Discussing SMB Tech Trends: Part 2, Mobile Applications and Management

Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars.”

free multiple mobile devicesKalynn:Welcome back to Act Local Marketing for Small Business, Laurie. The next trend I’d like to discuss is mobile and mobile management and mobile app usage in the SMB market.

Laurie:Well, what we’ve seen with mobile is really fascinating.  I’ve never seen adoption in a technology area occur at such a fast and furious pace. It’s been just unbelievable since the iPhone was launched.

The iPhone changed everything because it personalized the devices, and spawned this whole app ecosystem, and it just made these phones that we all now carry around become critical in our personal lives and in our businesses. 

As a matter of fact, 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as critical to their businesses. That’s kind of unbelievable considering just a few years ago you probably had a dumb phone and you might have relied on it but nothing like we rely on our phones now. 

Kalynn: So what kind of mobile apps are SMBs using?

Laurie: Basic collaboration appscalendars, emails, messaging and contactsare already mainstream. About 83% of SMBs use them. 

Slide1SMBs are also adopting mobile apps for very business-specific functions. So, for things like order entry or inventory lookup, or to log time and attendance or enter payroll. Mobile is becoming part and parcel of how we conduct business.

Almost half of SMBs also either have or are planning to build a mobile-friendly website to engage customers using mobile devices. Sometimes you don’t even have to build it. If you have a WordPress site it’s automatically mobile friendly. 

Kalynn: Right, many themes now are mobile-enabled, and adjust depending on the size of the screen. 

Laurie: If you’re not doing this, you need to. It’s so frustrating to go to a site and have to keep adjusting the screen to read the text because it’s not mobile-friendly.

Some SMBs are also starting to deploy specific mobile apps to engage with their customers and prospects for appointment scheduling and payments, and things like that.

Kalynn: Do they develop their own proprietary mobile apps?

Laurie:Not necessarily. For instance, restaurants may use something like OpenTable. My hair salon uses a mobile app that lets me book and confirm and all that kind of stuff on my mobile device.

Some SMBs are also developing their own mobile apps or paying third parties to develop tailored apps for them.  Most of the backend applications that SMBs use have mobile app extensions, which are often available on Apple and Android app stores. If the right mobile app is available and can snap into your existing app, that can do the trick.

Kalynn: There’s absolutely no need to do customized right off the bat because so many apps are already out there that you can be a part of.

Don’t forget that in terms of making sure you’re getting found online, because  I’m always thinking in terms of SEO or Search Engine Optimization, a lot of these review sites like Yelp have mobile apps. People will go on them to check reviews about your business, more often than not from a mobile device. I’m not sure I remember the exact statistic but it was something 68% of people have their mobile phone within arm’s reach at all times. 

Laurie:It may be even higher. Also I think we’ve already passed the point where more searches are done on a mobile device than on a laptop or traditional PC or MAC.

Slide1So this makes mobile management critical because it’s a given that our reliance and use of mobile apps will continue to rise. SMBs must keep pace with the mobile explosion. You need to be able to manage not only the mobile devices in your company but also internal applications that your employees are using. 

With any mobile applications, security, management and provisioning are very important. If you’re not yet doing anything, in this area, the time has certainly come.

Kalynn: Right, you have to because employees are using so many devices and apps. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)  means that companies are less apt to supply people with devices. Everyone has a favorite and they have to all work together.  You really have to think about mobile policies and procedures  for mobile devices and various apps.

Laurie:Yes, fortunately there are a lot of vendors that have mobile management solutions now geared towards SMBs from vendors like AirWatch or MobileIron. And from vendors that you might already be doing business with like Dell or HP or IBM. A lot of them are cloud-based, so that makes them easier to deploy and use.  

Kalynn: Right, and I’m sure there are tons of consultants that work with these solutions and can help you figure it out too.

In the third of this four-part series, I’ll recap Kalynn’s and my conversation about “SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light.” You can listen to the complete podcast here.




