fact, I have spoken with several smaller organizations such as Apex Supply Chain and Colleagues In Care that are very satisfied with IBM’s collaboration solutions (more customer stories can be read here. IBM’s growth metrics are also impressive.
In addition, IBM’s new design thinking philosophy puts the user experience at the center of its development and roadmap planning, indicating IBM’s recognition that consumer-oriented applications have a big influence on user expectations. The vendor’s design thinking philosophy incorporates best practices from popular social apps, brings features such as activity streams, social feedback and network updates to the forefront, and use analytics to flag high-priority items for users. IBM is also putting mobile-inspired design first. For instance, event demos showcased tablet-optimized design principles for Mail Next even when accessed through a traditional web browser.
But IBM remains a distant third to Microsoft and Google in the SMB email and collaboration market. Given the company’s current position, its traditional B2B sales model, and the ongoing consumerization of IT, the odds look slim that IBM can dramatically grow SMB share.
Across the technology spectrum, and especially in the collaboration space, decisions are increasingly being made in a bottom-up instead of top-down manner. User preferences forced a massive corporate shift from BlackBerry to iPhone, and business users are signing up on Dropbox and Google Drive by the millions without IT’s blessing. I’ve dubbed this trend “B2Me.” As consumer technology gets friendlier and friendlier, people are increasingly likely to seek the same type of technology access and experience in their business lives as in their personal ones.
Therein lies the rub for IBM. Although it offers a self-service model, including a free trial, onboarding services and credit card purchase options for IBM Connections for Cloud, it lacks any presence in the consumer or prosumer space—a growing onramp for SMB technology adoption. In addition, IBM’s service and support model is geared towards making large corporate accounts happy. Shifting gears to serve far-flung issues and requirements from the masses presents another big hurdle for Big Blue and other enterprise-facing vendors.
Without the ability to create and a support a viral, bottoms-up business model, its hard to see how, no matter how good the solution is, IBM Connections for Cloud can make serious headway in the SMB Market.
Does It Really Matter Whether IBM Connects With SMBs?
IBM has an impressive stronghold in the large enterprise collaboration space. In fact, the company has augmented, reshaped and restyled the Lotus portfolio—which was once declared dead—into its now thriving Social Business division.
So why should IBM divert attention and resources to SMBs? Especially as Google, Dropbox and others drive pricing downward, many IBMers likely view this as a profitless tail-chasing game.
However, I believe that if IBM chooses to put SMBs and the B2Me phenomena on the back-burner, it does so at its own peril. IBM needs to grow its SMB market footprint to fuel growth, especially after missing revenue targets during 2013. Furthermore, there’s the pesky fact that small companies grow and large ones go out of business. Consider that238 of the companies that made the 1999 Fortune 500 list had slipped off the 2009 Fortune 500 rankings. Technology, generational and cultural shifts will only intensify this turnover. IBM needs to get a foothold in fast-growth companies while they are young.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, IT consumerization is not a passing fad. As evidenced by Apple displacing (crueler people might say killing off) Blackberry, consumer and B2Me can’t be ignored. Collaboration is the one activity that every person engages in every day, both in business and at home. Perhaps more than any other area, collaboration solutions will be adopted from the bottom up instead of top down. In fact, one of the IBM Connect keynote presenters noted that some employees are willing to pay for rogue collaboration tools out of their own pockets if those solutions make their lives easier. That makes collaboration the natural—and possibly the only—starting point for IBM to get in touch with its inner consumer.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
Dell’s journey to transform itself from a hardware company to a solutions vendor has been ongoing for a couple of years. To achieve that, the company has been acquiring, building and blending hardware, software, services, cloud and open standards to broaden its technology footprint. But, much of Dell’s progress has been buried in the drama of the fight to take the company private.
As the first major event since the company’s tumultuous–but ultimately successful–struggle to go private, Dell World 2013 promised to be somewhat of a bellwether. Would Dell, newly freed from Wall Street’s constraints, reframe itself as innovative, end-to-end solutions provider?
