Coming Full Circle: Small Business and the Circular Economy

canstockphoto26603076Today, most businesses take a “take, make and dispose” approach to create their products, without much thought as to where these products will go when we dispose of them. But there is an alternative to this traditional, linear model–one that recognizes the reality that natural resources are limited.

The circular economy takes an end-to-end approach to source, develop and dispose of products. Companies applying this approach design and build products and services to minimize waste while maintaining natural resources. Going beyond recycling, the circular economy brings design, manufacturing, distribution and utilization into the picture as well.

This two-part blog series examines the drivers for businesses to shift from traditional, linear economy models to the circular economy. The first post, Reimagining Business: The Circular Economy, explains the differences between linear and circular economies, and discusses Dell’s evolution. This second post, focuses on how two small business owners are using this model to build successful, sustainable businesses, and how your small business can put this concept to work.

Blue Avocado: Making It Easy to Be Green

Amy GeorgeAmy George had planned to go to medical school after college. But when her dad died, she took a job with an architectural firm that designed sustainable buildings. As she learned about sustainability, she decided that what she really wanted to do was to create a sustainable business by “turning garbage into great products.”

After attending business school, Amy founded Blue Avocado. Blue Avocado’s goal is to entice new consumers to join the green movement with functional and chic reusable bags that minimize waste from design to production.

The company’s first products were reusable shopping bags, which she launched as cities began establishing plastic bag bans. When the 2008-2009 recession hit, more people wanted to bring lunch to work, so Amy added reusable lunch bags to the portfolio. These reusable bags are made with Repreve fabric, which is certified by the UNFI, Repreve’s parent company’s proprietary U Trust method to ensure that Repreve fibers are truly made from post-consumer plastic.

blueavocadobagsAccording to Amy, “To really grow consumer momentum, products not only have to be green, but be great. To attract each new wave of consumers, you need to create new solutions and new functionality.” So four years ago Blue Avocado added (re)zip® storage bag line, an alternative to disposable baggies. Since then, the company has also introduced reusable produce bags and this year, reusable trash bags.

Amy estimates that by the end of 2014, Blue Avocado had helped consumers avoid 200 million disposable alternatives. The seven-employee company now sells its products through The Container Store, Amazon, Whole Foods, Bloomingdales, Kroeger, Wegman’s, Target, OfficeMax, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Looking ahead, Blue Avocado is expanding distribution through retailers in Asia, Australia and Europe by 2016. In addition, the company forged a new partnership this year with Terra Cycle that allows BlueAvocado to upcycle all of their products into secondary parts or material versus end in a landfill.

Techway: Turning Trash To Treasure

Cathi High Res HeadshotWith a background in hardware sales, Cathi Coan, CEO of Techway Services, Inc., invested in a company to resell used computer equipment. When the lead investor died, Cathi found herself with a warehouse full of equipment. While she could find buyers for some of it, there was a lot of e-waste–from outdated monitors and PCs to toner cartridges and batteries–that no one wanted to buy.

E-waste is the fastest growing segment of the national waste stream. According to a report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the amount of e-waste being produced could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade. The United States produces the most e-waste in the world at around 3 million tons each year, with China not far behind at 2.3 million tons (2010 estimate). E-waste contains toxic materials which don’t break down naturally and can cause great harm to the environment, groundwater, and ecosystems if not disposed of properly. These toxic materials include lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, plastics and many others. In 2010, only 27% of this e-waste was recycled in the United States.

techwayCathi decided that in addition to reselling equipment, Techway Services could also break down unwanted hardware to recover metals, plastics and other materials to be repurposed to manufacture new products. According to Cathi, “Most materials can be reused or recycled. We aggregate, hand disassemble, and separate materials into different commodities. The final material is processed by our downstream partners for future use.”

Techway Services is now a nationally recognized Information Technology Asset Disposition (ITAD) company that specializes in end-of-life IT services. Techway Services helps companies with all aspects of IT asset recovery. Techway Services provides secure onsite data eradication for outdated equipment, reverse logistics, IT resale, and certified demanufacturing, which includes responsible recycling. Responsible recycling keeps hazardous material out of landfills. Techway Services is registered with the EPA with R2/RIOS certifications and is ISO certified to ensure streamlined compliance for its customers.