VSBs Use Mobile Payments Solutions to Get Ahead

SMBs are taking to mobile solutions like ducks take to water, as revealed in SMB Group’s 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, and as I discussed in 2013 SMB Mobile Attitudes and Challenges. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of any other technology area that has enjoyed such a meteoric rise.

In reviewing the results, one of the things that really popped out is that even very small businesses (VSBs, with 1 to 19 employees) are adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious clip. Consider that overall, 91% of all SMBs use mobile devices and services in their businesses, compared to 89% of all VSBs. Meanwhile, 67% of all SMBs agree or strongly agree that “mobile solutions are now critical for our business,” compared with 50% of all VSBs.

As shown on Figure 1, VSB adoption of employee, or internal, mobile apps has grown significantly since 2012.

Figure 1: Number of Mobile Apps Very Small Business (VSB) Employees Use Regularly Slide1

One of the areas that we’ve seen the biggest jump is in mobile payments, which is up from 18.5% in 2012 to 23% in 2013, as shown on Figure 2. More VSBs are outfitting their employees to accept mobile payments with solutions including Intuit GoPayment, Square, PayPal Here and Sage Mobile Payments.

Figure 2: Very Small Business (VSB) Use and Plans for Mobile Payments Solutions


These VSBs see mobile payments as a key means to helping them meet their top business goals–growing revenues, attracting new customers, and improving cash flow. For instance, customers that are short on cash can buy–or buy more–from vendors at farmers or fleas markets who are armed with mobile payments devices. Plus, they’re so simple even kids can use them. Case in point is that 32 Girl Scout Councils are using Sage Mobile Payments as an option for cookie sales.  Mobile payments can also help cash flow, helping to avoid bounced checks. And, with PayPal Here, vendors get paid instantaneously.

We also found that many VSBs are not only using mobile payments devices while they’re out of the office or store, but also when they’re in it. The For instance, I spoke with one woman who runs a yoga studio who processes all of her customer payments through Intuit GoPayment on her iPhone. She doesn’t need to invest in a point-of-sale system, and payments are automatically integrated back to her QuickBooks system, saving time and helping her reduce the errors that come with entering data twice.

Of course, the bottom line is revenues, and mobile payments solutions have proved out. Our research shows that VSBs that accept mobile payments are a whopping 87% more likely to expect their revenues to grow over the next year.

So, if you’re among the 52% of VSBs with no plans to use mobile payments solutions–think again! Mobile payments solutions can be a great and easy way to help you move your business forward.

Report Card: 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

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

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

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

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

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

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


NYEXPO Panel: Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business

Thanks to all of you who came to our panel yesterday at NYEXPO,  Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business, moderated by Ramon Ray, Regional Development Manager, NY/NJ Infusionsoft and Editor of Smallbiztechonlogy.com, with panelists Shashi Bellamkonda, Sr. Director, Social Media, Web.com and Adjunct Marketing Professor at Georgetown University, and yours truly.

What a great event–I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Several of you asked for copies of the presentation, so I’m posting it here. For anyone who didn’t attend, our panel discussed the ground-breaking technologies–cloud, mobile and social–that are changing how small businesses operate, market and sell. I shared some market research and perspectives, Shashi provided social media guidance, and Grant gave us a great demo of the latest tools and gadgets that you may want to check out.

Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions!

Mobility for SMBs: An Interview with Dell’s Ron Hyde

I recently had a chance to talk to Ron Hyde, Enterprise Technologist from Dell. Ron has a strong background in mobile management and security, and I got his perspective on what SMBs need to be thinking about as they mobilize their businesses. If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast, click the link below.

Laurie: Ron, the SMB Group recently completed our 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, a survey of 750 SMBs, to find out about how they’re using mobile solutions in their businesses. We found that while SMBs are increasingly taking advantage of mobile solutions to help improve productivity and better serve customers, many of them don’t have a program or tools in place to manage and secure these mobile apps. What are you hearing from Dell SMB customers about how they are using mobile solutions, and what are the challenges they face in managing them?

