International Game Technology: Winning At The Talent Recruitment Game

Smarter workforceWhether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talentis intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find the talent they need to thrive.

At the same time, options to help identify and hire candidates are expanding. For instance, employee referrals, advocacy programs, social media and mobile apps are becoming more important recruitment tools, while the role of external recruiting vendors is diminishing. While these new recruitment channels can help companies access a broader applicant pool, it’s not easy to use, integrate and optimize across them.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process. .

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

International Game Technology: Fueling Growth With Talent

HomepageHeroBanner_JurassicParkHeadquartered in Las Vegas, 34-year old International Game Technology (IGT) is the leading manufacturer of gaming machines. From Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, from Wheel of Fortune to James Cameron’s AVATAR, chances are you’ve played a video slots game on an IGT machine.

While IGT has been the long-time market leader, it does not rest on its laurels. In 2011, the company introduced IGT Cloud, an industry-first which lets casino operators dynamically deploy game content across multiple properties to optimize floor efficiencies, and also offer a seamless gaming experience across land-based, mobile and online devices. In 2012 IGT acquired Double Down Interactive LLC, a social gaming company and developer of DoubleDown Casino on Facebook, to fuel IGT’s expansion through new media. In 2013, IGT partnered with Casino Del Sol in Arizona to hold the AZ, to hold the Game King Championship, the first cross-platform video poker tournamentand the largest in the world, with more than 360,000 players.

To sustain this pace of growth and innovation, IGT must be able to identify and attract top talent.

Keeping Up With IGT Talent Requirements

Talent management solutions are still relatively new. Up until 2000, IGT had—like most companiesrelied on newspaper ads and human resources business partners for candidate recruitment. People would stop in to drop off hard copy applications, and everything was stored in physical file cabinets.

In 2000, IGT started using BrassRing’s cloud-based applicant tracking system. While the solution worked well, as the company grew, they needed more capabilities in the talent management area. When Laura Callender joined IGT six years ago as HRIS Staff Analyst, her job was to refresh and revamp talent management systems at the company to ensure IGT would be able to attract and retain top talent.

IGT’s first priority was to revamp the BrassRing ATS (which is now part of the IBM Kenexa Talent Suite) to keep pace with the company’s expanding global operations and hiring requirements. According to Callender, “It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day, and neglect new features. But it’s important to keep re-evaluating business needs and figure out what will really help improve the process.”

Callender took a fresh look at things, and extended the system to support IGT’s growing geographical footprint, and provide Chinese and Spanish language capabilities. She also added other capabilities, such as mobile functionality. “So many things that are cutting edge, like enabling mobile job applicants…five years ago, people wouldn’t have dreamed of job hunting and applying on a mobile phone. But now applicants might be at the dentist’s office and want to apply. We need to enable these new capabilities that will make a difference to our business,” says Callender.

Community and Support Are Key to Success

men with puzzle piecesIGT has found IBM’s “Kenexans” and the community of Smarter Workforce users invaluable in helping her figure out what changes will provide the most value to IGT. “IBM’s Kenexans help us stay ahead of these trends…they focus on helping us improve the way we do things and help us figure out what options will give us the biggest bang for the buck. Should we turn features on or off? What should we do differently? And how can we make things seamless for our users? So many things are cool, but what will we get the most value from?” observes Callender.

IBM’s Smarter Workforce Global Support Center helps IGT prioritize enhancements via an annual review. As important, IGT can call on their services as needed, not only for break/fix issues, but for new project tickets, and to get the “hand-holding” required to implement new functionality. “We’re in the middle in terms of what we need to implement, and they are there when we need them to help with the next step. It’s a closer degree of support than we get from other vendors,” notes Callender. “Out of all the vendors, in terms of support, I would choose IBM Kenexa any day.”

Callender is very active in user groups as well, which helps her learn from what others are doing, and what’s worked and what hasn’t for them. She’s attended six global conferences, and participated in user groups at all of them. As Callender puts it, “The user groups have really grown, from 30 to 40 attendees to over 100 at the last one. We don’t have an army of HR and IT people, but I can talk to users that do, like Pepsico, Time Warner and Disney, that we can really learn from. At the same time, there are companies smaller than uswith just 100 or 200 employeesthat we can help. It’s a really good way to exchange knowledge.”