As regulatory concerns have increased, and businesses have become more environmentally conscious, the business has grown. Companies risk stiff fines if they do not safely dispose of these outdated assets. Techway Services works with large Fortune 500 clients, universities and towns, not only to provide services, but also to raise awareness about sustainability and technology recycling. The company has even developed revenue share models with some of its clients to resell their used equipment in secondary markets.

Making the Circular Economy Work for Your Small Business

How can you put the circular economy approach to benefit the environment and your business? Here are some tips:

  • Establish holistic economic, environmental and social goals for your business. By reducing waste and your carbon footprint, you run your business more efficiently, and save money.
  • Look at how you can extend the impact via your networks; whether with your customer, suppliers or through the community you do business in, and how can you help them start this journey.
  • If you’re starting a new business, remember that green alone doesn’t sell a product. Start with a great idea for an innovative product or service, and then look for opportunities waste can offer.
  • If you’re an established business, apply your existing expertise to create a new, green product line.
  • Check out waste brokerage sites to source waste to use in your products, and/or work with a consulting firm such as Brightworks, which focuses on helping companies build a circular economy business model.
  • Aim to make the B Corp list, which certifies companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency standards.
  • Remember services companies can get on board too. For example, Green Mountain Power, a Vermont energy company, is bundling new energy products and services to help people save money, and use less energy and fossil fuels. SEEDS offers environmentally friendly green printing services from initial concept to final delivery and distribution.

Finally, remember you can’t do everything all at once. The important thing is to get started and set incremental goals to get your business moving in the right direction.

This is the second in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses the circular economy, Dell’s role in it, and how small businesses can transition to and benefit from it.

Reimagining Business: The Circular Economy

Closed Loop RecyclingToday, most businesses take a “take, make and dispose” approach to create their products, without much thought as to where these products will go when we dispose of them.

But a movement is underway to redesign traditional business models for the reality that resources are limited. The alternative, circular economy, which takes an end-to-end view of how materials are sourced and used to build products, is taking shape among businesses of all sizes. In a circular economy, products are designed and produced to minimize waste. As this model gains traction, more people are realizing that it can benefit the environment and contribute to business growth.

In this two-part blog series, we discuss how and why businesses are transitioning from the traditional, linear economy to a more sustainable circular economy. In this first post, I look at the differences between linear and circular economies, and discuss Dell’s goals for and journey to a circular economy. In the second, Coming Full Circle: Small Business and the Circular Economy, I discuss how two small business owners are applying this model, and how your small business can put this concept to work.

Where the Buck Stops: The Linear Economy

landfillThe traditional, linear economy is about taking resources, making products and disposing of them. Not much thought goes into where these products will go when we dispose of them, or whether materials can be recovered and reused.

For example, think about all those bright and shiny objects that we all love–from PCs to fitness bands, tablets to TVs, servers to phones. To produce these products, manufacturers source the raw materials that go into these devices, such as copper, mercury, gold, silicon, platinum and petroleum, from around the globe. The journey continues with stops at refineries and smelters, chip fabrication plants, and assembly lines, where products are assembled and shipped.

An amazing journey to be sure, but what happens to the old stuff when we trade it in for brighter, shinier new models? Unfortunately, the answer is not a pleasant one. Most of the trash we create goes to landfills and dumps, creating environmental and health hazards. In many cases, we are also depleting a finite supply of non-renewable resources.

Today, the linear economy is the norm: The United Nations University reported that only one-sixth of the 46 million tons of electronics that were discarded last year were recycled or reused. However, as resources are exhausted and the population grows, the linear model isn’t sustainable.

Bringing the Economy Full Circle

In contrast, the circular economy takes an end-to-end view of how materials are sourced and used to build products. It requires companies to take a fresh look at their business models, product planning and design, materials sourcing and management, and supply chain collaboration. In this model, products are remade, repaired, resold, or recycled.

By recycling products, components, untapped resources and materials back into relevant value chains, a circular economy enables economic growth with less wasted resources. It reduces toxic waste in dumps and landfills, and helps address the problem of the increasingly scarce supply and growing costs of raw materials.

While economic considerations are a key driver for the circular economy, businesses are also seeing more demand from consumers for sustainably produced goods and services.