Ron: That’s a great question. Our SMB customers are embracing the consumerization of IT devices. Put simply what that means is that employees are bringing in their own personal devices, such as iPads, tablets and such into the workplace. It’s simply good business. They want to bring these devices into the mix because they help their employees communicate, collaborate and get the job done. But at the same time it adds a layer of complexity for IT to manage.

There is a new social attitude, which accounts for the most significant drivers for adoption of a mobility strategy. Some examples are flexible working arrangements, where companies wish to hire and retain key talent, and by embracing remote working and smartphone technologies companies appear more attractive. This helps retain key talent and provides a differentiator when hiring new people.

Work-life balance is another, to help reduce commuting time, increase productivity, improves the work-life balance of employees, and lets employees access data anytime, anywhere.

Environmental impact, which we’re all aware of, to reduce the amount of physical infrastructure, and reduce commuting for employees by having them work at home. All of this creates a layer of complexity that IT needs to address.

Laurie: Right, we’re seeing the same thing. Especially in smaller businesses, the “bring your own device” to work scenario is a very frequent choice. But, while its nice to let employees use what they want, you’ve got to manage all of the variations.

In the study we did, we found many SMBs already provide mobile access for productivity and collaboration apps–email, calendars, contacts, etc. So this is already mainstream among SMBs. The next thing SMBs are looking to mobilize are business applications–things like CRM, social media marketing, time management, expense management, and field service for their employees (Figure 1). Do different considerations come into play as companies mobilize business apps as opposed to personal productivity apps?

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Internal Mobile Business Apps

Source: SMB Group 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study

Ron: Absolutely. There are several areas customers need to focus on when providing mobile business applications to their employees. Let’s look at several of the top considerations.

First of all, security for the mobile application is a major concern. The ability to implement policies on your mobile workforce devices is critical to protecting precious business data. These are the keys to the kingdom, regardless of company size. When I refer to a policy, I’m referring a written procedure within the company that gives guidance to employees on the use of those devices, as well as a policy for how those devices are secured for use in the mobile workforce.

Also, one of the hazards of a mobile workforce is the risk of employees losing the device. Having the ability to remotely locate and wipe that device should not be looked at as a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute requirement.

Another thing to look at is effectively managing mobile devices within the environment. It all starts with keeping an accurate inventory of the devices connected to the environment. Also, making sure those devices have an unlock code installed, and if not, some type of automation to put a lock code onto the devices to prevent them from being used by an unauthorized person. Finally, the ability to prevent ‘unapproved’ software from being installed on the devices connected to the business.

The other thing to consider is expense management for telecom. This is sometimes overlooked, but can easily become a large, variable expense based on employee’s usage, roaming charges, having multiple devices, relying on different carriers or international travel.

Laurie: Yes, we found in our study that the biggest obstacle to mobilizing employees is the cost of voice and data services. There are a lot of companies, especially with bring your own device–and bring your own service–that are not really taking advantage of any type of volume discounts or shared pooling or anything like that.

Ron, these are a lot of things to manage and take care of. And as you know, most SMBs don’t have a lot people. So how can they realistically get all of this done?

Ron: You know, it seems like an overwhelming task to take on. But it is critical to embrace a mobility strategy. Don’t feel like you’re alone–Dell can provide guidance and strategy to manage mobility, and affordable solutions for any size environment.

Laurie: The other big area I wanted to touch on is that in addition to asking SMBs about how they’re mobilizing their employees, we asked them about what they’re doing to provide customer-facing apps and mobile-friendly web sites. We found that in many cases, SMB use and plans for customer-facing mobile apps are even more aggressive than for employee apps. SMBs want to use these apps to grow their businesses, and give their customers ways to use mobile devices to research, shop and buy their products and services. So what kinds of management and security precautions should SMBs be putting in place for customer-facing apps?

