Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012 from the SMB Group

Last week  we published a report card on our last year’s top 10 market predictions for 2011.

Here are the SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012! A more detailed description of each follows below.

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift

2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions in Detail

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets. After the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, the U.S. economy resumed moderate economic growth in 2010—and the SMB outlook for 2011 became fairly bullish. But new economic worries and uncertainties are dampening some SMB outlook. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studyindicated that SMBs are less confident about their revenue prospects for 2012: 56% of small and 63% of medium businesses are forecasting revenue growth for 2012, compared to the 77% of both small and medium businesses that forecasted growth for 2011. And many SMBs are tightening their tech wallets: More are forecasting flat or decreased IT spending for 2012 compared to 2011. To loosen the purse strings, tech vendors must deliver a rock-solid case for how their solutions help address top SMB challenges—which are to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. In addition to broadening subscription-based cloud solution options (which offload big upfront investments), more vendors will offer flexible, alternative financing to help ease the financial burden—and gain a leg up on competitors.
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground.That said, we also see a distinct category of SMBs that we are terming “Progressive SMBs.” Despite economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs plan to increase IT spending. These SMBs see technology as a vital tool for business transformation, a mechanism to create market advantage and a way to level the playing field against bigger companies. Although price is still a key factor for Progressive SMBs, they are more likely to rate other factors—such as easier to customize for my business, strong reputation and brand, and ability to provide local service and support—higher than other SMBs when making technology decisions, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology and see the results in terms of higher revenue expectations. For instance, 73% of medium businesses that are investing more in technology anticipate revenue increases in 2012, compared to just 17% among those decreasing IT spending. Technology vendors need to develop different marketing campaigns and more sophisticated solutions for Progressive SMBs than for their counterparts to win in this very important segment.
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows. SMB use of social media is rising. According to our 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50% of SMBs already use social media, and another 25% plan to do so within the next 12 months. The study revealed that about half of SMBs take a strategic and structured approach with social media. These “strategically social” companies use social media for more activities, use more channels and are more satisfied with the business results than the other half of SMBs that are still throwing spaghetti on the Facebook wall. These more informal, ad hoc users say that they don’t have enough time to use social media effectively; they can’t decide what social media strategies and tools will work best; it’s too difficult to integrate social media with sales, marketing, service and other business processes; and they are unable to measure value from social media. As new social media tools—from crowd-sourced pricing to video commerce—take shape, SMB social media “haves” will gain business ground on the “have-nots” in an exponential manner. As the have-nots lose ground, they will clamor for better social media guidance and easier-to-use, better integrated and more affordable social media management solutions.
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal. Is the cloud perfect? No. Is it right for every solution and every business? No. But that said, the rate and pace of technological change are in overdrive, and the need for businesses to harness new technology-based solutions—social, mobile, analytics, etc.—to maintain a business edge is rising. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studyresults reveal that demand for cloud-based solutions is accelerating in almost all solution areas. For instance, in the past 24 months, only 7% of small businesses purchased or upgraded cloud accounting/ERP solutions, compared with 13% that plan to purchase them in the next 12 months. Areas that show the biggest potential for cloud gains in 2012 are marketing automation, business intelligence/analytics, and desktop virtualization solutions and services. Most SMBs simply don’t have the staff, expertise or capital budgets needed for do-it-yourself IT—and they can’t afford the time it takes to get business payback from a solution that they need to vet, buy, install and deploy in-house. This makes the arguments for cloud computing—reduced capital costs, speed to deploy, and real-time collaboration and visibility—compelling. Demand for anytime, anywhere, any-device mobile access to applications will also accelerate cloud adoption, as many SMBs will want to offload management of mobile applications to a cloud solutions provider too. Enterprise players such as Oracle (with RightNow) and SAP (with SuccessFactors) have already begun their cloud shopping sprees. Look for traditional SMB vendors (Intuit, Microsoft, Sage, etc.) to join in the fun.
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications. In a custom study we completed this summer, SMBs indicated that they plan to significantly increase spending on mobile devices and services in the next 12 months, with the highest jump in the 5-to-49–employee size band. The study revealed that with mobile use of collaboration apps (email, calendar, etc.) now mainstream, SMBs are mobilizing business applications. Some of the strongest categories for SMB current and planned mobile app use are mobile payments (52%), time management (59%), field service (59%), and customer information management (69%). This rapid uptake will also include more vertical apps that are a perfect fit for industry-specific needs, especially given the choice of both smart phone and tablet (read: iPad) form factors. Unfortunately, our crystal ball is cloudy when it comes to predicting if another vendor will be able to give Apple a run for its money in the business-use tablet market.