Of course, one event won’t change things overnight. But Dell is off to a good start. At Dell World, the company unleashed, unveiled and underscored a comprehensive, innovative vision for its future. If you still view Dell as a stodgy hardware provider, here are six things it is doing that may surprise you–and prompt you to look at the company in a new light. Consider that Dell is:
Becoming an über-cloud provider: Except for its role as an arms supplier, the cloud has been a murky space for Dell. But at Dell World, it announced that Microsoft, CenturyLink, Dropbox and Google are on board with its expanded Dell Cloud Partner Program which is designed to give customers more choice and flexibility in the cloud, and to provide end-to-end support for offerings from multiple cloud vendors. For instance, customers gain the ability to manage single or multiple public, private and hybrid clouds through one pane of glass via Dell Cloud Manager (formerly Enstratius).
Enabling customers to build open, private-cloud solutions based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform: Dell is the first OEM vendor to collaborate with Red Hat to provide businesses with co-engineered solutions and dedicated support and services for OpenStack. The goal is give businesses more confidence in using OpenStack as an alternative to proprietary IaaS and PaaS (infrastructure and platform as-a-service) alternatives.
Consolidating channel and direct sales teams into one organization: To support its transition from hardware maker to solutions provider, Dell announced that it is combining direct sales and partner sales into a single organization–and providing a 20% “compensation accelerator” to motivate direct sales to work with channel partners on seven solution areas. Dell also announced expanded profit and coverage opportunities for partners, including turning over 200,000 named accounts to the channel.
Innovating in industries: I knew that Dell is a top technology provider in the healthcare industry, much of this a result of its acquisition of Perot Systems. But didn’t know that it is the top IT provider in healthcare, and is helping pioneer change in this quickly evolving industry. For instance, Dell Services helped launched a state exchange for the Massachusetts Health Connector, and manages and secures Dell Cloud Clinical Archive, one of the largest (with nearly 7 billion images) cloud-based, vendor-neutral medical image archives in the world. At Dell World, te company announced a new cloud-based hospital administration system (HIS), which will launch first in India. Dell is also increasing its focus on other industries, including finance, where it has launched digital transformation frameworks and payment transformation services to help banks reduce costs, retain customers and improve compliance. In the insurance area, Dell has won more than 10 multi-million dollar contracts in the last eighteen months with its Third Party Administration platform.
Going mobile. Sure, you know that Dell has mobile devices–from the new convertible (laptop to tablet) XPS 11 and Venue 11 Pro tablet to the newly released Dell Chromebook 11 (designed for the education market). But, building on prior solutions , Dell announced Enterprise Mobility Management, a unified mobile management solution to managed devices, apps, and content, and Secure Remote Access Gateway to protect endpoints, which will be available through the channel in 2014. I also learned that Dell Services offers custom mobile app development.
Extending its investments in innovation: In his keynote, Michael Dell unveiled two new programs designed to foster innovation. First, Dell has created a research division to pursue organic innovation with a five to ten-year focus. Second, Dell has upped its investment in Dell Ventures with a $300 million dollar Strategic Innovation Venture Fund, a five-fold increase over its initial $60M investment. The Venture Fund invests in early to growth stage companies in the technology areas that Dell is focusing on–storage, cloud computing, big data, data center, security and mobility. Dell’s model is to co-invest with venture capitalists, serve as a board advisor, and provide product and go-to-market resources to the companies it invests in. Dell also reaffirmed its pledge to provide a broad range of entrepreneurs with technology, financing, networking and knowledge via the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs. It highlighted this focus with Dell Pitch Slam which attracted 6-8 late stage startups from several regional events to Dell World, where they pitched their ideas to Michael Dell and other judges. Check out the winners–Guavus,Neverware, and Fantoo.
Summary and Perspective
Maybe as important as the collective weight of all the announcements offered at Dell World 2013, Michael Dell deserves high praise for not only retaining so many employees, but for inspiring staff to stay the course through the trials and tribulations of the privatization process.
As Dell stated in his keynote, “I feel I’m part of the world’s biggest start-up.” His attitude seemed to be contagious among employees, creating a sense of excitement that I hadn’t seen at the past two Dell World events. This renewed commitment and energy from within is the essential first step to a successful transformation, and getting customers and the broader market to view Dell in a new light as well.
Disclaimer: I attended Dell World as an invited media guest.
Laurie: 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?
John: 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.
Whether in our personal or professional lives, most of us love the ease of connecting, collaborating, and shopping online, whether in our personal or professional lives–anywhere, anytime and on any device. At the same time, we worry about the increasing privacy and security risks that we expose ourselves to in the digital world. But taking steps to safeguard our activities across myriad social, search, and shopping sites can seem overwhelming and futile. As a result, we simply keep our fingers crossed that our credit card info won’t get stolen or that we’ll unwittingly share things we meant to keep private.