The user groups also help facilitate conversations between the IBM Kenexa team and users. “We talk, and they listen. We sit in a roundtable, it’s very interactive, with experts and R&D engineers at each table to discuss topics such as referrals, triggers, etc. It’s very helpful and they act on our input.”

Getting Results

Since IBM Kenexa BrassRing is cloud based, upgrades are “very easy,” says Callender. “IBM rolls them out and turns them on. Some things you have a choice to upgrade or not. But they never break anything with an upgrade, which has happened with some of the other cloud solutions we use.”

Today, IGT hiring managers, external recruiters and applicants are all using the system. Last year, IGT used BrassRing to hire about 600 employees for mostly technical positions, with an average of about 50 applicants for each position. IGT has integrated BrassRing ATS with its SAP ERP system, so that when someone is hired, they are automatically moved from BrassRing to SAP. “Instead of having a person digging through emails to find candidates, ATS can do this for us much faster and more effectively with Boolean searches, and tagging,” states Callender.

IBM Kenexa’s BrassRing ATS also helps IGT answer important questions that impact recruitment strategy, such as:

  • What is the tipping point for the number of applicants for a certain position?
  • How can we do a fill requisitions more quickly?
  • What’s the best way to deal with counteroffers, or higher rejection rates?
  • How can we recruit people that aren’t currently looking for a job?

“We get our money’s worth from BrassRing ATS. We don’t have a formal measurement system, but we know we are saving a lot of time, which saves us money. There is no way we could function without it.” In addition, BrassRing pricing is based on the number of requisitions and applicants, so “what we pay for it aligns with our actual use, which we appreciate,” explains Callender.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS solutions available, but as the IGT story illustrates, it’s not just the nuts and bolts of the software that matter. Being part of an active, engaged vendor support and user community can help you to:

  1. Map out a more effective strategy. Look for vendors and user communities that are collaborative, and can help you assess your requirements and how they are likely to evolve, and provide you with scalable solutions that you can deploy in an incremental manner.
  2. Get things right the first time. Your company benefits when the vendor facilitates knowledge sharing of best practices for things such as reporting considerations, workflow and underlying database structure that will take the most time and pain out of different processes. For instance, how do you set things up so applicants don’t need to fill out a new affirmative action form every time they apply for a new job, but can just edit information they’ve previously entered?
  3. Prioritize next steps. Your business is constantly evolving, and so is the hiring environment. But few organizations can do everything. Strategic prioritization is essential to figure out what new functionality will provide the most value.

The world of recruitment and talent management is changing quickly. This sets the stage for not only selecting the company and solution that best fits your immediate needs, but one that will provide a strong support experience to help you gain the best outcomes as your business and the recruitment landscape evolve.

This is the first post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

Mobility Perspectives from Intel’s 2014 Solutions Summit

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at the 2014 Intel Solutions Summit with panelists Bob Moore, Founder, RJM Strategies LLC; Jeffrey R Zavaleta, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Graphium Health, an integrated, mobile electronic medical records (EMR) platform; and Dave Bucholz, Director of Enterprise Client Strategy, Business Client Platform Division at Intel. We chatted about how companies are adopting and using mobile solutions in their businesses, and some of the challenges they face.

Our conversation was very interesting, as mobile is one the fastest growing technology trends in small and medium business (SMB). Because mobile devices and apps are so user-friendly, SMBs can deploy them quickly. As a result, mobile solutions are quickly revolutionizing how SMBs get work done. In fact, 91% of SMBs already use mobile solutions in their businesses, according to 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, and 67% of SMBs indicate that “mobile solutions are now critical for our business,” as shown on Figure 1.

2013 SMB Attitudes re Mobile (1)Figure 1: SMB Attitudes About Mobile Solutions

As we discussed during the panel, SMBs understand that mobile solutions not only help improve employee productivity, but also enable them to improve customer experiences and fuel business growth. In fact, 70% see mobile apps as a “complement to current business applications”, and 55% think that mobile will replace some of their existing business applications.

So it’s not surprising that mobile solutions are gobbling up a growing share of SMB technology budgets. SMBs currently spend about 11% to 20% of their technology budgets in the mobile space, and 68% expect they will need to spend more on mobile solutions next year.