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate.According to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, 16% of small and 29% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded a BI solution within the past 24 months, and 16% and 28%, respectively, plan to do so in the next 12 months. The social-mobile-cloud triumvirate will fuel new and increased SMB investments in this area as businesses try to plow through the growing data avalanche to get to the insights they need to grow their businesses. As SMBs try to get a better handle on customers’ and prospects’ opinions and influence networks, interest in sentiment analysis and social graphing solutions will grow. New mobile access capabilities and applications from BI vendors designed to provide SMBs with just the information they need, when and where they need it, will spur interest as well. Finally, our study indicated that roughly a third of SMBs use or plan to use cloud-based BI and analytics solutions. An expanding array of cloud options in this area will make it easier and more affordable for more SMBs to deploy these solutions.
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile.Despite momentum toward the cloud, it will continue to be a hybrid world for a very long time. Many SMBs will continue to use existing on-premises apps and choose on-premises deployment as security, regulatory or other needs dictate. So most SMBs will continue to grapple with IT infrastructure management—even as new mobile device management and governance challenges grow. SMB adoption of mobile phones and tablets is now on par with that of traditional landline phones, according to our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study. With employees more likely to lose a smart phone than a laptop, security issues abound and will only increase. The “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon creates additional concerns, not least of which is to create a firewall between personal and business data. These SMB challenges provide ample opportunity for wireless carriers, networking vendors, MSPs and others that can provide integrated and automated managed services. These are likely to include services that encompass management of cloud-based infrastructure and all end-point devices, from desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones to purpose-built mobile devices; network services to reduce downtime and help optimize the network that mobile access relies on; and support for cloud-based dual-persona solutions on personal mobile devices.
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions.As unemployment has increased, so has the number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants and others choosing to go it alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion. Many entrepreneurs never intended to take this path, but stay solo because they prefer it to going back to the corporate payroll. Others stick it out due to limited employment options. Either way, more accidental entrepreneurs view what they’re doing as a long-term business venture instead of a short-term stopgap. As a result, they see themselves more as business owners than as freelancers or contractors. But many have no intention or desire to hire employees. This will spike demand for—and growth of—applications and services that help them to achieve their business goals without adding employees. Traditional small business powerhouses (Intuit, Sage, etc.), pioneers in the SOHO space (FreshBooks, Shoebox, Zoho, etc.), new start-ups and others will increasingly cater to their needs with solutions that make it easier for them to fly solo—whether from a home office or on the go.
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites. As evidenced in our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study, the SMB pendulum is swinging from point solutions for voice, communications, social media and collaboration solutions to integrated suites. Medium businesses are leading the charge, with 28% currently using an integrated collaboration suite, and 35% planning to do so in the next 12 months. Small businesses are slower to make this leap, but a transition is under way here too. By moving from disparate point solutions to an integrated offering, SMBs can avoid the hassles of learning to use multiple user interfaces, going to different sites to login and remembering different passwords—in short, things that waste time and frustrate users. They also can lower costs and improve their ability to collaborate effectively. A growing roster of low-cost (or free), easy-to-use integrated collaboration suites (Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, IBM LotusLive and HyperOffice, to name a few) are adding fuel to the convergence fire—although vendors will still need to address the obstacle of user resistance to learning something new.
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift. The trend triumvirate—cloud, social and mobile—is also reshaping the IT channel. These trends are moving the goal posts and changing the ways in which channel partners add value. Cloud computing reduces the need for hardware, software and infrastructure deployment skills, and ups the ante for educational guidance, business process transformation and integration skills. Re-imagined channel partner programs from vendors such as Intacct and IBM’s Software Group have blossomed as they shift partner rewards to focus more on value-add and renewals. Meanwhile, non-traditional IT partners, such as creative and marketing agencies, have stepped in to fill a gap by providing social media and digital marketing services for solutions such as Radian6 and HubSpot. In the mobile domain, partners will need to bring more value to help SMBs develop and implement mobile strategies, and offer solutions to manage mobile devices and applications and provide better network performance, reliability and redundancy. As with any significant inflection point, the cloud-social-mobile trend necessitates that older partner models continue to move aside as new, more relevant ones take shape.