Figure 2: SMB Perceived Obstacles to Mobile-friendly
Web Sites and Mobile Apps for External Users

Ron: So let’s take security first. Nothing will damage a company’s reputation or their ability to conduct business faster than a security incident. So SMBs and their customers need to ensure they do not expose their customer data or customers to undue risk. Do not overlook the fact that sensitive data can be stored or shared on Wi-Fi networks or even on mobile devices.

For instance, you can be at Starbucks or at the airport, and see an open hotspot labeled free Wi-Fi. Make sure you are connecting to their Wi-Fi. There are a lot of open Wi-Fi connections but many can be rouge hotspots specifically set up to harvest data and use it for nefarious reasons. Keep a keen eye on authentication and encryption between the mobile device and the source.

Application functionality and the end-user experience is another thing to think about. Make sure the apps function correctly, regardless of the device, and take into consideration how the devices and apps are connecting, meaning is it on W-Fi, or a 3G connection or whatever. Make sure it behaves as expected.

Laurie: Again, this is important. But what services exist to help smaller companies do this?

Ron: Dell can help with this, when you’re starting the journey of developing your own mobile apps. Again, you don’t need to go it alone.

Laurie: Okay, you wanted to touch on that end-user experience. Are there ways the SMB can monitor and see if there are problems?

Ron: Yes, there are best practices, and they are available on the Dell Tech Center web site as well as other technical sites.

Laurie: Of course they can also buy off-the-shelf mobile apps from their application vendors. So for instance if they’re using business solutions from Intuit, or Sage or SAP or whomever, they provide out-of-the-box mobile apps for SMBs that don’t want to develop their own.

Ron: Absolutely. Also the apps stores, for Apple iPhone and Google Android, they are commercial off-the-shelf that have already been tested.

Laurie: Might be the best option for a lot of the small companies!

Just to wrap up, based on our study, there’s no doubt in my mind that SMBs are looking to mobile solutions to boost productivity and help them grow their businesses. As their reliance on mobile solutions grows, what can Dell provide to help them manage their mobile solutions and ensure that they’re secure?

Ron: We have several mobility management offerings that SMBs can use to balance the need for access and productivity against the need to maintain the integrity and security of their resources.

For example, Dell’s Mobile Device Management solution can automate and streamline the deployment and management of or SMB customer’s mobile devices and middleware infrastructure, regardless of the device OS. The solution provides real-time monitoring and management of mobile voice, data, and messaging as well as a central management console for security and application control.

Laurie: Where can SMBs go to learn more?

Ron: We have some wonderful resources on our website:

Managing Mobile Computing

Dell Mobility Management Brochure

Dell Tech Center

Laurie: Ron, it was great to talk to you today. Thanks so much for your time, and for joining us to share your knowledge and perspectives.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: PaySimple and BizSlate

I’m back to serve up the second edition of Tech Tidbits, with a new sampling of SMB solutions that you might not know about, but could provide just what you’re looking for.

On the menu this time are PaySimple and BizSlate. If you use or try either of these solutions, please let me know what you think!

PaySimple. Our SMB Group studies consistently indicate that improving cash flow is a top SMB business challenge. But many small businesses still collect payments the old-fashioned way–handwriting invoices or using word processing or spreadsheet apps to create invoices. This can slow down receivables cycles, or worse, make it easy to forget to invoice or follow-up on overdue payments.

PaySimple’s solution automates and simplifies billing and collections with a cloud-based (aka software-as-a-service) solution so you can manage everything from one place. The all-in-one service integrates multiple payment types (credit card, ACH and eCheck), multiple payment channels (virtual terminal, recurring billing, email invoicing, web payments and mobile payments). PaySimple is great for service businesses that are built around repeat customers, offering capabilities for things such as subscription billing and automated communications.

If you don’t have a merchant account yet, PaySimple will get you up and running. PaySimple also provides an import/export function that can map custom fields for integration with most small business accounting solutions, and offers a mobile app so that you can use it when you’re on the go. With this type of solution, SMBs can cut the time they spend on billing and collection, save money and get paid faster. PaySimple is available direct and through private label partners such as American Express Open, Chase, Western Union, among others. Pricing direct from PaySimple is $34.95/month, plus transaction fees.

