Making The Internet of Things Real For SMBs

canstockphoto24687951The World Wide Web became commercially viable 20 years ago, and it quickly became clear that the phrase “The Internet Changes Everything,” was spot on. The Internet has forever changed and continues to transform the ways we do things, both in the business world and in our personal lives. It has spawned and enabled an explosion of innovation, from cloud and mobile solutions to social networking to big data and analytics, destroyed old business models and created new ones.

IoT: The Internet’s Latest Game Changer

Most recently, the Internet has delivered its latest game changer: the Internet of things, or IoT. As with the Internet innovations that preceded it, IoT again presents tremendous potential for disruption–along with all of the opportunities and challenges that go along with this type of sea change. Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2015, there will be almost 5 billion ‘things’ connected to the Internet. By the end of 2020 that number will rise to 25 billion, or more than three things connected to the Internet for each person on the planet.

Yet IoT is barely on the radar of most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers. When asked in SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, “What are the top three technology areas that are most critical for your business to invest in over the next 12 months?” IoT ranked at or near the bottom. Only 18% of small and 13% of medium business decision-makers selected IOT as one of their top three priorities.

Figure 1: SMB Rank Their Top Three Technology Investment Areas

Slide1Clearly, SMBs need help to better understand this trend, and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

What Is The Internet of Things (IoT)?

As with most tech terms, there is an over-abundance of definitions for IoT. Perhaps the most “official” is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. technology agency chartered to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. According to NIST, IoT is part of what it terms cyber-physical systems (CPS):

Cyber-Physical Systems or “smart” systems are co-engineered interacting networks of physical and computational components. These systems will provide the foundation of our critical infrastructure, form the basis of emerging and future smart services, and improve our quality of life in many areas.  Cyber-physical systems will bring advances in personalized health care, emergency response, traffic flow management, and electric power generation and delivery, as well as in many other areas now just being envisioned.

In laymen’s terms, IoT is when “things”–objects, people, animals, etc.–are equipped with sensors and assigned an IP address. These sensors are programmed to send data over a network automatically, so you can access and use the data to make better decisions. Using IoT, people can monitor, measure, access and manage the physical environment more efficiently. For instance:

  • Planes with internet-connected parts can send data to predict maintenance requirements and improve flight and fuel efficiency.
  • Tennis players can track and analyze ball speed, spin, and impact location to improve their game via sensors in their racquets.
  • Smart buildings can monitor energy use in real-time, so they can use heating and cooling resources more effectively, and run elevators based on actual occupancy.
  • Manufacturers can operate more efficiently by enabling equipment to proactively call for maintenance before a failure occurs.

While wearable, consumer IoT devices have garnered much of the early buzz, most experts agree that business and public sector opportunities will dwarf those on the consumer side. But, commercial IoT systems have the capacity to ingest vast quantitative of data from different sources. All of this data must be normalized and secured, and then analyzed to make sense of it. These are the hard bits, and most SMBs need help to understand these variables to effectively harness the power of IoT.

Unpacking IoT at DellWorld

Dell World 2015  provided a glimpse into its approach to create an IoT solution that does much of the heavy lifting with the Dell Edge Gateway 5000 Series. Dell’s Gateway collects, manages, and secures sensor data, using Edge analytics for analysis and to mitigate potential data overload issues. The solution determines what data is important, and transmits that to the cloud for analysis and action, leaving unnecessary data on the local device.

rcr logoSeveral Dell customers demonstrated how they use the solution. For example, RCR Racing uses Dell’s Gateway solution in its “Smart Pitstop.” Racing at speeds of 190 mph or more, successful pit stops are essential for RCR car performance. In fact, auto races can be won and lost because of the many actions–from wheel changing to refueling–that the pit crew performs in a matter of seconds. In addition to monitoring performance indicators in its Smart Pitstop dashboard, RCR assesses pit crew performance. By monitoring key variables, such as how the heart rate of a tire changer affects how well they secure the tire, RCR improves performance and increase confidence. Looking ahead, RCR plans to add more sensor information, such as weather and track data into the dashboard to further improve outcomes.