For more information, please visit the SMB Groupweb site at http://www.smb-gr.com, contact us at (508)410-3562 or send an e-mail to information@smb-gr.com

Dell 2.0: Top Takeaways from Dell’s Virtual Era Event

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Dell’s Solutions for a Virtual Era analyst and press event in San Francisco. At the event, Dell unveiled its new strategy to help companies more readily and easily provision computing capabilities to in the ubiquitous anytime, anywhere information era. At the event, Dell introduced several new hardware offerings based on the new Intel Xeon 5600 architecture to enable cloud-based solution deployment. But for me, the more interesting focus was Dell’s ambitious vision and roadmap to capitalize on the shift to cloud computing, and market demand for better, more cost-effective and easier to deploy, use and manage IT solutions. Here are a few of my top takeaways about what Dell’s vision, how it plans to execute on it and my commentary.

  • Change the economics of IT. Companies spend more than 50% of their IT budgets just to keep the systems they have up and running—stunting investments in new IT solutions that can help them to innovate and grow. Dell intends to apply its “direct” DNA and supply chain know-how to automate IT and change the economic equation to help companies get out of this quagmire. By delivering “open, capable and affordable” solutions with industry standard-based building blocks, Dell believes that it can reduce technology lock-in, complexity and cost for customers. Some specific capabilities in the works include autonomic self-maintenance and management; automated dynamic allocation of resources, and policy-driven management. In a recent keynote at Oracle OpenWorld, IT budgets in North America amount to $1.2 trillion, but through widespread adoption of x86 servers managed in a more automated fashion, $200 billion could be saved, asserted Michael Dell, president and CEO of Dell. He used Dell’s own plan to take $200 million out of its own IT spending by the end of 2010 as evidence that Dell–which provides two of every five x86 servers shipped–can help customers achieve this goal. Our recent research on Dell Managed Services customers also provides a strong proof point that Dell can deliver on this goal: built on its Silverback and Everdream acquisitions, web-based technologies, and Dell data center expertise, Dell Managed Services offers SMBs web-based, standardized infrastructure management services on a pay-as-you-go basis. I’m kind of surprised that its taken so long for Dell to get around to this, as its business model and technology legacy (Dell has no proprietary systems of its own) affords it a significant opportunity to differentiate.
  • Move from delivering solution components to delivering the total solutions experience. In Dell’s view, companies today spend far too much time, energy and money deploying, running and managing IT solutions. Dell wants will to simplify and make IT more affordable with turnkey, pre-tested, pre-assembled solutions that combine hardware, software and services. Although this may seem like a radical departure for Dell—best known as a hardware vendor—the company has been building towards this for quite some time, acquiring software companies (including KACE, Silverback and Everdream), along with Perot Systems. In addition, Dell is partnering with companies including Joyent, VMWare, Microsoft, Aster Data, Canonical and Greenplum) to provide additional solutions expertise and components.
  • Give customers “and” instead of “or” choices. Dell intends to help customers simultaneously pursue evolutionary and revolutionary paths towards cloud computing. To facilitate the evolutionary path, Dell’s Cloud Partner Program (partners include Citrix, Microsoft and VMware) enables companies to migrate legacy applications to more efficient virtual environments, pre-tested and optimized for Dell systems. On the revolutionary path, Dell’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) will offer an efficient, scalable and flexible platform to deploy and manage new Web application workloads. Dell’s inspiration for this comes from its own Data Center Solutions Group, which provides cloud and high-performance computing solutions for companies that require massive hyper scale environments such as Facebook, Ask.com and Microsoft Azure. Dell’s open source platform is built on PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, and runs Apache, MySQL, Rails and Java. The vendor plans to offer a full spectrum of delivery options, where customers can self-integrated components or turn on everything as a service. The initial target market for the platform is ISVs, telcos and others who would build on top on it, and sell through their services to end-user customers. However, Dell left the door open to offering it directly to the end-user market at some point in the future.