BizSlate. It’s not too often that customers guide product development from inception, but BizSlate, which provides cloud-based ERP for small businesses, took exactly this approach.  In his prior role as CEO of eZCom Software Inc., a cloud-based EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) provider for SMBs, BizSlate founder Marc Kalman saw that many customers needed to move beyond entry-level accounting software to an ERP solution, but hadn’t found a solution to fit their needs and budgets. So Kalman left eZCom to start BizSlate–convincing over a dozen of his eZCom customers to kick an average of $18,000 each into the venture and join a steering committee to guide product development.

He conducted extensive interviews with each, asking them to throw out their old ideas about software and focus instead on helping him better understand what they really needed to solve their business problems. What he came up with is BizSlate, an ERP system that spans areas such as customer management, vendor management, order management, product management, multiple warehouse and inventory management, receiving from vendors and shipping to customers.

Interestingly, BizSlate doesn’t aim to create another accounting system, so you can, for instance, strap QuickBooks right onto it. BizSlate’s initial focus is on manufacturing, wholesale and distribution industries, but the company plans to extend into the services verticals also. The original 12 customers/investors are using BizSlate now, and the public beta starts this week–so check it out if you’ve been searching for this type of solution.

Top Customer-Facing Mobile Apps for SMBs Today–and the Trajectory for Tomorrow

How are SMBs using mobile solutions to interact with their customers, suppliers and partners? What are top mobile apps that SMBs offer for their external customers, partners and supplier to use? Just as important, what mobile applications are they planning to deploy?

We found out in our recently completed SMB Group 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, in which we asked 717 U.S. SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers about their mobile solutions environment, including:

  • Mobile Device and Service Provider Use and Plans
  • Use and Plans for Internal (Employee) Mobile Business Solutions
  • Use and Plans for External (Customer, Partner, Supplier) Mobile Business Solutions
  • Use and Plans for Mobile Web Sites
  • Benefits and Obstacles to Using Mobile Solutions
  • Use and Plans for Mobile Payments
  • Mobile Budgets
  • Mobile Procurement, Policies, Governance and User Roles
  • Mobile Management Adoption, Solutions and Services

Rising SMB Adoption of Mobile Web Sites and Apps for External Users

As noted in The Yin and Yang of Mobile Applications Benefits For SMBs, the study revealed that SMBs increasingly see that customer-facing mobile applications can help them grow revenue, attract and retain customers, and keep up with the competition.

SMBs are using both mobile-friendly web sites and mobile apps to offer functionality to foster this interaction, as shown on Figure 1.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Mobile-Friendly Web Sites and Mobile Apps

Top 10 Mobile Apps that SMBs Provide for Customers, Suppliers and Partners

Regardless of whether SMBs are employing a mobile-friendly web site, mobile apps, or both, what are the top capabilities that they are providing to external audiences? And what do they plan to add in the next 12 months?

Among a field of 26 possible choices, the solutions in Figure 2 came out on top across small and business respondents.

Figure 2. Top 10 Mobile Functions that SMBs Provide and Plan to Provide to External Users

The study also revealed significant differences in the types of mobile apps SMBs choose to deploy based on industry. For example, the top customer-facing mobile app that professional services firms use is for scheduling appointments, while the top app for retail firms is to enable their customers to buy products/services.

Expanding SMB Digital Presence Via Mobile Solutions

Until recently, most SMBs got along just fine with a corporate website and/or a Facebook page. But SMBs are increasingly finding that they need to make sure that customers can interact with them anytime, anywhere and from any device.

But there are many options and/or trade-offs to think about–mobile web sites, mobile landing pages, mobile payments, mobile apps, etc. Does the company need mobile apps, or will a mobile-friendly web site and landing pages suffice? In addition,

Given limited IT staff and expertise in developing and managing mobile solutions, most SMBs will need help in thinking through these issues, evaluating solution alternatives, developing an effective mobile strategy, and implementing and managing it (Figure 3).

