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.

Collaboration and the Progressive SMB

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

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

Personifying the Progressive SMB: Apex Supply Chain

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

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

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

Cleaning Out the Collaboration Junk Drawer

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

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

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

Crossing the Collaboration Chasm

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

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

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

Selecting a Solution

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

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

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

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

Keeping Up With the Speed of What Customers Want

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

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

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

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

Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

CollaborHaitian: How CIC Uses Social Business to Crowd Source Medical Care in Haiti

Logo-For-ThumbnailWhen 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.

CIC SchematicSizedforBlog2Using 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.

Perspective

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.

Dell’s Boston Think Tank: Big Ideas for Small Business

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (#smallbizboston) at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Dell billed the session as a chance for business owners, startups and others to come together to listen, learn, collaborate and share.

dpictInstead of talking heads, the day was interactive from start to finish, with speakers who realized that they have as much to learn from attendees as the other way around. And instead of PowerPoint slides, dpict.info’s scribe captured the story as it unfolded, building this great infographic to sum up the day’s key conversations and insights.

Dell_Boston_2013_printDell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt (who I spoke to in this video interview) kicked off the event some interesting stats about how Boston small businesses view the current business environment and their ability access to capital, talent and technology. Whitney Johnson (@johnsonwhitney), Author of Dare, Dream, Do and Harvard Business Review Blogger and event moderator, introduced the 4 different themes for the day, each facilitated by a local small business expert:

Dell sessionFrom my perspective, some of the most interesting takeaways from the day were that small business owners:

  • Struggle to find qualified people who are also a good fit for the company’s culture. Although small business owners believe that talent and expertise are the most important contributors to business growth, they find it difficult task to access the talent they need. The investment required to recruit, hire and train someone looms large for small business, and the risk of hiring someone who doesn’t work out is a big one. While people have had success outsourcing smaller jobs to contractors via sites such as Elance, TaskRabbit and Zirtual, “you reach a point where you need talent that you can trust, commit to and hire.” Practical advice included to “go where the talent is,” for example, check out http://www.meetup.com/ and go to meetups where you’re most likely to find the types of people you’re looking for, and learn some of the lingo they use so you can engage in a meaningful conversation. Other suggestions included writing down and codifying your corporate values so that you can clearly articulate them to the candidates you interview. Finally, look for people with complementary skills to yours, and those who can do the job as well or even better than you can.
  • See technology as both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, the Internet and mobile solutions have made it much easier for people to collaborate and connect. On the other hand, small business owners are in information overload when it comes to sorting through all the thousands of available technology solutions and determine which can really help them achieve their business goals–growing revenue, being more productive, and operating more profitably. Dell’s survey indicates that 41% of Boston small businesses see technology needs as becoming increasingly complex, yet only 1 in 10 have full-time dedicated IT people. This mirrors SMB Group’s North America research findings. Most small businesses see the value of technology in making their businesses successful, but need a lot of help to identify which solutions will have the biggest impact on business results.
  • Believe telecommuting and working remotely enables productivity. Sorry, @Yahoo Melissa Mayer, but I think its fair to say that you are swimming against the tide. The general sentiment seemed to be that although live, face-to-face meetings are ideal for some things, the ability to work remotely has given small businesses more flexibility and access to talent. For instance, Sharon Kan, an entrepreneur with four successful start-up exits, kicked of the Access to Technology session by saying she runs her businesses with “a phone and a laptop.”
  • Typically pull their businesses up with their own bootstraps. Only 3% of Boston small businesses relied on venture capital and angel investors to get off the ground. Personal savings are the top source of funding at 44%, followed by banks and credit unions at 23%. Amy Millman of Springboard Investors, which has funded a raft of innovative start-ups, including Zipcar, iRobot and Constant Contact, gave business owners insights into what investors are looking for. First, you must be able to clearly articulate how your company is going to make money, and “learn the language of funders and investors”. More pointedly, when a prospect says “wow”, take it a step further. Find out the “why and how of the wow” and use that in your pitch to investors.
  • Need to get more strategic about using social media. According to Chris Brogan, who led the social media breakout, all businesses must think like “fledgling TV stations and create their own media” and “build trust at a distance.” The challenge is how to do this effectively. SMB Group’s 2012 Social Business survey indicates that of the 53% of small businesses using social media, less than half use it in a strategic way. According to Chris, small businesses need a home base, such as a web site or blog, and two “outposts.” One outpost should be the social media site that’s the best fit for your story and how you want to tell it (I would add that it also needs to be a place where your prospects hang out) and the other is email marketing: bad email marketing may be dead but good email marketing isn’t. Don’t try to spread yourself too thin–concentrate on using these three to help you “articulate, reach, trust, engage and echo” to meet your business goals.