  • Start with a mid-market design point. Dell’s design point for the Virtual Era is the mid-market—which is a very big deal! Starting with mid-market requirements and scaling up or down from there can give Dell a big competitive edge—for a couple of important reasons. First, mid-market companies have complex IT needs, but scarce IT resources–they can’t afford a lot of expensive labor or IT tools. This aligns well with Dell’s theme of automating IT. Second, Dell’s major competitors, HP and IBM, offer mid-market solutions, but tend, more often than not, to gravitate towards a large enterprise design point for infrastructure solutions. Finally, history has proven that it’s very hard to scale down successfully. One concern I do have is that I heard different definitions for how Dell is defining mid-market in this context. Will Dell center the design point around its traditional definition of medium business (100 to 499 employees), or upwards into what I would call the upper mid-market—topping out at about 5,000? Dell needs to be clear on this because there’s a big difference in designing for 5,000 versus 500 employee firms.
  • Lead in listening. Dell has been a pioneer in building open community forums for customer input and dialogue. The vendor learned the hard way that in a Web 2.0 world, its important it is to let it all hang out–the good, the bad and the ugly. Dell was blindsided in 2005, when professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis used the phrase “Dell Hell” in his blog to describe his experience with Dell support. His blog unleashed a torrent of blogger complaints about Dell service, and escalated into an avalanche of unwanted media attention in publications such as The New York Times and Business Week. Once the shock wore off, Dell took action to listen proactively to and get involved in conversations relevant to its business and interests, globally and 24/7. Since then, Dell has dug deeper into social media to harvest and apply the collective wisdom of ever-larger crowds. Taking advantage of what it calls its “direct nature”, Dell intends to expand these initiatives. As an example, to reach and support their almost 400,000 fans on Facebook, Dell now provides “Dell Support on Facebook” widget on the Dell fan page. The widget is designed to provide Dell fans a way to engage with Dell support via Facebook to get assistance with technical and non-technical issues, check on an order status or any other issue they may be experiencing. Since the launch, Dell’s “customers’ heroes” team is touching about 3,500 customers a week through this widget, catching potential issues and flagging them so Dell can alert impacted customers and get issues fixed early. With social media rapidly displacing traditional one-way marketing in terms of influence, this should provide Dell with an enormous return.
  • Turn up the marketing volume. At the same time, Dell readily admitted that it needs to beat its own drum louder and more clearly to rise above the din in the industry. I think Dell is off to a good start with this event (the first analyst event they’ve held in a few years). I was also impressed with their executives’ ability to rein in business and IT jargon in most pitches. And, when execs did use motherhood and apple pie terms such as “open, capable and affordable” (which almost every IT vendor uses) they did a good job of following up with explanations about how they will actually deliver to those lofty goals. To really fire things up though, Dell will need to get more creative with broad and creative marketing campaigns that spark attention and interest around this new Dell and what it has to offer.

Since essentially reinventing the PC and x-86 server markets with its direct and efficient supply chain model, Dell has taken its share of lumps over the last few years for not moving past its traditional hardware-centric comfort zone. In the cloud era, Dell has the opportunity to create a new game, with new rules—ones that will favor its strengths and approach. Improving operational efficiencies has always been at the core of Dell’s DNA—a strength it can capitalize on again if it executes well in the solution, marketing and partner endeavors that back up its vision.

What is Total Cost of Ownership, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, January 29, 2010)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at the SMB Group an dat Hurwitz & Associates, will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at IT Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

What is Total Cost of Ownership?