However, panelists also agreed the rapid and explosive growth of and reliance on mobile solutions has caught many SMBs off-guard, resulting in some key challenges, as we also found in our study (Figure 2).

2013 top mobile challengesFigure 2:  Top Challenges to Using Mobile Solutions

SMBs often find it difficult to manage the growing plethora of mobile apps for employees, especially as SMB adoption of “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies for employees doubling over the past year to 62%. SMBs also have more customer-facing mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites to manage as well.

With adoption of and reliance on mobile solutions rising, SMBs are looking for management solutions to help them to:

  • Remotely install, update and remove managed apps from devices.
  • Track and view installed/approved/blacklisted apps at the user/device level.
  • Authenticate, manage and deploy apps based on user groups/roles and restrict content access.

Security concerns are behind many of these requirements. SMBs want solutions that enable them to:

  • Lock devices when devices are lost or stolen, or the employee leaves the company
  • Provide data encryption on devices
  • Partition/separate business-related data apps from personal data and apps

In addition, rising adoption of mobile payments and other apps that collect personal information is spiking SMB security concerns on the external app side as well.

Perspective

SMBs look at mobile solutions and like the value that see from them. Consequently, they plan to increase investments both for employee apps, and for external-facing mobile websites and mobile apps.

At the same time, BYOD shows no signs of abating. Employees want to use the devices that they’re most comfortable with, and some SMBs view BYOD a way to trim voice and data service costs. But at the same time, BYOD ushers in additional security and management challenges that can result in added costs can change this equation.

As our panelists discussed, this means that SMBs need to be more strategic upfront about using mobile in their businesses. Think not only about the devices and apps you want to use, but who will use them. Consider both the business outcomes you need from mobile solutions–and the management capabilities you’ll need to have to safeguard corporate and customer information.

Mobile management, security, and consulting services spending categories will see significant spending increases as SMBs endeavor to reap more value from and do a better job managing an increasingly complex assortment mobile devices, services and solutions. Given that many SMBs lack adequate IT resources and mobile expertise, we expect that they will increasingly turn to external solutions providers to get the management job done.

For more commentary on this, see the follow-up video interview.

How The Cloud Can Help SMBs: A Conversation

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 12.27.13 PMLast week, I had the opportunity to be a panelist on IBM’s first virtual influencer event on Spreecast, (a great new platform that connects you with people through video conversation) about how the cloud can help small and medium businesses (SMBs) to build their businesses from the ground up, compete more effectively with big businesses, and grow.

Paul Gillin, veteran tech journalist and social media expert at Profitecture (@pgillin) moderated the panel, which included me, IBM General Manager, IBM Midmarket John Mason (@jcmason), and Subbu Balakrishnan, CTO and co-Founder of Good.co (@backslash0), a career platform built on SoftLayer that helps people find best-fit workplaces and jobs. 15-20 other SMB thought leaders also joined us via Spreecast’s chat function.

You can watch and listen here for the full conversation, but here are a few of the key perspectives I took away from this lively and interesting discussion:

  • All panelists agreed that the momentum for SMB adoption of cloud services is rising rapidly. SMBs increasingly see that by using cloud solutions, they can focus more of their resources and money on their core business, and leapfrog slower-moving competitors.
  • With the help of SoftLayer, Good.com went from idea to over 100,000 users in a year and a half using a credit card to pay for cloud infrastructure. According to Subbu, this is something the 15-20 employee company would not have been able to accomplish if they had to build out their own cloud infrastructure.
  • Many startups are forgoing on premises software entirely, opting to do as much as possible in the cloud. The cloud removes technology and capital barriers to get up and running. They can skip a whole generation of software to get their companies off the ground more quickly. The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred way for startups to go.
  • Once you’re up and running, the cloud gives you a flexible infrastructure to scale and grow the business.
  • The rate and pace of technology change continues to increase. The cloud not only provides SMBs with the benefits of infrastructure scale, but with access to the increasingly specialized technology skills and expertise that are necessary today.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cloud. Public, private, hybrid, shared, or dedicated—each company will have different requirements for different solutions.
  • Business partners play a critical role in helping many SMBs take full advantage of cloud services by fully understanding the SMB’s business requirements. Skilled and trusted partners can translate SMB business requirements into the best-fit cloud solution so the SMB doesn’t have to parse through all of the cloud variants on their own.