dell session 5Overall, the interactive format, access to experts and eclectic mix of small business owners added up to an event that gave attendees information and inspiration, and new connections with people to get help from and vice versa.

Dell put a lot into the event. In addition to Ingrid and a number of Dell marketing and AR staff, Dell product strategy, management and technology teams were also well represented. With its listening ears on at events such as this, Dell is taking the right steps not only to help small businesses succeed, but to also ensure that it has the insights it needs to provide small businesses with the solutions they need to move ahead.

The Boston event was the last stop on Dell’s inaugural Think Tank tour of nine cities, but I’m told that Dell intends to follow-up with a new tour schedule soon.

Dell World 2012: An Update on Dell’s Journey

Just before the holidays, I had the opportunity to attend Dell’s second annual Dell World user conference. Here’s my take on  Dell’s progress towards becoming an end-to-end solutions company, and its directions in the small and medium business (SMB) market.

To put things in context, Dell has been on a journey for a couple of years to transform from a hardware company provide businesses with open, flexible and easier to use IT solutions that can scale up or down as needed. Dell is leveraging cloud computing, open standards, and a blend of hardware, service and software offerings to build more comprehensive solutions. And, Dell has pegged midmarket business requirements as its design focal point to ensure scalability for organizations of all sizes. As I discussed in The New Dell and What it Means for SMBs: Takeaways from Dell’s 2011 Solutions for a Virtual Era Event, Dell has also made many acquisitions to turn this vision into reality, including KACE, Boomi, Wyse, SonicWall, Quest and AppAssure and others.

On Track for Transformation

Dell has taken a lot of heat for not turning around fast enough to please some analyst and pundits. But, at the event, Dell provided a status report on its progress, and unveiled several new strategies, products and services that I believe will continue to propel it forward.

For example, Dell reported that cloud revenue has increased 30% year for Q3 FY 2013, and that its x86 server shipment growth outpaced the industry overall (and HP and IBM in particular) according to International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Q3 2012 Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. In addition, security revenue for Q3 FY 2013 rose 16% year over year. Dell now processes more than 30 billion events every day, and is growing its footprint in the security area. Perhaps most importantly, services and consulting now account for roughly one-third of Dell’s sales.

Among the many announcements that are part and parcel of any vendor user conference, several highlighted how Dell is turning its vision into reality, including that Dell has:

  • Chosen OpenStack as its open source cloud platform of choice for public and private cloud. This extends Dell’s commitment to open, standards-based solutions. While it will still provide customers with solutions on other cloud platforms, the vendor has endorsed OpenStack as the most open, flexible way to implement a hybrid environment and move workloads between private and public clouds.
  • Added new solutions to its Active Infrastructure converged infrastructure portfolio. Dell announced new blueprints for VDI and unified communications and collaboration applications and workloads. This builds on Dell’s goal of helping customers to streamline IT deployment and management with Active Infrastructure solutions. These combine servers, storage, networking and infrastructure systems management into integrated solutions that zero in on specific workload requirements to speed deployment, cut costs and energy consumption, and simplify operations.
  • Unveiled the CIO Powerboard. Using Boomi, Dell has knit together management tools from Quest, KACE, SonicWALL and AppAssure to provide IT with a unified view and metrics across their IT environment–another proof point of Dell’s ability to provide more integrated, end-to-end solutions.

We also got a glimpse into the strong potential that Dell’s Wyse acquisition has to propel Dell into the mobile management space from the very energetic Tarkan Maner, Dell Wyse President and CEO. Maner demoed the Pocket Cloud web service, which allows users to search all of their physical, virtual systems and clouds. As I discussed here, Dell recently launched Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager (CCM), which incorporates Pocket Cloud technology, and provides businesses a centralized mobile management platform with an SMB-friendly price tag.