eiganDell is also working with third-party software vendors and system integrators for domain expertise. At DellWorld, Eigen Innovations demonstrated how it uses Dell’s Gateway in its Intellexon Gateway in factory floor environments to collect boiler room data with thermal imaging cameras. The cameras monitor the melting process, and proactively alert for certain conditions so that very expensive equipment can be fixed before it goes down. Eigen builds human expertise into the system, training it to crunch relevant data in the cloud and analyze it for continuous monitoring.

In addition to providing data filtering, Dell’s Gateway normalizes data from different sensors–even data from older, non-Internet compliant sensors–into a unified state for analysis. Combined with included security and manageability capabilities, Dell’s Gateway offers a holistic IoT approach.

The Time Has Come To Explore IoT

canstockphoto28600859With limitless potential use cases, and early adopters already experiencing great outcomes, IoT could be the biggest Internet-fueled game-changer yet. But along with boundless opportunity come questions and challenges, especially for SMBs, who typically lack IT resources and expertise. Where do I start? What projects are realistic for my business? How do I store, secure and analyze it? These are just some of the questions to consider.

To avoid getting overwhelmed, break things down and take a practical approach:

  • Pick a small, realistic test project, using devices you already have for sensors. Some companies have even used old smartphones to get started.
  • Address a clearly defined business problem or opportunity with an affordable solution.
  • Identify goals and metrics–such as lower fuel consumption, proactive alerts, or more efficient operations–so you can measure effectiveness.
  • Look for pre-configured solutions specific to your use case/industry so that you don’t have to figure out how to pull all the pieces–security, analytics, storage and management–together.
  • Seek help from vendors and partners that can help reduce IoT complexity and risk and help you gain benefits more quickly.

Finally, keep in mind that most big businesses have big plans to instrument their operations for IoT to reap the intelligence and performance gains that IoT offers. SMBs need to get on the IoT learning curve to gain these same advantages and compete on a level playing field.

P.S. Dell is sponsoring an Internet of Things Contest! Design your IoT solution with real business impact for a chance to win one of 16 prizes worth up to $150,000 in value.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

As The Cloud Turns: Dell’s 1-5-10 Cloud Roundtable

The roots of cloud computing date back to the late 1990s, but the “cloud” continues to evolve—as does the conversation about its impact on technology and business. So I welcomed the opportunity to moderate a discussion of cloud past, present and future at Dell’s recent 1-5-10 Cloud roundtable in Washington DC. Dell’s 1-5-10 series is designed to engage Dell customers, executives and influencers in discussions exploring the implications of major tech trends over the one, five and ten years