In the IT world, total cost of ownership (TCO) is used to calculate the total cost of purchasing (or in the case of cloud computing, subscribing to) and operating a technology product or service over its useful life. TCO provides a construct to evaluate technology costs that may not be reflected or be apparent in the upfront pricing. For example, if you’re buying a new server, the server (including operating systems, database software and storage) usually accounts for roughly 15 to 25 percent of the overall, long-term costs to install, maintain, upgrade and support the server over time.

Why Should You Care?

Although many companies factor TCO into the purchasing equation, they often underestimate the hidden costs of a new technology solution, which can result in negative consequences. For example, if don’t have the resources you need to adequately maintain a solution, you may skip upgrades and patches required to keep the solution running securely and at peak performance. Or, if you misjudge the time and expense needed to train employees on a new product or service, they may never use it productively.

While TCO helps you to determine hidden costs of a new technology solution, return on investment (ROI) analysis helps to illuminate benefits that may not be readily apparent, such as improved employee productivity or increased customer satisfaction. ROI assessments can be more subjective in nature than TCO, because these indirect benefits are usually harder to measure than direct costs.

When two solutions provide roughly equivalent benefits over the solution lifecycle, but have different types of costs associated with acquisition, maintenance and operation, a TCO comparison gives you a framework to better evaluate competing solutions to a problem, and avoid getting stuck with hidden costs and unwanted surprises.

For instance, a cloud or software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer management solution may provide business benefits very similar to what an in-house customer management solution would provide. However, TCO over a given time period may vary greatly. That’s because the very different business and delivery models and the cost and pricing structures for cloud computing and on-premise solution significantly affect TCO.

For example, on-site solutions usually require significant upfront capital expenditures for hardware, software and application software, along with IT resources to install and configure these components. As a result, first-year costs for on-site solutions are often much higher than those associated with SaaS or cloud computing solutions, and total costs to maintain and manage on-site infrastructure and solutions continue to be a factor over time. On the flip side, TCO analysis may actually favor on-site solutions as the number of users rises and the total time period factored into the calculation increases.

What to Consider

Think about your business and how long you expect to be using a particular solution. In the case of a core business solution, such as accounting or financial, many companies look at a TCO a period of four or five years (generally thought of as the useful life of hardware and software without the need for major replacements).

In less core or strategic areas — which will vary from business to business — you may want to look at TCO over a shorter time period. Regardless, TCO calculations usually include several categories and components, such as:

• Planning and selection: How long will it take to evaluate the solution, the vendor and service level agreements (if applicable)? Consider whether you can try the product for free and/or if you need to invest money or resources to set up a test environment.

• IT infrastructure requirements: For on-site solutions, do you need to buy hardware and software upfront to run the solution? What associated expenses will you have for space, power and cooling? Consider if you will you need to add, shift or outsource IT personnel to manage and maintain the infrastructure, and how much this will cost. For a SaaS or cloud solution, do you need to upgrade or add networking capabilities or bandwidth?

• Application subscription or license costs: What is the per user charge for the license (on-site) solution, or the per user subscription fee (cloud or SaaS solution)? Are ongoing maintenance costs for patches, bug-fixes, upgrades, etc. included in this price or billed separately?

• Application design, configuration and implementation: What resources (internal and/or external) will it take to design and configure the solution so it fits your business needs? Factor in relevant data migration, integration and customization costs, and any system testing necessary.

• Administration and maintenance: For an on-site solution, what is required to transition daily system administration to your internal staff? How much time, resources and money will you need to invest to manage, upgrade, trouble-shoot, patch, etc. over the solution lifecycle?

• Training costs: What IT administrative training and/or end-user costs are involved to get everyone on board and productive in using the solution.

While TCO is very important for most companies, you should also consider other factors — including contract terms, service level agreements, data security requirements and customization and integration needs — just to name a few. Many companies under-invest when it comes to thoroughly evaluating IT solution requirements and options.

By doing a more careful assessment upfront — either with an internal team, or by hiring an independent consulting organization — you will save your company time, money and aggravation down the road.