SuiteWorld 2014: NetSuite Hits Its Stride

suiteworldI recently had the opportunity to attend SuiteWorld 2014, NetSuite’s annual user conference—along with about 6,500 attendees including customers, partners, journalists and analysts. The event provided us with a good mixture of history, progress, new announcements, and future directions.

Memory Lane–A Somewhat Bumpy Road to the Cloud

I’ve been following NetSuite as an analyst since 1998, when Evan Goldberg (still serving as NetSuite’s CTO) and Mei Li (now SVP NetSuite Corporate Communications), first came to Summit Strategies, where I worked at the time. Early on, NetSuite was NetLedger, offering a simple accounting solution geared towards small and medium businesses (SMBs). The term “cloud” hadn’t yet been coined to describe the model of delivering software as a service (SaaS). In fact, even the SaaS term hadn’t surfaced. Back in the day, we called them Application Service Providers (ASPs) or just online solution providers.

NetSuite was one of a just a handful of vendors that came to pitch this new software delivery method to us in 1998. Salesforce and Employease (long ago acquired by ADP) and maybe a few now defunct vendors probably rounded out this tiny group. Of course, in the next couple of years, we were flooded with visits from seemingly anyone with a similar ideas that could create a PowerPoint presentation.

Over the past 16 years, many cloud vendors have come and gone, as for the most part, the road to the cloud has turned out to an evolutionary–not revolutionary–journey. Mainstream customer adoption of cloud solutions only started to become a reality in 2008, when the “great recession” hit, and the OPEX cloud model became much more attractive to cash-strapped companies. Looking at NetSuite specifically, I remember that for quite a few years in there, the vendor seemed stuck at a count of 5,000 active customers, and some wondered if it could ramp up to the next level of growth.

Fast Forward 

Today, while some roadblocks remain, many companies view the cloud as a mainstream approach to get the solutions they need to run their businesses. In fact, in some areas, such as collaboration and marketing automation, SMB plans for cloud adoption are higher than for on-premise.

Figure 1: Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods Business Applications

Slide1

However, financials and ERP—NetSuite’s flagship solutions—have moved more slowly to the cloud than other types of applications. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Deeper existing market penetration of financials, accounting and ERP. Financial and accounting software has been around a lot longer than many other types of software. So especially in the early days of the cloud, NetSuite (and other cloud-based financial/ERP vendors) needed to convince companies to replace incumbent on premise financials and ERP systems with a new cloud solution. In contrast, vendors outside of the core ERP and financial realm were selling solutions to automate functions that many companies had not yet automated—a much easier pitch to make.
  • Fewer users. Fewer people within an organization typically use financials and ERP systems than, for instance, CRM or collaboration tools. For many companies, the cloud model becomes more compelling as the number of users increases.
  • More regulatory and security requirements. Financial information is subject to many more regulatory concerns than many other functional areas. This, combined with many companies’ reluctance to house the company’s “crown jewels” with a third-party, have slowed the pace of financials and ERP cloud adoption.

Furthermore, the cloud has made it easy for business decision-makers to adopt new apps as needed, without IT involvement or even centralized corporate oversight. NetSuite has always focused on the value of a single, integrated system of record—certainly a longer, higher up the food chain sell than buying other types of solutions.

NetSuite’s Integration Value Proposition Comes of Age

men with puzzle piecesDespite these challenges, NetSuite has successfully stayed the more challenging course, and more companies are coming around to the value proposition that integrated solutions help remove friction and streamline business processes. For Q1 2014, NetSuite announced a record $123 million in revenue, up 34% year-over-year, and more than 20,000 organizations now use NetSuite to run their businesses.

At SuiteWorld, NetSuite showcased its 2014 Transformer Award winners, including Tableau Software, Jive Software, Shaw Industries, Williams-Sonoma and MusclePharm, to illustrate how NetSuite helps them grow and manage change more effectively. But their stories reflect a broader phenomenon. I’ve personally talked to many customers—and not only from NetSuite’s ranks—about how much better business runs when everyone views and works with the same, real-time information.