Top Takeaways

  • IMG_2915The cloud means different things to different people–but “game changer” is the common thread. We kicked off the roundtable by asking participants to describe cloud in three words or less. Customers chose descriptors such as cost-effective, flexible, reliable and mobile. For instance, Edima Elingewinga, Executive Director, Information Technology at the United Nations Foundation, used mobile as a key descriptor, noting that “Cloud facilitates communication all around the world. That is critical, and that is what drove us to the cloud.” Meanwhile, Dell execs used terms such as digital services enablement, future-ready, and scalable to describe the cloud. However the group was in consensus that the cloud is a game-changer for businesses, government and non-profits.
  • us government sealFederal government adoption of cloud has slowed since the Cloud First policy was established. Cloud First is an initiative launched in 2011 by then US CIO Vivek Kundra. The policy mandated that government agencies had to evaluate a cloud computing option first, and had to have a strong rationale on why they could not use cloud before they could purchase traditional on-premises solutions. As Dell Director of Product, Cloud Management Systems James Urquhart noted, “If you look at this from 2010-2013, you’d have to argue that the federal government as a whole was ahead of the enterprise” with a top-down approach and mandate. But, despite early advocacy and some marquee cloud deals, federal adoption has been more sluggish than many had anticipated, as noted in a 2014 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), CLOUD COMPUTING : Additional Opportunities and Savings Need to Be Pursued. David Lancaster, Dell Federal marketing executive, believes that this is due in part to different agencies having different requirements for different types of clouds—which makes the sourcing process complex and time-consuming. “The federal government is more concerned about private cloud because of security,” added Dr. Lon D. Gowen, chief technologist and special advisor to the CIO at USAID. According the GAO report, legacy migration concerns, cultural barriers and skills deficits also put a drag on adoption.
  • The silver lining in Cloud First is that it sparked adoption in the private sector. Government endorsement of Cloud First paved the way for the private sector to become more bullish on cloud adoption. As Edina Elinewinga, commented, “If the government can trust the cloud, we can trust the cloud.” As a result, private sector adoption is now outpacing that of the federal government.
  • cloud question markCloud computing decisions are becoming more strategic and complex. Whether in business or government, cloud conversations are evolving into discussions of how cloud computing can provide strategic business benefits. As Executive Director and General Manager of Dell Cloud Services Jeremy Ford commented, “The cloud is an enabler, not the point of the discussion. The more organizations view it as an enabler, the more successful they’ll be.” Dell Vice President and General Manager for Engineered Solutions and Cloud Jim Ganthier observed that the conversation is shifting away from “either/or” private or public cloud to one of an “and” conversation in an increasingly hybrid cloud computing world. As Dr. Phil Yang, director of the NSF Spatiotemporal Innovation Center stated, “Choosing the right cloud is like match making, you need to think of it like uber legos.” Participants agreed that most organizations will choose to utilize both public and private clouds, depending on a requirements, constraints and other considerations.
  • Cloud is changing the role of IT. As the cloud conversation shifts to business enablement, IT is increasingly expected to serve as a strategic advisor to the business. Edina Elinewinga said that she has become more of a technology broker in her role now. In addition, IT must assume responsibility for developing a coherent strategy to guide organizations in how to use and integrate different types of cloud deployment models and providers.
  • Cloud will become the fabric of our lives. Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive cloud growth over the next 10 years, affecting every aspect of cloud decision-making—from infrastructure and management to strategy requirements. “Big data and IoT are examples of usage models that wouldn’t have been practical or enabled without the cloud,” observed Jeremy Ford. “In about 10 years, everything will be part of the cloud, and we won’t use the word cloud to describe what we are using,” according to Dr. Phil Yang. And Jim Ganthier predicts that “We won’t be talking about “the cloud” in the future. It will be all about the data generated and how we use it.”
  • digital securityPrivacy and security concerns will continue to be top of mind cloud concerns–and power issues will enter the discussion. Privacy and security issues will intensify as more devices, more data comes into play. Edina Elinewinga noted that she is focused on how to keep the work environment and data secure as more and more UN Foundation employees bring different technologies and applications into work. As cloud computing becomes more ubiquitous, power issues will also arise. Dr. Lon D. Gowen predicted, that we’ll need “power over the airwaves to enable future generations of cloud computing.

Summary and Perspective

The cloud conversation is increasingly centered on business problem solving, enablement and innovation. And, big data and IoT are likely to fuel exponential growth in cloud adoption and use cases beyond what most of us can even imagine today.

However, as cloud computing becomes a ubiquitous solution for more problems, cloud alternatives and issues are also becoming more numerous, nuanced. Cloud choices will also become more inter-dependent and related. As complexity and choice expands, brokerage services will become essential in helping most organizations navigate the cloud landscape.

As business reliance on the cloud grows, IT and business decision-makers must align to meet business requirements and optimize long-term security, agility and flexibility with cloud solutions. Both groups will also need guidance and education to build a common foundation from which they can engage to optimize their cloud investments.

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.


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


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


 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


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%).


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

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