Figure 3: SMB Use/Plans for Mobile Management Solutions

The bottom line is that while mobile apps may be the headline, helping SMBs develop a solid strategy and framework for deploying and managing their mobile environments is likely to provide vendors with an even bigger opportunity in the mobile space.

Intuit: From Products to Services, Applications to Platform

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Intuit’s Innovation Gallery Walk in NYC. Intuit uses the Gallery Walk to showcase new solutions that it is bringing to market as well as ones that are still in R&D.

This year’s Gallery Walk featured simulated storefronts and back offices to help demonstrate how Intuit’s solutions work for consumers and small businesses in the “real world.” It also provided some great insight into Intuit’s strategic direction in the areas of services and partner programs.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit every demo at this interesting event! But here are my thoughts on a couple of things I was able to see and learn about–and how they are underscore Intuit’s ongoing transformation from a products to a services company, and from an application vendor to a platform provider.

From Products to Services

My first stop was to see Intuit’s new 401k Plan and Intuit Health Debit Cards. These two services have been in soft-launch mode for the past year or so. Each zeros in on a big pain point for small businesses with 2 to 10 employees–how do I provide benefits for my workers?

The average U.S. worker has less than $10,000 in savings–putting both individuals and the U.S. economy in potentially dire straits. Although small businesses may want to offer 401k plans for their workers, many simply don’t have the time, money or resources to research, set up and administer a 401K for their employees. Intuit’s 401k plan is priced at $75 a month (which is tax-deductible) for businesses and $3 per quarter for employees. The plan gives small businesses a simple, affordable way to offer 401ks to employees. It integrates with Intuit’s Online Payroll solution–and will integrate with QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online soon. I was told that tens of thousands of small businesses have already signed up for this plan.

Given ever-rising healthcare and health insurance costs and all the politics surrounding these issues, Intuit’s Health Debit Card is arguably tackling an even more daunting challenge. Many small businesses simply can’t afford to provide their employees with traditional health insurance plans. Using this program gives, small business employers can set aside pretax dollars in Health Reimbursement Account accounts for their employees. Employees can draw on these funds with a debit card to cover medical costs–doctor visits, prescriptions, glasses, etc. About 1,000 small businesses are currently using this service.

These programs can provide small businesses with options to do more for their employees, helping them to attract and retain the kinds of employees they’ll need to help their businesses grow.

In addition to a broader market launch, more integration to other Intuit solutions, new functionality and options, Intuit is also examining how it might take on a bigger change-agent role in these areas. For instance, the vendor is testing an employee-funded Health Savings Account (HSA) offering, and starting to explore options to offer pooled health insurance small businesses.

These are just two of the areas that highlight how Intuit is transforming into a services vendor in the small business market.

From Applications to Platform

The other area in which I gained a lot of insight into is the ongoing growth of Intuit’s App Center and Intuit Partner platform. I’ve been following this since it launched, and blogged about it in these earlier posts (Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications and Intuit and Salesforce Partner Up: Who’s the Big Winner?).

Basically, Intuit App Center and Partner Platform help small businesses extend the power of QuickBooks through third-party solutions. At the event, Intuit took the wraps off Intuit Anywhere, which gives developers the ability to reach millions of QuickBooks customers and build data integration directly into their mobile and Web apps. This gives developers the ability to connect their users directly to QuickBooks via a button on their page as easily as connecting to Facebook.

Over the last couple of years, Intuit’s App Center has really taken shape. Over 250 applications are now in the App Center, from big name providers such as Salesforce.com and eBay to a wide range of smaller vendors, including some that might be categorized as Intuit competitors, such as FreshBooks. Through the Intuit Partner Platform, developers get a sales channel, platform services, and a direct route to Intuit’s large installed base.

Data is at the heart of this ecosystem. This means that developer partners not only get access to the two million registered App Center users– they also get a more seamless way to get discovered by potential users. For instance, QuickBooks customers that process a certain number of invoices each month are automatically introduced to partner Bill.com’s billing app. This type of in-context discovery coupled is helping Intuit’s partners convert trials into purchases at a considerably higher rate than standalone free trials.