It’s no a lack of security and privacy solutions that keep people from taking action, as there are hundreds of them. But most security and privacy vendors have taken an approach that is hard for many people to warm up to. For the most part, vendors have taken the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) approach ratchet up anxiety about potential threats so we’ll buy their solutions to mitigate them. How many times have we read headlines from security vendors such as, “Vendor X Warns of New Android Vulnerabilities ” or “Security Vendor Y Identifies New Facebook Privacy Risks.”
In addition, while many security and privacy solutions get the job done, they’re often designed more for IT managers than users. As a result, end-users don’t use or keep them updated. Much worse, of course, are the black hat vendors that give “freemium” a bad rap by luring people in with free trials of purported security solutions that turn out to be malware that is designed to create security breaches and mess up your devices.
From FUD to Enabling
Enter AVG with a fresh twist: to make it “safer, easier and more enjoyable to live life online.” At its 2014 launch event in New York last week, AVG unveiled its new branding campaign, updates to its antivirus and Internet security offerings, and some new solutions.
AVG’s new campaign speaks directly to users–whether individuals, families or small business users. Instead of using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) as a motivator, the company is positioning its security and protection solutions as a means for users to take charge of their digital life. AVG gets that most of us like using the Internet to stay connected and conduct business, but that we would like greater peace of mind when we use it.
AVG also reiterated its long-standing commitment to provide robust free versions for its solutions so everyone can gain this peace of mind. For example, AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 detects blocks and removes viruses, lets you control who tracks you, clean up your computer–and is sufficient for many users. Meanwhile, the paid version, AVG AntiVirus 2014 does all of the above, plus adds protection against spyware and new encryption capabilities to protect files.
AVG has also added a new File Shredder to all of its solutions (free and paid), which allows you to permanently and completely remove all traces of selected files from your computer. AVG also updated its comprehensive AVG Premium Security 2014, which provides antivirus, privacy and performance for PCs and Android devices. (AVG Linkscanner is a 2013 product that is available for Macs and IOS devices).
The company unveiled new device specific solutions, such as AVG Safe Browser for iOS devices. This blocks unsafe sites and helps you identify which sites are collecting your data so you can decide if you want to allow block them or not. For Android users, AVG introduced AVG Cleaner to speed performance , and AVG Image Shrinker, to shrink and share photos more quickly. AVG also updated its mobile antivirus app , which now supports camera tracking by snapping a photo if it looks like someone has stolen your phone.
AVG also announced AVG CloudCare service module, which will be integrated within AVG’s Managed WorkPlace to provide AVG’s 1500 managed service provider (MSP) partners the ability to remotely monitor their customers’ device security measures from within a single dashboard.
PrivacyFix to Manage Privacy Across Social Networks
While at the launch event, I installed AVG’s new PrivacyFix tool (a result of AVG’s acquisition of PrivacyChoice in May), which is free and now works on Android and iOS apps as well as all major web browsers. Ironically, at first I couldn’t get this to work because of a program I’d (unfortunately) downloaded a while back called Little Snitch, which is supposed to do x but which I found intrusive and ineffective. Turns out I had never really deleted all of it when I thought I had, and it was interfering with my PrivacyFix install.
With the gracious help of Jim Brock, AVG Vice President, Privacy Products, however, I rid my Mac of Little Snitch and powered up PrivacyFix, which is a very user-friendly tool to analyze your account privacy settings across Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn. With PrivacyFix, you can:
View and manage privacy settings for all of these apps from one place. The app identifies where privacy settings are weak, tells you the tradeoffs of increasing or decreasing privacy settings. When you click to change a setting, PrivacyFix, opens up the selected settings page in your account, points you to the area you need to fix and tells you how to do it.
Automatically cull out your “real” friends from casual acquaintances on Facebook–think Google Circles, but automated–with a “crowd control” capability.
Analyze tracking and privacy policies for thousands of websites to inform you of things such as whether they share your data with third-parties, or if they’ve had known data breaches.
It also has an interesting feature that shows you how much you are “worth” to Facebook and Google.
AVG’s approach seems simple, but it has definitely been the road less traveled by security vendors. Instead of starting with all the things you should be scared of and likely don’t want to think about, the campaign focuses on helping you have a better experience doing the things you like to do online.