Dell’s Circular Journey

Dell has taken a proactive stance to transition to a circular economy for over 20 years. In 1994, Dell began its “Design for Disassembly, Upgradeability, Serviceability” initiative, and became a founding member of the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star Program, integrating energy efficiency into every product line.

Ten years ago, Dell established a partnership with Goodwill to offer consumers a free, easy way to recycle electronics. Consumers simply drop off their unwanted electronics, regardless of brand, at Goodwill. Goodwill determines whether a device can be resold or refurbished. If not, it sends the product to Dell’s third party electronics recyclers to recover precious metals, plastics and other components.

Legacy of GoodTwo years ago, Dell significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.

Dell’s goals are far-reaching and specific, and include plans to reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%, decrease greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%; and reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%. Other goals include ensuring 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills, to source 100% of product packaging from sustainable materials, and to recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics.

Getting Results

Dell’s commitment to minimizing waste is evident throughout the company. For instance, Dell is designing its products with fewer screws and more snap in pieces to make it easier for recyclers to dismantle them. It has free electronics recycling programs for consumers in 78 countries, and provides commercial asset recovery to businesses in 44 countries. Through its closed loop approach, Dell also reuses about 2 million pounds of recycled plastics in fifteen products.

WheatStrawPackagingThe company is innovating in packaging as well, using renewable products such as bamboo, mushrooms and most recently, wheat straw. Wheat straw is what’s left over after wheat grain is harvested. In China, the wheat straw is often burned, leading to air pollution. Dell is now using about 200 tons of Chinese wheat straw to manufacture boxes for its products, reducing an estimated 180 tons of CO2 emissions.

Dell is also extending sourcing standards to its suppliers to help design out waste in the supply chain. For instance, in 2013, the company added social and environmental (SER) criteria to its global supplier selection process, including criteria for clean water and air discharges.

Moving beyond products, 20% of Dell’s workforce now telecommutes, saving an estimated 13 million kWh of energy, and 6,785 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions–and save $14 million annually on facilities expenses.

Finally, Dell is helping customers build proactive, sustainable IT strategies that not only benefit the environment, but save money and streamline operations. Dell Services helps customers assess current technology practices and determine options to green up existing practices, and/or develop new approaches to meet sustainability and fiscal goals.

Perspective

Dell is playing a leadership role in transitioning to the circular economy. But the circular economy can be as compelling for small businesses as it is for Dell and other big companies. Small businesses can apply the same principles to build more sustainable, differentiated and profitable businesses. In fact, understanding and transitioning to a circular economy can open the door to new opportunities that will help you to future proof your business.

In the next post in this series, I share the stories of two entrepreneurs that have created successful circular economy businesses, and their insights as to how other small businesses can head for greener pastures.

This is the first in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses the circular economy; Dell’s role in it, and how small businesses can transition to and benefit from it.

Mobile Solutions Play a Big Role in Small Businesses

Small businesses are rapidly moving to mobile solutions to gain anytime, anywhere access to people, information and applications. As mobile becomes a mainstream solution technology, small businesses must also factor mobile into their broader technology strategies and plans. Our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study highlights the powerful impact of mobile in very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses to date, and implications for the future.

Changes in Attitudes

Mobile applications are quickly becoming indispensable for many small businesses. As shown on Figure 1, a half of very small and two-thirds of small businesses regard mobile solutions as critical for their businesses. Slightly more than half of these organizations also view mobile apps as helping to drive business growth. Consequently, it’s not surprising that mobile apps are playing a bigger role in small business operations. A substantial majority see mobile apps as complementing traditional business apps, and 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will even replace some of their current business applications.

Figure 1: Small Businesses are Bullish on Mobile SolutionsSlide1

For small businesses, cash is king. Attracting new customers, growing revenues, and maintaining/improving profitability as top business goals (Figure 2). Small businesses see mobile solutions as very instrumental in helping them to address these and other important customer engagement, workforce and financial goals.

Figure 2: Top Small Business GoalsSlide2

For instance, 70% of very small and 87% of small businesses agree that mobile solutions play a significant role in improving customer experience and retention (Figure 3). Almost two-thirds see mobile as playing a significant role in helping them to attract new customers.