Did this help you understand total cost of ownership more clearly? Let me know, and send me any additional questions you have on this topic. Also, please send your suggestions for other technology terms and areas that you’d like explained in upcoming columns.


Meet MrTed

Those of you that follow me on Twitter and read some of the reports I’ve written over the years know I’m very interested free software-as-service (SaaS) offerings, and how companies that take this approach plan to monetize their free services.

Last week, I had a briefing with Jerome Ternynck, the CEO of MrTed, which has been providing MrTed TalentLink solutions for enterprise applicant tracking system (ATS) since 1999. In October 2008, MrTed launched a new, free ATS called SmartRecruiters (still in beta) for small and medium business (SMB) recruiters and hiring managers. SmartRecruiters streamlines the hiring process with an integrated, collaborative solution to help recruiters and hiring managers create postings, broadcast openings, enable candidates to apply online, view, screen and organize applicants, scheduled interview, provide feedback and make job offers.

And, when Ternynck says free, he means it. There are no catches for the SmartRecruiters ATS—no user fees, contracts, hosting or installation fees, upgrade fees, and no limits on the number of users, storage or time. And, SmartRecruiters connects to popular job search sites such as Yahoo! HotJobs, SimplyHired, Indeed.com and Career Builder.

MrTed’s initial target for SmartRecruiters is the 220,000 U.S. businesses with 50 to 2,500 employees. This market has been underserved by traditional, enterprise-oriented ATS vendors, whose solutions have typically been too costly and complicated for the average SMB to use. However, MrTed doesn’t exclude others from using SmartRecruiters–there are no technical or other of limitations to prevent companies of any size from accessing and using the solution. With little marketing fanfare, 600 businesses have registered for SmartRecruiters since the company launched the beta.

Launching a recruitment solution during an economic meltdown seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but when you think about, even if overall hiring is down, the number of applicants for any given position is most likely up. So companies that are hiring must exert just as much or greater effort and expense to hire the best people. As the economy recovers, and more SMBs start hiring again, Ternynck believes that its SmartRecruiters business model will disrupt the ATS market in the same way that Google has done in many areas.

But unlike Google, which relies on advertising revenues to support many of its services, Ternynck plans to monetize SmartRecruiters with integrated fee-based services, such as job posting, background screening, compensation analysis, relocation and assessment. In effect, SmartRecruiters wants to become a resale distribution channel for the providers of these services, helping them cut sales costs and increase SMB market penetration. According to Ternynck, SmartRecruiters will need to convert just under 20% of SmartRecruiters users to one or more of these fee-based services to become profitable over time.

Can MrTed do this, and do it profitably? Ternynck believes that it can. Some of the key factors in its formula include:

·      Using MrTed’s healthy profitable high-end business to subsidize SmartRecruiters for a few years. MrTed’s TalentLink solution has 200 enterprise users, and has been profitable for 20 quarters. Ternynck doesn’t see cannibalization will be an issue; he believes that enterprise customers are used to paying for technology, consulting and support and will continue to spend for higher levels of service and attention.

·      A low cost technology platform. SmartRecruiters is built on single code-base multi-tenant open architecture. Ternynck estimates that technology costs will account for about 10-15% of the total cost of delivering the solution to customers.

·      Viral marketing model. Sales and marketing will be SmartRecruiters’ largest expense, but Ternynck believes that viral marketing—on it own and with its partners—along with a self-service access and delivery model will keep these expenses low as well.

·      Community features. The SmartRecruiters community will rate providers, and supply input about functionality they want and additional services they’d like offered.

·      Under-penetrated market. According to MrTed, less than 10% of its target market uses an ATS system today—it doesn’t need to unseat an incumbent.

Of course, SmartRecruiters must exponentially grow its user community to gain the scale it needs to monetize its free service—at a time when many SMBs just aren’t hiring. But MrTed seems to have enough patience and resources to get through this period. As the economy ticks back up, and companies transition from a cost-cutting mindset to growth, the talent war will heat up again. If SmartRecruiters can broadly educate SMBs about the benefits of ATS, and get the right partners on board, I think that it will be in a good position to make the headway it needs to monetize its free service in this as yet under-penetrated market. 