Of course, positioning alone is not enough. AVG’s willingness to back it up with a broad range of free yet capable offerings provides a solid foundation of trust–as well as a gateway to its paid solutions. And while other vendors struggle to make a freemium formula profitable, AVG formula has been very successful. The vendors’ Q2 2013 was $100.4 million, up 22% from $82.5 million in Q2 2012, while net income was $21.7 million, up 95% from $11.0 million for the same period.
AVG’s strategy aligns with market trends and user behavior. As the variety of devices, sites and things we do online continue to expand and evolve, this course should continue provide positive differentiation for AVG in both consumer and SMB markets.
I’m a bit behind in getting my wrap up and thoughts on Sage Summit–Sage’s annual event for business partners and customers–together. But better late than never! As you can see in the related links at the end of this post, I’ve attended these events for many years. During this time, Sage North America has gone through many significant changes to bring sharper focus to its mission and more value to its customers. At this year’s event, I saw promising signs that these efforts are beginning to pay off.
That Was Then
Sage North America has been on a transformational journey since 2009, when Sue Swenson took over as CEO, made some tough choices, and began setting the wheels in motion to change the company’s downward trajectory. In the four years since, the company hired another new CEO, Pascal Houillon, in 2011. Under his leadership, Sage made some controversial (at the time) moves to unify the Sage brand and product names and divest Sage of seven non-core businesses, including ACT! and SalesLogix, which had large installed bases. To help streamline the company’s focus on its core business and on improving customers’ experience with Sage, Houillon also brought some fresh talent into the executive ranks.
This Is Now
The result of all this is a more focused, purposeful Sage. Gone are the days of trying (unsuccessfully) to rationalize an unfathomable number of overlapping products. On Houillon’s watch, it is unacceptable for Sage executives to position the Sage portfolio in different ways. At Sage Summit 2013, the executive team was singing from the same hymnal regarding Sage’s core positioning and messages:
Continue to focus on its core businesses (accounting, payroll, payment processing, ERP, etc) for very small businesses, SMBs and the midmarket. Key to executing on this is the company’s move to centralize R&D Centers of Excellence for cloud, mobility, customer experience. In the past, each individual product brand would undertake separate development efforts for new functionality. Now, Sage R&D develops new features, extensions and add-ons once (for mobility or analytics, for instance) that individual product groups can replicate across their solutions. Sage is also in the process (though not yet there) of standardizing service and support offerings. It launched Sage City, a new centralized online community for customers, business partners and employees, last month. And, Sage will make new acquisitions when needed to supplement its core solution focus.
Expand its connected services strategy and offerings. Sage is building more cloud services, such as SageExchange.com, Sage Mobile Sales, and Sage CRM, that connect to core financials and ERP solutions, as well as for partners to build and sell add-on connected services. The company’s big picture vision is to “liberate” data and services that had been locked into ERP so that customers can use them in the cloud, anywhere, anytime, and from any device. Sage is building a data cloud on Microsoft’s Azure platform with common connectors, bi-directional synch, multi-tenant storage and disaster recovery. This means that Sage connected services will work the same way regardless of the backend ERP/financials Sage customers use. This will all come together in the Sage Marketplace, slated to launch in FY14.
Going all-in on the subscription pricing and the cloud. Sage now offers subscription-based pricing for all of its solutions, and comps partners on a percentage of subscription sales over the life of a contract. It has also committed to developing cloud versions for its solutions, including a cloud version of Sage ERP X3, which will feature a user pure web experience when available in 2014.
Taking the Marketing Road Less Travelled
The Sage commitment to putting customer experience first underpins these initiatives. Sage has several initiatives underway to up its listening game, such as the Sage Listens RV Relay, which is allowing Sage to also kick off a “Shop Local” campaign to encourage people to shop with local businesses.
In contrast to the “build it and they will come” tack that most tech companies take, Sage is taking its cue from the Proctors and Gambles of the world. It is getting customer input upfront before developing new products and functionality. Sage is hearing that customers want easy to use, flexible solutions, mobile capabilities and a low-cost of entry, and is concentrating resources on these areas. In fact, in one of the breakouts, when an analyst asked a Sage executive about social and big data plans, the exec said that customers are not calling these out as priorities. He added that while Sage isn’t ignoring these areas, it is prioritizing development and marketing based on customer input.