Figure 3: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Customer ChallengesSlide3

Survey respondents are also convinced that mobile solutions help them create a more effective, productive workforce environment, with 74% of very small and a close to unanimous 91% of small businesses seeing mobile as boosting employee productivity. Furthermore, almost two-thirds see mobile solutions as helping them to attract and retain quality employees, reflecting the reality that people increasingly want to gain the same level of mobile access, convenience and information in their business lives as they are getting as consumers. Mobile solutions are likely to become even more important to recruiting new employees as small businesses seeking to hire more younger workers and millenials.

Figure 4: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Workforce ChallengesSlide4

Perhaps most telling, small businesses see mobile solutions as playing a significant role in helping them meet critical top and bottom line business challenges, such as reacting quickly to changing market conditions, reducing operating costs, improving cash flow, and growing revenue.

Figure 5: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Financial ChallengesSlide5

More Work Is Getting Done On Mobile Devices

Businesses are taking advantage of providing employees with the ability to work anytime, anywhere via mobile devices (Figure 6). Small business use of basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts is already mainstream, with upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already using these apps on mobile devices. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Figure 6: Small Business Employees are Doing More Work On Mobile DevicesSlide6

Mobile business apps have made strong gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Small Businesses Are Deploying Mobile Web Sites and Apps for Customers

Since attracting new customers and growing revenues are top goals for small businesses, it’s not surprising that they are investing in mobile web sites and apps for customers, partners and suppliers. 48% of small businesses now have a mobile-friendly website, and 30% offer at least one mobile app for customers. Growth across all functional areas is up dramatically year-over-year (Figure 7), and plans to add more external-facing apps are healthy.

Figure 7: Small Businesses are Rapidly Adopting Customer-Facing Mobile AppsSlide7

Small business attitudes about mobile solutions are remarkably positive, and small business ascent up the mobile adoption curve has been nothing short of revolutionary when compared to other technology areas.

As a result, mobile is already having a significant impact on decision-making in other IT areas (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Mobile Impact on IT DecisionsSlide8

Perspective

As the mobile-first mentality becomes more pervasive, small businesses will need more guidance to ensure that their strategies for cloud, networking, infrastructure, legacy applications and devices support, enhance and integrate with the mobile solutions they deploy. By developing a holistic strategy, rather than taking a reactive approach, small businesses can both maximize value from their mobile investments, and reduce management headaches down the road.

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

Trends in Small Business Adoption of Mobile Solutions

Mobile technology is revolutionizing how small businesses get things done. Over the last few years, SMB Group has conducted detailed surveys to quantify the impact of mobile in the small business market. Having recently published our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, we thought the timing was right to look at some key benchmarks to illuminate just how quickly very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses are evolving in the mobile solutions area.

Mobile Making Steady Gains as a Percentage of Overall Small Business Technology Spending

Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of very small and small business technology budgets (Figure 1). Year-over-year, median spending on mobile solutions as a percentage of total technology spending has risen 10% year among very small businesses, and 7% among small businesses.

Figure 1: Mobile Accounts for an Increasing Share of Small Business Technology Budgets

Slide1

 In addition, both very small and small businesses continue to be bullish on mobile spending plans (Figure 2). In 2014, 48% of very small businesses and 70% of small businesses forecast that they would increase mobile spending in the coming year.

 Figure 2: Small Businesses Mobile Spending Plans Continue to Rise

Slide2

Mobile Applications Play an Increasingly Bigger Role in Small Business

Trending analysis shows that mobile applications are becoming more critical for small businesses. Both very small and very small businesses continue to incorporate a growing number of mobile apps into their day-to-day business operations (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Increasing Use of Mobile AppsSlide3

Since upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already use basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts, growth is tapering somewhat in this area. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Mobile business apps have made bigger gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Furthermore, 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will replace some of their current business applications, further underscoring that mobile apps are becoming core to the business (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Mobile Apps Increasingly Likely to Complement/Displace Traditional Business AppsSlide4

BYOD Support Still Gaining

Employees increasingly want to use their own devices to access corporate data. This is part of a growing trend dubbed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In the BYOD model, employees can use the device of their choice for work. BYOD has both pros and cons. Most people think it helps improve employee productivity, and some think it can lower costs. However, most also agree that BYOD devices are more difficult to manage and secure than company owned devices.