Stepping Up Support for SMBs

Beyond new solutions and technology directions, Dell took the wraps off of two new initiatives designed to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

For starters, Dell launched the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs, headed up by its Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt. In this video interview,  Ingrid discusses how the community is built by and designed for entrepreneurs. One of the program’s key goals  is to help entrepreneurs secure capital to invest in the technology they need to grow. Dell Financial Services and the Dell Innovators Credit Fund supply credit and leasing options, and the site also offers webcasts, videos and case studies from Dell, industry experts, and a community of entrepreneurs sharing their experiences.

With former President Bill Clinton on hand as the event’s marquee keynote speaker, Dell also announced that it is sponsoring this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University and support the entrepreneurship theme at CGI U 2013, which will be held at Washington University in St. Louis in the spring. The track is designed to help students and young entrepreneurs get the grounding they need to launch, run and grow a business, and the increasingly vital role of technology in building a successful business.

Quick Take

Yes, Dell still has to figure out how (or maybe even whether) to really differentiate and innovate in the client and particularly the mobile device battle.

But Dell World served to highlight that Michael Dell has crafted a strong vision and is sticking to it, building it through a series of strong acquisitions (compare this to HP’s Palm and Autonomy debacles) and solid technology directions. Combined, Dell has assembled many of the building blocks it needs to achieve its vision. And, Dell will keep filling in missing puzzle pieces, as evidenced just a few days after Dell World, when Dell completed its acquisition of Credant Technologies to fortify its data protection capabilities.

Meanwhile, Dell’s continuing commitment to provide solutions that scale up and down from the midmarket bode well for growing its footprint in the SMB market. In addition, Dell’s new initiatives to support entrepreneurs are a natural, given Michael Dell’s credentials as a poster child for entrepreneurial success. Through these programs, Dell will not only help young companies benefit from technology, but forge engagements with entrepreneurs that will fuel future directions with fresh insights.

Overall, Dell World 2012 demonstrated while Dell still lacks a magic bullet for the client device side of its business, it is making steady progress in its goal to supply the end-to-end IT infrastructure solutions and services that businesses need to support them.

Report Card: 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Elance

I’ve had several interesting briefings in the last couple of weeks to tell you about. Since I won’t have the time to sit down and write them all up at once, I thought I’d dash them off as individual snippets instead.

First up is this post about Elance. Do you have too much on your to do list? Elance can help you find a contractor to help you get the job done. Or maybe you’re on the flip side of the coin as a contractor looking for work. Either way, Elance can benefit you. Its mission is to provide companies with “instant access to talent” through an online network of contractors and tools that make it easy to find, hire, manage and pay them.

Since my last briefing with Elance, it has grown at an impressive pace. Today, Elance has 1.3 million tested and rated contractors in its fold, and garners about 2,500 new job posts per day. While its original focus was on IT professionals, Elance has diversified to add lawyers, accountants, designers, writers and accountants on its roster.

No doubt that Elance owes part of its growth to the trend we labeled as that of “The Accidental Entrepreneur” in our SMB Group 2012 Top Ten SMB Technology Predictions. We discussed the fact that as unemployment has increased, so have the number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants and others choosing to go it alone. According to the Census Bureau, small business without payroll makes up more than 70 percent of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion.

The good news for these solo entrepreneurs is that Elance recently surveyed 1500 small businesses and found that 73% plan to hire more contractors online in the next 12 months. Why? Because it provides them with the competitive advantage they need to get things done faster, better and at lower costs–and helps them to present a larger, more professional image to their customers.

While it’s always tough to take that first plunge to hire a contractor online, Elance provides a community rating system to help you vet potential candidates. Once you select someone to work with, the Elance platform provides tools, such as a workroom with Skype, to help you connect and work together more easily. Real-time time tracking and status updates are built into the system, as are invoicing and payments. Elance also has an escrow process that protects both parties by pre-funding work and releasing payments only when results are approved. And Elance takes care of basic paperwork (such as 1099 forms) to help ensure compliance.

Whether you’re a small business that needs an extra pair of hands, or a solo entrepreneur looking for a new project, Elance could be a great fit.

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