For instance, Sage recently launched Sage Healthcare Advisory Services , which includes a new “My Workforce Analyzer” tool to help SMBs understand plan for the Affordable Care Act. Analytics are under the covers, of course, to help SMBs develop what-if scenarios and optimize planning. But Sage isn’t calling it a big data solution.
Sage has often been knocked about for not keeping pace with the generational shift in the North American workforce. But it is now facing the facts–specifically that people born before 1968 will comprise less than 20% of the workforce by 2015. Sage is recalibrating its strategy to align more closely with different generational expectations. As Brad Smith, EVP of Customer Experience stated in his keynote, “We have to over-service the pre-PC guys but we also have to find ways to reach the ‘digital natives.’”
To that end, Sage demoed a voice-to-text initiative in which users can use voice-activated mobile technology to interface with ERP systems on mobile devices. It’s sort of like Siri, but within the context of the business and business workflows, so it appears to do a better job of handling user queries and requests. While the voice command initiative is in its infancy, it could be a key differentiator in the future.
Finally, Sage is putting its money where its mouth is, by tying Sage metrics and compensation for all Sage execs to Sage Net Promoter scores (NPS). The company’s previously shrinking North America business has grown 4% year-over-year.
Channeling The Channel
SMB Group research shows that accountants/CPAs and technology business partners represent 2 of the top 3 influencer channels for SMBs selecting financials and related business solutions, with peers in other businesses rounding out the list. Sage has a large channel in both areas–with over 25,000 accountants in North America and more than 26,000 technology reseller partners worldwide. But over the past few years, cloud competitors have been trying to poach these very valuable resources.
Accordingly, Sage has several new initiatives underway to re-focus partners back on Sage. In addition to committing to provide cloud-based offerings across the portfolio to give partners a Sage cloud offering, Sage is:
Planning to launch a new certification program for accountants focused on startup market, with a collaborative version of Sage One, Sage’s solution for very small businesses, to make it easier for them to automate tasks and take care of clients.
Introducing the Sage Advisor Partner Dashboard, which uses current customer data to help Sage reseller and accountant partners more readily identify new opportunities in the installed base, and provide a more personalized, consultative sales experience.
Sage is also recruiting new partners for midmarket Sage ERP X3, and new accountant partners to help it build traction among very small businesses for the Sage One solution.
Summary and Perspective
Minus ACT! and SalesLogix customers and partners, this year’s Sage Summit was smaller than in 2012. But, the energy level was much higher. Sage executives were more confident and relaxed, and the messages they delivered were consistent and crisp. Sage demos were more engaging, and even at times, entertaining.
Key metrics, including rising NPS scores, modest growth in its North America business, and a stock price that recently reached its highest point in 13 years are also good signs for Sage. As important, conversations with customers at the event led me to conclude that “Sage Listens” has moved beyond a slogan to put the programs in place to proactively engage customers.
However, there are a few areas in which I believe Sage needs to double down:
Sage One marketing. Worldwide, Sage has about 10,000 customers using this very small business management solution today. But most of the millions of very small businesses have never heard of it. Sage needs to significantly enhance awareness and demand gen campaigns to become more than a blip on the radar.
Third-party connected services . Sage has a big installed base, which should make it an attractive partner for third-party developers–especially now that developers can write just one connector and reuse it for all of Sage’s core products. But Sage has only about 20 endorsed connected partner services today. Again, many developers don’t know about this opportunity. Sage must raise its overall visibility in the developer community and launch a targeted recruitment program to get developers to build the apps that its customers need.
Clarity around CRM. After divesting ACT! and SalesLogix, the company’s sole solution here is Sage CRM. But other than discussing integration and a cloud version of Sage CRM that is in the works, CRM was very low profile at the event. Given Sage’s focus on core financials/ERP it leads me to wonder how committed is Sage to Sage CRM, and if will make the investments required to provide a truly first-rate CRM solution.
Innovation. Sage made a good case for its direction in the cloud, mobile and integration areas. However, analysts and press did and will continue to hound it on social and big data/analytics. While Sage customers may not have put these areas at the top of their priority lists yet, it’s only a matter of time before they do. Sage needs to get out in front in these areas.