Despite these tradeoffs, small business support for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs for employees also continues to enjoy strong growth (Figure 5). Top drivers for the 60% of small businesses that currently support BYOD support include employee familiarity/preference for their own device (71%); saving money (63%); and meeting employee expectations/demands (42%). Roughly one-quarter of these businesses pay for all smartphone device and service expenses. In contrast, 20% cover smartphone service plan costs only; 18% cover business use expenses only, and 20% provide employees with fixed monthly stipends. Interestingly, 18% expect employees to use their own mobile device for work but do not cover any BYOD expenses.

Figure 5: Growth In Small Business BYOD SupportSlide5

But BYOD challenges hinder wider adoption. 40% of small businesses don’t support BYOD due to security concerns (56%); difficult to manage (54%); and because reimbursing employees for BYOD is too time consuming/complex (38%). These businesses are not likely to add BYOD support until it is easier to partition, secure, bill and manage work-related versus personal mobile use and expenses.

Small Businesses Slower to Add Mobile Management Capabilities

In fact, small business adoption of bright and shiny mobile devices and apps has quickly outpaced their embrace of mobile management solutions in general. As shown on Figure 6, only 43% of businesses with 20-99 employees are using a mobile device management solution, while just 33% use a solution to manage and secure mobile apps.

Figure 6: Small Business (20-99 employees) Adoption of Mobile Management SolutionsSlide6

In addition, while small business spending on mobile devices, service plans and apps as a percentage of total mobile spending has risen from 2013 to 2014, spending on mobile management, consulting and security has declined somewhat from 2013.

But it does not appear that cost is what’s holding small businesses back. Just 16% of respondents said that they didn’t’ use a mobile management solution because they are too expensive. Instead, the biggest obstacles are they don’t think they need it (51%); they don’t know which solution is right for their company (22%) and they don’t have the resources to deploy it (22%).

Perspective

Small businesses are clearly swept up in the mobile tsunami, and mobile solutions are becoming essential to small business success. However, small business adoption of mobile devices, apps and services is rapidly outpacing their ability to secure and manage mobile assets.

Without appropriate mobile device, application and data management policies and solutions in place, small businesses risk putting their corporate financial and brand security at ever-higher risk. In addition, as reliance on mobile solutions rises without adequate attention to management, many small businesses will find manual attempts to track and manage mobile use increasingly time-consuming and frustrating.

Study findings strongly suggest that while small businesses have quickly grasped how mobile can help their businesses, they are still struggling to understand the why, what, and how of mobile management. Vendors will need to dramatically ramp up education, guidance and consulting initiative and services to help more small businesses understand and take action in this area.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

My Top 10 Posts from 2014

december-2014-calendarWow, December really came quickly this year! So I figured that I would post my most popular blogs from 2014 now, before people are devoting all of their online time to holiday shopping!

 

Cloud Is The New Normal for SMBs—But Integration Isn’t
SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014
Nine Signs Michael Dell Will Be the Comeback Kid
IBM Reimagines the Email Story With IBM Verse
Six Technology Resolutions for a Happier and Healthier SMB New Year
SMB Technology: Mind, Matter, Money–and the Cloud
A New Cloud Formation: Dell Cloud Marketplace
Microsoft Lumia 1520: A Millennial Perspective
ReachLocal: One Stop Digital Shop for Local Small Business
Five Things SAP Needs To Do To Make “Simple” Real

Dell’s Strategy to Bring Game-Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Dell’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, A New Cloud Formation: Dell Cloud Marketplaceprovides perspectives from Dell World 2014. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs, offers additional insights into Dell’s approach to help SMBs capitalize on technology trends.

delllogoThe writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Dell a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

Slide1

Dell’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

Dell sees cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies converging towards the next pivotal tipping point, where IT will change the lives and experiences of nearly every industry, country and person on the planet.