By connecting more partners and customers into this platform and to each other, Intuit reaps the benefits of the network effect.

Quick Take

As Intuit’s CEO Brad Smith noted in his remarks at the event, Intuit’s mission is to “improve the financial lives of people.” As Smith also remarked, Intuit’s approach to solving for this is to “Get managers out of the way and let people work their magic.”

Judging from the Innovation Gallery Walk, Intuit’s 8,000 employees are working their magic to help Intuit execute on its mission–transforming from a products to a services company, and from an application vendor to a platform provider in the process.

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

Report Card: 2011 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

 Before developing our 2012 predictions, we wanted to assess how we did on our Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2011.  Here’s our take on how we did–let us know what grades you would have given us!

And stay tuned for our Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012 which we will post in a few days!

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

Prediction Score  Comments
1. Mobile Commerce Lifts Off     5 Our 2010 Mobile Solutions Study revealed strong plans for mobile commerce, and a custom study we fielded in August put mobile commerce and payments at the top of SMBs’ mobile apps list. Most important, this investment is paying off:

  • EBay’s payments company PayPal reported a 552% increase in mobile payment volume for 2011 Cyber Monday over 2010 figures.
  • IBM reported mobile sales grew dramatically, reaching 6.6% of total e-commerce sales on Cyber Monday versus 2.3% in 2010.

In 2012, we see SMBs to building on this by integrating mobile commerce with financials and CRM solutions.

2. SMBs Demand that Vendors Bring Order to Social Media Chaos     3 Almost 50% of SMBs said that they use social media In our 2011 Social Business Study. But only about half use it strategically, and just  a small percentage use tools to manage social media. Although SMBs want to use social media more strategically, they face some big hurdles, including:

  • Not enough time to use social media effectively.
  • Can’t decide what social media strategies will work best.
  • Too difficult to integrate social media with sales, marketing, service and other business processes
  • Unable to accurately measure the value of social media.

While SMB demand is there, vendors have yet to fulfill it with effective, affordable and easy-to-use solutions.

3. App Stores Become a Key Information Source and Channel for SMBs        3 SMB use of app stores such as Salesforce AppExchange, Intuit Workplace and Google Marketplace grew from 23% in 2010 to 28% in 2011 in small business, and rose from 44% to 48% among medium businesses, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study(a refresh of 2010). But we also found that:

  • Only 6% of small businesses and 17% of medium businesses use app stores on a regular basis–which pales in comparison use of search engines, and falls far short of regular use of email newsletters; colleagues, friends and family; vendor web sites, and Facebook.

Apps stores hold promise to help SMBs sort through the maze of solutions available, but app stores need to do more to become a premier and potentially disruptive SMB information and purchase channel.

4. The Shift to Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Becomes Irreversible      5 Economic necessity and technological complexity is driving more and more SMBs to the cloud. Comparing data from our 2010 and 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studies, we see:

  • Momentum is increasing for cloud-based solutions in almost all solution categories.
  • Among both small and medium businesses, use of cloud collaboration solutions was up 10% and adoption of cloud accounting/ERP was up 2%.

Is the cloud right for every solution? No. Is it right for every company? No. But the arguments for it–reduced capital costs, quicker to deploy, real-time visibility and collaboration among others–are increasingly making the cloud the option of choice for many SMBs.

5. A New Cloud Channel Model Forms       4 This transition is well underway and enabled by the growth of cloud computing, which relieves the channel of technical implementation.  We see:

  • The growing importance of non-traditional IT channels, such as creative and marketing agencies for vendors such as HubSpot and Radian6.
  • Re-imagined channel partner programs from vendors like Intacct, which offers partners more opportunity and collaborative goal setting and IBM’s Software Group, which rewards partners for value-add and renewals.

This transformation is still work in progress, and one we’ll be watching closely.