That said, it’s challenging to do everything at once. The Sage leadership team has made the decision to move forward instead of standing still. All in all, I get the impression that Sage as a company has a better sense of who it is, where it’s going and how it will serve SMBs.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Sapphire 2013, SAP’s annual user conference. As is the norm for these events, SAP opened the fire hose to reveal new directions, product and solution announcements, and partner and customer wins through a myriad of meetings and sessions.
Rather than attempt to drench you with the full blast, I’ll focus this post on what I see as most relevant for SAP’s direction in the small and medium business (SMB) space.
HANA for All
SAP is betting big on its HANA platform, which began life in 2010 as an in-memory database and has quickly evolved to become SAP’s “development platform for innovation,” for both SAP and third-party developers.
At Sapphire, SAP underscored that HANA isn’t just for big business. The vendor discussed several initiatives to bring the benefits of HANA’s data-crunching power to SMB analytics and online transaction processing (OLTP) requirements. For instance:
SAP Business One on HANA. Business One is SAP’s ERP solution for small businesses and for departments in larger companies. The solution integrates core business functions, including financials, sales, customer relationship management, inventory, and operations, and includes embedded analytics and reporting capabilities. SAP offers Business One both as an on-premises offering or via a cloud-based subscription model. In September 2012, SAP announced SAP Business One analytics, powered by SAP HANA. This solution provides a Linux-based HANA analytics appliance for companies running SAP Business One on a Windows server with Microsoft’s SQL database. At Sapphire, SAP introduced a new offering, Business One, version for HANA, slated for availability later this year. This version runs directly on HANA, enabling both the transactional (ERP) and analytical applications to run on the same Linux-based server. By running both ERP transactions and analytics on a single platform, Business One version for HANA speeds access to information for analytics, reporting and search, without slowing down transactional processing.
SAP Startup Focus Program, which enables startups to build solutions for small businesses. SAP has engaged over 430 startups to use HANA as a platform to develop user-friendly real-time analytics and advanced predictive solutions. For instance, Vish Cancron, CEO of Liquid Analytics, talked about his company’s cloud-based, mobile analytics applications for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android users. As Vish explained to me in this video discussion at a prior event, Liquid Analytics uses gamification and predictive analytics to help make it easier, quicker and more fun for wholesale industry sales reps to place orders and set and meet sales goals.
SAP HANA One. SAP has partnered with Amazon’s Web Services Cloud to offer a pay-as-you model for trying and using HANA. SAP claims that users can import data and get up and running with HANA cloud in as few as 5 minutes. HANA One is designed for analytics professionals, SIs and ISVs, supports up to a 30 GB compressed data set, and is priced at one dollar per hour per user. While most SMBs don’t have analytics professionals, HANA One gives SIs and developers an accessible, affordable mechanism to develop and test new HANA apps for SMB customers. SAP has also created an online and community support network to help SMBs get started and navigate their way through a HANA One instance.
Cloud Front and Center
SAP’s journey to the cloud has been underway for several years. Though the company has seen a few setbacks, almost all of SAP’s solutions are now available in the cloud, including:
Home-brewed SAP ERP solutions such as Business One, Business All-in-One, Business Suite and of course, cloud-only Business ByDesign.
Acquired cloud solutions such SuccessFactors and Ariba.
Afaria, SAP’s mobile management platform, which SAP announced at the event is now available as a cloud-based service, branded as Afaria in the Cloud.
SAP HANA One Premium, an advanced version of SAP HANA One with the same data compression rate but with greater accessibility to SAP source data, all SAP backend systems, data integrators and full SAP Support.
SAP also offers customers a choice of running some of its ERP solutions in either a public or private cloud environment, and a choice of cloud providers as well. For instance, customers can choose to run Business One in Amazon’s AWS, or in SAP’s HANA cloud center, an SAP partner’s cloud, or in a private on-premises cloud.
Notably, SAP revealed that it’s own HANA Cloud Center has the capacity to accommodate all of its current installed base customers. This gives existing customers a convenient on ramp both to move ERP solutions to the cloud and gain the power of HANA in one fell swoop–and underscores just how important the cloud is to enable SAP’s HANA strategy.