Dell articulates its view on top technology trends somewhat differently than other vendors interviewed for this report. However, the same technology trends—cloud, analytics, social, mobile and security—are core to Dell’s top picks. Dell sees the following trends ushering in new wave of business transformation, similar or greater in scope to how the Internet and web affected businesses:

  1. People will increasingly rely on technology to connect, collaborate and accomplish tasks and goals. Embedded in user-friendly solutions, cloud, social and mobile technologies enable SMBs to connect, collaborate and engage anytime, anywhere to better serve their customers and to work more efficiently.
  2. IT is changing from a support function to becoming core most business operations, and business decision-makers are increasingly involved in IT decisions to ensure the business gets the value it needs from IT.
  3. Amidst the growing volumes of structured unstructured data, SMBs that have the rights tools to find the needles in the haystack and uncover useful, actionable information and insights will gain competitive and market advantages.
  4. As SMBs rely more on technology to run their businesses and engage with customers, partners, suppliers and others, taking measures to secure and protect data, information and access are increasingly essential to business viability.

Some of the tangible ways that Dell is helping SMBs capitalize on these changes include:

  • Becoming an über-cloud provider: Dell has been steadily expanding the Dell Cloud Partner Program to provide access and end-to-end support for offerings from multiple cloud vendors.
  • Offering open, private-cloud solutions, which should help give SMBs more confidence in using OpenStack as an alternative to proprietary IaaS and PaaS (infrastructure and platform as-a-service) alternatives.
  • Expanding portfolio of mobile management solutions, such as Enterprise Mobility Management, a unified mobile management solution to managed devices, apps, and content, and Secure Remote Access Gateway to protect endpoints.
  • New intellectual property gained from acquisitions such as SonicWALL, Quest, Boomi, Compellent and Force10 is skewed towards the SMB world. In fact, Dell views SMB and midmarket as an ideal focal point for development and acquisitions since it believes large organizations also want scalable solutions that are easier to deploy and use too.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior 

Fueled by the web, mobile and social access, Dell sees changes in how SMBs evaluate and shop for solutions. Today, SMBs are more prone to have done their homework before they come to the sales table. Armed with a greater understanding upfront, they are looking for vendors and partners that will listen to what they are trying to do and offer authentic, objective and knowledgeable guidance. In addition, Dell believes that simply doing the right things for people works. To that end, Dell prefers having its customers tell its story rather than Dell telling it. For example, Dell cites the tornado damage in Oklahoma City last spring, where Dell served as a first responder, as exemplifying its commitment to doing the right thing to earn customers’ faith in Dell.

Dell sees both the role of SMB IT and business decision-makers morphing. More frequently, line-of-business (LoB) managers are not only customers of IT departments, but also co-owners of IT. This means that IT staff must work harder to meet increasing demands, and become more educated and engaged in business operations and strategy than in the past. SMB IT personnel need more practical and actionable advice and support from vendors and their channel partners to juggle ongoing IT management with innovation.

SMBs are also scrutinizing “calculated risks” much more carefully. For instance, SMBs are interested in the cloud because of affordability and ease of access/use advantages, but want to ensure that cloud solutions are secure and reliable. SMBs are also more likely to factor business disruption into the cost/benefit analysis for any given solution. They are getting wiser about the perils of bad decisions and implementations, so the bar keeps getting higher to deliver solutions with less business disruption and faster time to value.

Finally, SMBs increasingly recognize that the technology-performance connection is real, and can be used to accelerate growth disrupt industry icons with innovation and agility. The perspective is summed up in Dell’s latest ad campaign. SMBs can use new technologies not only to reshape their existing businesses, but also to redefine the economics of an industry and expectation of the market.

However, one constant remains. Most SMBs need capitalize on these opportunities without putting themselves in financial or operational jeopardy. SMB budgets, IT staff and expertise aren’t often able to both maintain what they have and innovate within the window of opportunity. So Dell is focusing on designing, delivering, supporting and financing solutions that take these constraints into account.

Perspective: Dell as SMB Technology Catalyst

Dell’s journey to transform itself has been in progress for a few years. While on Wall Street’s watch, it wasn’t easy for Dell to recast its image from a transaction-oriented hardware company to an end-to-end solutions provider and trusted advisor.

However, Dell’s entrepreneurial heritage is once again alive and well. Michael Dell not only started the company in his dorm room when he was a 19-year old student at the University of Texas, but took it private in 2013 to gain control over its destiny again. With genuine DNA at the heart of Dell’s commitment to SMBs and entrepreneurs, Dell can take a longer-term view on return on investment in new technologies. This should enable it to launch more innovative and affordable cloud computing, mobile, social, analytics and security technologies geared to SMB requirements.