Let me know what you think about free SaaS services monetized with ancillary services in the following poll!

Reading the Top Trends Barometer at the 2009 Small Business Summit

Just got back from Small Business Summit 2009—an awesome event put on by Ramon Ray (www.smallbiztechnology.com) and Marian Banker (www.primestrategies.com ) at the Digital Sandbox in New York City. Turn out for the Summit was terrific, and attendees were treated to a great, interactive agenda including speakers, experts, sessions and networking—hosted by Ramon, who is a terrific at working a room.

On the train ride back up to New Hampshire’s frozen tundra, I started writing a blog about the hot topics that jumped out at me during the event. A feeling of déjà vu quickly came over me as I realized I was getting a great read on the trends I had blogged about in my last post, 2009 Small Business Trends: No Longer Business as Usual (just scroll down to the next post for this one). Based on the interactions I had with small business people and vendors at the Small Business Summit,  I think these trends are gaining momentum even more quickly and forcefully than I’d anticipated just last week. So in this post, I’m revisiting these trends with new, fresh evidence from the Small Business Summit that underscores how quickly they are taking shape.

1. Catch the social networking wave. Social networking took center stage at the Summit. Keynote speaker Bob Pearson, chief social media guru for Dell, kicked off the event with his presentation and set the tone for the rest of the day. Bob explained why social networking is so important, and provided down to earth recommendations that your grandma could understand about how small companies can get in the game. He encouraged people to “just get in and do some science experiments” and learn as they go (check out this link for Dell’s primer on social media: http://www.facebook.com/dellsocialmedia). Attendees couldn’t get enough information, asking lots of questions about where and how to set up blogs, how often to post, how long their posts should be, what does Twitter work best for? A few people said that they were going to start blogging right away, and the tweet volume rose through the roof! Furthermore, the vendors at the show are walking the walk themselves, creating, monitoring and responding across the social media spectrum.

 2. Demand solutions that do more for less. Well duh! Of course this is big. Gene Marks, Marks Group PC, emphasized that now is the time to re-negotiate everything, high tech or low, from insurance and rent to IT vendors and consultants. Ramon’s discussion of how to get free publicity through media coverage was spot on, of course.  Panelists and speakers representing a diverse group of vendors and solutions highlighted the abundance of free and low cost solutions available, designed especially for small businesses.  For example, on demand and software-as-a-service vendors were well represented, with the likes of Microsoft Office Live, Google, Campaigner and InfusionSoft on hand. Intuit was promoting its free QuickBooks SimpleStart, and free six-month trial for Intuit Payroll Online.

3. Find fresh technology alternatives more appealing. The audience at this event knows that they will have to work smarter, not just harder, to survive and thrive through this downturn, and come out ahead of the competition when things turn up again. Elance presenter Brad Porteus made a compelling case for using online freelancers for all those pesky jobs you need to do—but don’t have time for. This generated a lot of buzz—one of the attendees piped up that she was going to get an Elancer to track her brand across the Web. Attendees also asked a lot of questions about how they could use technology to become more relevant and create more value for their brands and businesses. They wanted to know things such as how and when to use videos, podcasts and polls, and how to use collaboration tools to foster improved communication and project management build the group dynamics they’ll need to rise above the competition.

4. Favor software-as-service (SaaS) over packaged software that they have to buy, install and manage. As I noted above, many of the vendors at the show were featuring SaaS solutions. What I didn’t hear were many attendees voicing concern about SaaS security or data ownership issues. What I did hear were many conversations between attendees and vendors, with attendees trying to figure out if a particular on demand solution would work to satisfy a specific business requirement. A clear signal that  that the issue of on demand versus on premise is becoming a moot point. Campaigner, which offers on demand email marketing, was a hot spot. Email marketing—like most application areas—is still very underpenetrated in terms of small business adoption. But economic conditions are sending these companies a loud wake up call to take action. They’ll look for an easy, fast on ramp to try, buy and get results—and find SaaS solutions fit the bill.