Upgrading the User Experience
Let’s face it, SAP is not known for user-friendly software or contracts. But the company is on a quest to improve customer experience by making its solutions more accessible and user-friendly. SAP is also expanding its portfolio of rapid deployment solutions (RDS), which offer fixed cost, fixed scope preconfigured software, best practices and implementation services that give customers everything they need to get up and running on midmarket solutions such as Business All-in-One in just a few weeks. SAP currently offers over 900 rapid-deployment solutions across its product lines. In addition to developing more appealing and streamlined user interfaces, SAP is trying to simplify pricing and contracts.
When it comes to new solutions, SAP is aiming to get accessibility and ease of use right from the get go. For instance, SAP’s newly minted Afaria for the Cloud solution for mobile management sports a streamlined user interface and is priced at 1 Euro per user per month. At that price, the solution should be attractive for even very small businesses that need to manage mobile devices get an affordable solution. It also opens the door for SAP to prove its worth, develop a relationship, and sell other solutions to new small business customers.
Shining the Spotlight on Ariba
Attracting new customers, growing revenues, and increasing profitability are perennial challenges for all SMBs. As revealed in SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, about one-quarter of SMBs sell goods and services to large enterprises. These B2B SMBs want a bigger share of the billions of dollars that large businesses spend annually on goods and services. SAP is shining the spotlight on its Ariba business commerce network as a means to help them reach this end. SAP provides all of its Business One customers with a free connection into the Ariba network, and any company, whether an SAP customer or not, can enroll as a Supplier on the cloud-based Ariba Network. Once enrolled, SMBs can connect and collaborate customers, partners, peers, and prospects. Ariba gives SMBs another way to provide more value to its existing SMB customers, and an additional entry point to bring non-SAP SMBs into the SAP fold.
We’ve all seen how quickly innovative, fast-growth start-ups can become marquee brands. SAP understands that the creation-destruction cycle for businesses in hyper-drive, as underscored by the story of Under Armour, a featured customer and keynote panelist at Sapphire. Kevin Planck, Under Armour CEO, discussed how he founded the company in his basement in 1996 to design T-shirts that would wick moisture to help athletes stay cool and dry. He also talked about how Under Armour has evolved and grown, and how SAP has helped the company achieve twelve consecutive quarters of 20%+ growth.
SAP is betting big on becoming the leading IT solutions provider for these high-growth SMBs, which SMB Group call Progressive SMBs. Progressive SMBs are growth driven, and more likely to invest in and use technology to gain market and competitive advantage than other SMBs. Our data shows that Progressive SMBs are also much more likely to anticipate revenue gains than peers whose tech investments are flat or declining. SAP’s strategy to target Progressive SMBs with leading edge technologies that provide clear business benefit should help it to tap in more deeply to this segment.
As important, SAP seems to be making an authentic effort to consumerize the SAP experience by reducing friction in choosing, buying and using SAP solutions. In our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, 42% of small businesses rate “solution is easy to use” as the top reason to put solutions on their short lists. SAP is addressing this challenge with a commitment to the cloud, tight integration to HANA within business applications, and focus on bringing new, easy to buy and use applications to market.
Although SAP isn’t likely to become the volume leader, the company is charting a leadership course to engage fast-growth SMBs–who also have the potential to become high-value SAP customers–with a differentiated and compelling story.
When small business owners and entrepreneurs think of IBM, they often mistakenly assume that IBM’s sophisticated solutions are only affordable by large corporations. And IBM sometimes lags the competition in garnering SMB mind share. But some of its offerings are actually a great fit for small and medium business (SMBs). A perfect case in point is IBM’s Smart Cloud for Social Business, which provides an online, integrated collaboration solution for file sharing, communities, web meetings, mail and calendars.
I recently had a detailed conversation with Marie Kenerson, Chief Collaboration and Learning Officer at Colleagues In Care (CIC) to learn how Smart Cloud for Social Business helps CIC achieve the effective collaboration that is vital to the organization’s mission.
Sometimes It Takes More than a Village
CIC is a nonprofit dedicated to building a medical knowledge database and volunteer network to help address the healthcare needs of Haiti. Even before the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, medical needs clearly outstripped available resources. Dr. Lisbet Hanson, a Virginia Beach OB/GYN, was in Haiti providing ultrasound training for OB/GYN practitioners when the quake struck. Just a few miles from the epicenter in Port-Au-Prince, the hospital she had taught at collapsed and all of the nurses there were killed.