6. The Transition to the Insight Economy Gets a Bit Easier     3 The era of the zettabyte economy and big data is here. But the ease of dealing with it are mixed, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study:

  • 33% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded business intelligence solutions in past 24 months and 28% plan to purchase/upgrade in the next 12 months.
  • Mid-market specific BI offerings, such as IBM  Cognos Express and SAP Business Objects Edge, and more function-specific solutions from vendors such as Adaptive Planning and Host Analytics–are fueling adoption.
  • Uptake is slower in small business: 16% purchased/upgraded business intelligence solutions in past 24 months, and 16% plan to purchase/upgrade in the next 12 months.

Vendors are hitting the mark for medium businesses, but need more targeted solutions for small business to deliver “aha moments” for small companies.

7. Tablets Add Fuel to the Mobile Applications Explosion      5 Do we even need to back up for our score here?! We will anyway:In a custom study completed this summer, we found 50 percent of SMBs have deployed or plan to deploy tablets, such as iPads, within the next twelve months

  • 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 5-49 employee size band.
  • Mobile use of collaboration apps (email, calendar, etc.) is mainstream, and SMBs show strong plans to add business applications including payroll, time management, field service and mobile commerce, among others.

This rapid uptake will continue as SMBs see more horizontal and industry-specific apps that are a perfect fit for the tablet form-factor. Now, the only question is whether another vendor will mount a serious challenge to the Apple iPad.

8. Better, Faster Integration Becomes a Key Business Solution Differentiator      4 SMBs understand that integration provides big business benefits, and they want solutions that streamline integration.

  • 23% of small and 28% of medium businesses indicated Integrating different applications as a top challenge, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study.
  • 64% of medium and 36% of small businesses use or plan to use an integrated collaboration suite, according to our 2011 SMB Collaboration Study.
  • 16% of SMBs have already integrated marketing applications with social media and 22% have plans to integrate them in the next 12 months, according to our 2011 Social Business Study.

Vendors are addressing this demand with pre-integrated solutions and suites, embedded integrators for typical integration scenarios and cloud-based integration services.

9. Hybrid Computing Requirements Accelerate Virtualization Adoption      4 Religious wars continue to rage about the “false cloud” and “cloud washing.” But many SMBs are more interested in the ends–subscription based pricing, offloading IT management and speed to solution benefit–than they are in the means. The 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studyreveals that:

  • 43% of medium and 16% of small businesses deployed/upgraded server virtualization solutions in the past 24 months while 31% of medium and 14% of small businesses plan to deploy/upgrade them in the next 12 months.
  • 32% of medium and 17% of small businesses deployed/upgraded desktop virtualization solutions while 29% of medium and 13% of small businesses plan to deploy/upgrade them in the next 12 months.
10. Continued Convergence of Unified Communication and Collaboration Suites     4 Vendors continue to consolidate more services into their offerings and SMBs are getting on board.

  • 64% of medium and 36% of small businesses use or plan to use an integrated collaboration suite, according to our 2011 SMB Collaboration Study.
  • 33% of small businesses are using VoIP (on-premise and hosted) solutions; 33% use Internet phone and video conferencing (e.g. Skype);  and 35% use web conferencing.  They also indicate strong plans to add more communications services: in the next 12 months: web conferencing (16%); voicemail to email (16%); fax-to-email (15%); and hosted VoIP (13%).
  • Medium businesses are further along the curve: 74% already use VoIP on-premise and hosted services; 66% use web conferencing; 55% use fax to email and web conferencing and 42% use Internet phone and video conferencing (e.g. Skype).  Plans are also strong to add web conferencing (16%); voicemail to email (16%); fax-to-email (16%); and hosted VoIP (13%).

Integrated services lower costs and a unified platform makes it easier for SMBs to get more value from their collaboration and communications solutions without the hassles of separate sign-ons and different user interfaces–which will continue to drive this trend in 2012.

If you’re interested in any of the above SMB market studies, we are offering special end-of-year discounts on these studies. Click here for more details.


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