NetSuite’s Next Phase

Over the years, NetSuite has added integrated CRM, Ecommerce and other areas to its unified platform. At SuiteWorld 2014, NetSuite not only announced a new, improved user interface, but additional integrated offerings including:

  • B2B Customer Center built on NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce platform, to provide B2B merchants a platform to deliver a seamless, efficient B2C-like online shopping experience, with the ability to view order status, details and history, track shipments, reorder goods, and more.
  • A new services resource planning (SRP) solution, that provides integrated ERP, CRM and professional services automation (PSA). The offering includes client management, project and resources management, time-and-expense management, and project accounting in a single solution, designed to enable both product- and project-based businesses to modernize and transform operations the way manufacturing resource planning (MRP) did for manufacturing businesses.
  • The TribeHR SuiteApp. After acquiring TribeHR (a social human resources management suite) last year, NetSuite has migrated tight integration with TribeHR to the NetSuite platform. This brings HR capabilities to NetSuite and provides native integration across TribeHR and other NetSuite solution components.

NetSuite has also come to terms with the fact that one company can’t possibly develop ALL the functionality every company will need, or sell and service all of its potential customers. To that end, NetSuite is bringing more partners into its fold to fill in the white space and provide its customers with a richer ecosystem.

For instance, over 100 developer partners had booths and/or conducted sessions at SuiteWorld. The mix included established vendors such as Avalara, DocuSign and Kronos, to newer entrants such as FieldAware and VertexSMB, all of whom have developed integrations with NetSuite.

On the sales channel side, partners ranged from enterprise-focused players, such as CapGemini and Accenture, to smaller ones such as Cloud ERP (which has built its Australia/New Zealand-based business around selling and supporting the full range of NetSuite solutions), and FHL Cloud Solutions, which has developed a successful micro-vertical approach to marketing and selling NetSuite in industries such as wine, medical devices, and furniture wholesale and distribution.

NetSuite also launched the NetSuite BPO Partner Program at SuiteWorld. Through this program, NetSuite and its partners intend to simplify the outsourcing model and help drive costs down and better server smaller customers. Partners who provide Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) or Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) use NetSuite’s unified solution platform to provide services to their clients. Partners get access to SuiteCloud, NetSuite’s development platform to tailor their NetSuite offerings to industries or client-specific needs. Early partners include Capgemini, McGladrey and Accretive Solutions.

Perspective

Integration helps bring order to chaos–and helps companies reap more value from their application investments. But let’s face it, integrating applications after the fact is a difficult, messy and expensive affair, and one that many SMBs struggle to get done.

In today’s social, mobile and multi-channel world, consumers—whether B2B or B2C—have more power, and all vendors face increasing pressure to provide better, faster, and more user-friendly products, services and engagement to attract and retain customers. Having a unified system of record enables companies to have a more knowledgeable view of customer behavior, and to present a more unified face to customers, whether they’re engaging in marketing, sales, billing or service transaction. This means that the appeal and value of taking an integrated approach will only rise—as will NetSuite’s fortunes.

Six Inspirations for Small Businesses From ICON14

WordItOut-word-cloud-394443Entrepreneurs have always been a rare breed. And, as the U.S. employment rate has improved, the overall rate of business creation has fallen from 0.30 percent in 2012 to 0.28 percent in 2013, according to the annual Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. All age and ethnic groups experienced declines, except for the 45 – 54 year-old group. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over half of all new businesses fail within five years.

So is it any wonder that many small business owners feel like they are isolated, misunderstood and lacking in the guidance and support they need?

Infusionsoft, which develops marketing automation solutions for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees, can relate to this dilemma—and is committed to helping. The vendor not only provides small businesses with effective, affordable solutions to help “attract, sell and wow customers,” but also offers up an abundance of business guidance and support—key ingredients for lasting business success. To quote Clate Mask (@ClateMask), Infusionsoft’s founder and CEO, “I don’t care about big business! We are totally committed to the true small business market—and changing the definition of success for small business owners.”