In addition, Dell prides itself on listening to its customers and creating a mutually beneficial dialogue. Dell’s Social Media Command Center is one of the best in the industry, and Dell’s SMB and partner outreach programs are extensive.

While Dell is still in the midst of its own transformation journey, its attitudes and actions when it comes to SMBs should help it to significantly broaden its status as a trusted advisor in this market.

 

A New Cloud Formation: Dell Cloud Marketplace

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Dell’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Dell World 2014. The second post, Dell’s Strategy to Provide Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Dell’s approach in the SMB market.

dell worldHow has Dell changed since Michael Dell took Dell private a year ago? A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Dell World 2014 in Austin and find out. As I’ve written in past posts about prior Dell Worlds, the transformation has been underway for several years, since Michael Dell embarked on his strategy to transition Dell from a hardware-centric company to an end-to-end solutions provider.

As a private company, Dell is no longer obliged to disclose financial metrics. But, unleashed from Wall Street’s quarterly pressures, Dell appears to be making excellent progress on its goals. For instance, Dell has broadened its software and service portfolios, and claims significant growth in both areas. According to IDC, Dell is also increasing hardware market share no doubt aided in part by competitors HP and IBM. With IBM exiting the x86 server market, and HP’s recent decision to split itself into two companies (one focused on PCs and printers, the other on servers, software and services) Dell is the only vendor left that supplies an end-to-end desktop to data center portfolio. Meanwhile, Dell has evolved to become a significant force in the channel, with 40% of its sales now going through channel partners.

Dell’s New Cloud Marketplace

One of the most interesting announcements at the event was the beta launch of the Dell Cloud Marketplace, which distinguishes itself from many other cloud vendors by offering customers choice. In Dell’s brokerage model, the vendor provides customers with a one-stop shop from which they can select and manage cloud services from multiple vendors, including Amazon, Google, Joyent and Microsoft. The marketplace is built on technologies from Dell’s Cloud Manager, which Dell acquired from Enstratius in 2013. Key technology partners include Delphix, which supplies data migration services; Pertino, for cloud networking; and Docker, for container and portability services. Dell is also partnering with Foglight to provide developers with tools to improve cloud-based application performance.

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Dell Cloud Marketplace is tuned to the different needs of IT managers and developers. IT managers get a single console from which they can provision, manage and integrate private, public and hybrid could services. Meanwhile, developers can get instant, self-service access to cloud services. The concept appealed to conference attendees, with over 400 signing up for the beta the day Dell announced it.

 

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Dell’s vision for its Cloud Marketplace is similar to that of Priceline or Kayak in the travel business. Dell will aggregate, simplify and streamline shopping, selection, purchase and management across many cloud service options. Cloud offerings will initially be sold through Dell.com, Dell’s established, high volume direct sales channel. Over time, Dell is likely to implement reseller programs and possibly even white-label programs for channel partners.

Perspective

Perception is the hardest thing to change. With deep, successful roots in the hardware business, they company has been primarily regarded as a hardware vendor, even though its journey to become an end-to-end solutions provider has been underway for quite a while.

Dell’s move to become a broker of cloud services, highlight the acquisitions, research, development and determination that Dell has been investing in this quest. And, with cloud adoption now mainstream (Figure 1), Dell’s timing for the marketplace is on target as well. The cloud makes it easy for people to buy new services, and more difficult for IT to manage the wide variety of different services that are in play. Providing a solution that gives IT managers more visibility and governance capabilities, while at the same time offering users more choice, promises to help address this challenge.

Figure 1: SMB Cloud Adoption

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Source: SMB Group

However, due in part to the uniqueness of the model, Dell will need to invest in market education to articulate the capabilities and benefits of this new brokerage approach more clearly.

In addition, Dell must create a clear roadmap for what and when it will add to the marketplace to properly set market expectations. For instance, one of the customers I spoke to at the beta would like to use the marketplace to help him manage the wide range of file sharing and collaboration solutions that his users are buying.

Finally with Dell partners accounting for an increasing percentage of Dell sales, Dell will need to come up with an attractive approach to lure partners to resell Dell Cloud Marketplace services.

Disclosure: Dell paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dell World. 

 

 

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