5. Increasingly turn to non-Microsoft desktops and servers. Ok, this wasn’t a topic that came up at all during the event, so this is all based on my very casual observations. It just seems that everywhere I go, and at this show as well, there are more and more people pulling out MacBooks instead of Windows notebooks. I think that many of the new solo entrepreneurs that will emerge from the layoffs will opt for Macs. Sure, Macs cost more than Windows PCs, but many people suffered a lot of problems with Windows PCs. When  they have to spend their own hard earned money, I think these newbies will turn to Apple in greater numbers.

6. Innovate beyond what we can anticipate.  What can I say, other than spending a day with small business people and vendors who are committed to the success of small businesses is inspiring! Small businesses didn’t get us into this mess, but they will pull us out. Many of the vendors had great examples of their small business customers using their solutions to innovate. I could see the gears spinning as people thought about ways they could apply a couple of the tricks they learned when they got back to their office–or just as likely, their home office. Their drive, energy and creativity will lead to new business models, products, services and solutions that will revitalize the economy.

I’m already looking forward to the 2010 Small Business Summit to see how fast these businesses will run with some of these things, and will be very interested to see where they’re at next year. In the meantime, if you are part of a small business, let me know what’s at the top of list to help your business in 2009.

 


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2009 Small Business Trends: No Longer Business as Usual

In 2009, it’s no longer business as usual. The sharp economic decline has led many small companies to slash operating costs and cut staff to the bone. In the wake of small businesses’ initial shock and awe, uncertainty has become the new normal.

With little fat left to trim, small businesses that want to stay in business will turn to technology solutions to help optimize talent and streamline business processes to get back on a growth trajectory.

Some of the technology trends that will take shape as a result are that small businesses will:

1. Catch the social networking wave. Reduced marketing budgets and headcount will tempt more small businesses to social networking to spread the word about their businesses—and tap into customer and market opinion and demand. Look for small businesses to start figuring out how to take advantage of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. for no and low cost viral marketing. These businesses will also tap into the mobility angle, as vendors extend more social networking capabilities to more mobile devices.

2. Demand solutions that do more for less. With economic anxiety growing and budgets shrinking, “Easier, cheaper, better, faster” is the bar that vendors must meet. Transparent pricing and service agreements are a must; and vendors must  prove early on in the sales cycle that their solutions increase revenues, improve profitability and/or reduce risk. Those with blurry value propositions will not survive.

3. Find fresh technology alternatives more appealing. Barack Obama’s election signaled one thing loud and clear—people are ready for change. Small businesses are too. Their minds will be much more open to a new generation of solutions to help differentiate in the market, reach more customers, and pursue new business models and opportunities.

4. Favor software-as-service (SaaS) over packaged software that they have to buy, install and manage. The SaaS model is now about 10 years old. To date, adoption has been steady but gradual. Dramatic reductions in capital budgets and headcount mean that companies will be much more likely to consider SaaS alternatives seriously than ever before. The fact that all the big guys—Microsoft, IBM and Google—now have on demand offerings will also accelerate adoption.

5. Increasingly turn to non-Microsoft desktops and servers. Despite the price premium, those small businesses that are tired of dealing with Windows problems, will turn to Apple in greater numbers. At the same time, netbooks will pick up share in small businesses when workers are using the Internet most of the time and don’t need a lot of desktop horsepower. Likewise, value-priced plug and play server and software appliances (usually built on open source software), which bundle up a complete solution and require no IT management, will start eroding Windows server sales. Look for security, storage and collaboration appliances, along with pre-packaged solutions that zero in on specific vertical industry needs.

6. Innovate beyond what we can anticipate. Continuing economic uncertainty is a recipe for the unexpected. Hundreds of thousands of people are being laid off every month. After a few months of sending their resumes into the black hole of Internet job sites, many will decide to strike out on their own and do something new. Business innovation among both startups and established small businesses will be on the rise, and so will the opportunities for technology vendors that can create solutions to enable this innovation.


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