People in Haiti needed help, and as we all recall, there was a worldwide outpouring of aid, including that from healthcare experts around the globe that wanted to volunteer. But, connecting the dots between far-flung doctors, nurse and other professionals to create and establish sustainable practices in Haiti posed a difficult collaboration challenge. Each expert has unique areas of knowledge to contribute in areas such as treatment options, clinical pathways, and best practices, but the real value comes from putting these puzzle pieces together in a way that can be shared and replicated.
Without a system to manage and collaborate on care, even the most knowledgeable people with the best intentions were unable to realize the outcomes that they had wanted to achieve. The experts would come in, and the destitute population became dependent on them. Then the experts would leave, and take their knowledge with them. A new group would come in, and the cycle would start again. There was no way to share or build upon best practices to improve care.
Crowd Sourcing Care
This was the impetus for CIC. Upon her return to Virginia following the earthquake, Dr. Hanson and her cardiologist husband, Dr. John Kenerson, decided that there had to be a better way. Hanson and Kenerson established CIC to create a more collaborative, replicable way to catalyze the global network of healthcare volunteers that wanted to assist Haitians. Their goal was and reamains to establish a navigable social network to bring expertise into Haiti–and provide the professional development that those staying in Haiti so desperately need. To help enable this, CIC applied for and received an IBM Trailblazer grant for IBM SmartCloud for Social Business (then called LotusLive) to help facilitate collaboratiotn.
Using the SmartCloud solution since early 2011, CIC has built its “Social Collaboration Cloud Solution,” which is a collaborative learning system dedicated to transforming healthcare delivery in Haiti by fostering “CollaborHaitian.” CIC is building a medical knowledge and volunteer service database and Best Possible Practice models (PPBMs) that practitioners in Haiti and other resource-constrained areas can use. CIC’s approach is fundamentally different from the traditional approaches to international development efforts because it relies on mutual collaborative learning in solidarity with Haitian colleagues.
Today, the program enables over 200 registered users to source, co-edit and share best practices information so that they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. CIC fosters collaboration between the different communities of providers integral to this type of environment, including:
·Micro volunteers, who share specialized expertise to provide care such as screening for cervical cancer without equipment, or to build a clinic.
·Peer networks of practitioners, who are focused on specific areas, such as pediatrics or hypertension. Some are physical volunteers, who train Haitian healthcare providers to embed evidence-based quality standards into the practices and curriculum in Haiti, and others contribute online.
·Macro volunteers, who create and nurture mentoring relationships between practitioners on the ground in Haiti and vetted mentors.
With SmartCloud file sharing, a peer network of Haitian and international physicians can co-create training for how to take blood pressure without cuffs, a micro volunteer can translate it into Creole and French, and then share it with the peer network–all via SmartCloud. CIC is committed to making all programs openly accessible though the governmental ministers of health to anyone interested in customizing or replicating these BPP’s anywhere, thus reducing waste, redundancy of efforts, etc.
CIC also uses the meetings capability to conduct meetings between practitioners in Haiti and remote volunteers, and activities management to ensure ideas are documented, negotiated commitments to future tasks are managed and completed. Example templates for scheduling and managing travel and training program logistics make project management visible to all. Recently, CIC has also begun using IBM Docs to create and collaborate on documents.
As important, SmartCloud has been easy enough for SmartCloud users, predominantly a culturally diverse group of very busy volunteers who donate time and expertise in incremental chunks, to learn and use on a sporadic basis.
SMB Group research studies indicate that teamwork and collaboration–or lack of it–effect an organizations’ financial performance as well as employee (or in this, case, volunteer) satisfaction. Organizations that are more collaborative have a decided edge over less teamwork-oriented counterparts.
This is not surprising. Whether you’re the CEO or a doctor, an accountant or a volunteer, you need to share and manage information, ideas, resources and connections to get the job done. Cloud-based, integrated collaboration tools such as SmartCloud for Social Business help organizations share knowledge, streamline processes, and keep everyone in the loop to gain that edge. This is more important than ever, as digital information continues to grow at an exponential rate.
CIC may face more urgent challenges than most private-sector small and medium businesses (SMBs) or even other non-profits when it comes to harnessing, applying and replicating knowledge-based practices and communities. But SMBs, as well as other non-profits, have just as much to gain by adopting a more integrated, collaborative approach to meet their challenges and gain their own unique edge.
This blog was sponsored by IBM to help educate small and medium businesses (SMBs) about how collaboration tools and social technologies can help their businesses.