ICON14ICON14, held in Phoenix last week, represents Infusionsoft’s flagship commitment to help small businesses. In addition to offering attendees the prerequisite tips and tricks to get the best results from its solutions, Infusionsoft provided its 3,000-plus attendees with insights and expertise needed to create thriving, sustainable businesses and achieve work-life balance.

ICON14 featured both entrepreneurial leaders, including Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, JJ Ramberg, Jay Baer and Peter Shankman, as well as its all-star small business customers, to help guide entrepreneurs to beat the odds and create successful enterprises.

These speakers and Infusionsoft executives imparted many pearls of wisdom during the conference (check out the Twitter hashtag #ICON14 for more). But here are a few that really made an impression on me and that I wanted to share.

  1. Develop a positive corporate culture. Most businesses view happy customers as key to success. Yet what are the odds of creating happy customers if you have miserable or just unmotivated employees? As Simon Sinek (@simonsinek) noted in his talk,“Leaders need to set a circle of safety within their organization so their teams can do wonderful things.” Employees who feel appreciated, included and recognized are your best business advocates. See my interview with Infusionsoft’s VP of People, Anita Grantham (@anitakgran) for great ideas on how to build this type of culture.
  1. Establish a system to grow. Entrepreneurs should take advantage of cloud computing’s “no infrastructure investment required” model to help kick-start and organize their businesses for sustainable growth. Small businesses can use technology to enhance relationships by taking the friction out of process and freeing up more time to focus on customers. Systems also enable small companies to scale more easily and maintain better work-life balance. When the owners of Cleancorp (@CleancorpAU), an Australian commercial cleaning service and the ICON14 winner, did everything manually, they had no time for vacation. Since they began using Infusionsoft to automate sales and marketing, they’ve grown the business 575 percent, and the two co-owners took 9 and 13 weeks of vacation last year.
  1. Once you have a system in place, let go of process and let employees do their jobs. As Clate Mask says, business owners need to spend more time working on the business and less time in it. Or as Christian Isquiedero, CEO of Left Foot Coaching and ICON finalist put it, business owners should ask themselves, are they buying you or your process and mission? “You aren’t scalable, but your process and mission is. So build a system to “Verify, Clarify, Document, Teach and Automate.” Let go of the block and tackle, let employees do their jobs and manage what’s going on via a dashboard.
  1. Remember the sale starts with “No.” Small businesses that succeed follow-up regularly with prospects to stay top of mind for the next opportunity. Keep connecting with people every day, not only to sell, but to be there when the timing is right, according to Peter Shankman (@petershankman). Personalize communications with emails, offers and campaigns tailored to different prospects’ histories and behaviors. And don’t forget to integrate offline communication—phone calls, events, on site meetings, etc. with online activities to help humanize the business.
  1. Be relevant, brief and write well! Also from Shankman: With so many ways for people to get content these days, you need to find out what your audience wants and how they want it. Make sure you communicate relevant information, or people will tune you out. Remember that attention spans are shrinking; you have just 2.3 to 2.7 seconds to capture someone’s attention, so keep it short and sweet. Finally, learn to write or hire someone who can. Poor writing is a turn off.
  1. Make your sales process a customer service process. Heather Lemere (@salonbusiness), owner of Salon Success Strategies, a marketing agency for salons and spas and ICON finalist, uses strategic lead qualification to reduce high sales costs by eliminating bad leads to focus only on the best prospects. With a smaller but better qualified prospect pool, you free up time and resources to turn the sales process into an educational customer service process, which in turn helps close more business.

The wisdom, camaraderie and energy at Infusionsoft was truly amazing. Not only did it help educate and inspire those of us that are already pursuing our passions as entrepreneurs, but it should also help motivate those who have been tentative about making the leap! Remember, YOU create your own opportunities—don’t wait for an employer to do it for you!

(Disclosure: Infusionsoft covered my travel expenses for ICON14)

 

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.

 

Can IBM Make the Collaboration Connection With SMBs?

ibmconnectLast 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.

What’s New?

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.

Slide1Across 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 that 238 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.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1.     Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
2.     Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
3.     Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
4.     Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
5.     SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
6.     SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
7.     SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
8.     The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
9.     It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
10.  Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4.  Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events.
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage.
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses.
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are.
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions.
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy-saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green.
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

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