Microsoft Lumia 1520: A Millennial Perspective

A few weeks ago, Microsoft asked me if I wanted to check out the Lumia 1520. Although I’m a long-time iPhone user, I thought, why not? It’s always good to see if there is something better out there.

 Unfortunately, once I got the phone, it seemed like I never had the time to really put it through its paces. Luckily, my 20-year old son, Tyler McCabe (@tyccabe) who is entering his junior year as computer engineering major, was eager to take the Lumia on a weeklong test drive. Since he’s used both iPhones and Androids over the past few years, his take on the Lumia 1520 intrigues me and I hope to try it soon as well!

Hardware

Nokia Lumia 1520 RedThe phone is a sleek device that offers a 16.2×8.5cm screen while only weighing just over 200g. The size may be turn off for an iPhone user because it so much wider, but after carrying the phone around for a while, I felt that the trade off for a larger screen is worth the extra size.

Camera

The camera bulge on the backside was slightly annoying at first, but considering the impressive photo quality, I can deal with this annoyance. With 20 Megapixel resolution, the front camera produces staggeringly clear and detailed photos that very few smartphones I’ve seen can compete with.

Unlike the mid-resolution photos I get on the iPhone 5—which look good on a small phone screen but are grainy when viewed on a proper monitor—the Lumia’s front camera provides crisp, clean views of intricate images regardless of monitor size.

The camera program also offers amateur photographer helpful modes to help optimize picture-taking under different conditions. From bright sunny days to dark nightclubs, the Lumia’s easy to use tools helped me take great pictures to share with friends. The phone also has many built-in visual filters to make “post production” and editing on the fly easy to do well.

Integrated Circuitry and Storage

 The Snapdragon processor in the Lumia 1520 excels at providing quick and responsive feedback when using applications on the phone. For example, when clocked next to an HTC Incredible II and iPhone 5 streaming podcasts over WiFi, the Lumia began playback long before the other two had finished loading. The phone also has exceptional battery life, with a lithium-ion cell that provides me with 24 hours of phone use without a recharge.

The only major hardware gripe I have is the SD/NanoSim slots, which require a Lumia 1520 specific tool to remove and replace these critical components in the phone. What if you lose it? It proved difficult to pry open with a paperclip. Though the unibody design benefits from this choice, the overall inconvenience isn’t worth it. This design lags behind many Android designs for the same function.

Software

Though the original Windows 8.0 was the bane of desktop clients, Windows Phone 8 OS is well suited to smartphones. The Lumia 1520 comes with Windows Phone 8.1, and the user interface was surprisingly intuitive for me and I think would be even the most diehard Apple fans. Some specifics:

  • Getting started with the phone and connected to the Internet over WiFi was easy enough, taking me about five minutes.
  • The email application integrates with top email providers like Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, and other services if the mail server information is known. Emails load quickly and the UI provides a good viewing experience.
  • I was genuinely surprised to see how concise and user friend the Microsoft Office mobile app is. It’s easy to use and the touch screen enhances, instead of inhibits, document editing.
  • You can use 3G or WiFi and the Skype app to make free calls and video calls, and to send IMs.
  • The new mobile office really shines with integration of local phone documents with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service. This allows users to access their files from anywhere with wireless Internet. Though not a new concept, this feature will bring users of Microsoft’s desktop office suite into the new age of cloud-based and mobile services in an intuitive way.
  • The Excel spreadsheet application offers most of the functionality of its desktop relative, giving users the ability to edit multiple cells dynamically with touch commands and analyze data with a variety of predefined and user-created functions. It also brings chart and graph creation and editing, a useful feature for those looking for quick and easy way to interpret data and share information on the go.
  • One major drawback of the new Suite is the lack of live multi-user collaboration and revision. Unlike its free competitor Google Docs, Office mobile does not offer live editing of documents between coworker. Though document storage is a step in the right direction, many users will find the lack of collaborative features a turn off for the Lumia and Windows phones.
  • A small problem with the ergonomics of the keyboard when typing on the phone in landscape mode is that due to its long body, reaching the inner row of keys can be a strain for those with smaller hands. 

Social Media

Social media is front and center on the dashboard of Windows Mobile 8.0. Unlike IOS or Android where social media apps are discrete and can only be loosely organized, the Windows main screen knits together all of your different social networks together, giving a unified and user-friendly way to manage your entire social presence with the touch of button.

Entertainment

Though work is a major focus for the Lumia, it also offers much in the way of kicking back, for example:

  • The Game store and library on the phone integrates the Xbox Live network with your local library, allowing both diehard gamers and casual players alike to share content across platforms and with friends.
  • The selection of touch-based games appeared to be quite good with favorites like Plants vs. Zombies, and Cut The Rope.
  • Many streaming video options are available right out of the box like Hulu, and AT&T Mobile Video.

Summary

Though the size of the Lumia was initially a major hurdle for me to think that I would be able to use the phone as my main mobile device, the slim ergonomics design won me over. The phone continued to impress me by combining the ease of IOS and the customizability of an Android to produce a polished introductory experience. Further complementing my favorable first impression is the creative UI and graphic design that sent a message of innovation and not that of an old “dorky” business phone (think Blackberry).

Unlike its rivals from Google and Apple, the Lumia and Windows 8 Office suite allow for native support of common business formats like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel spreadsheets. The Lumia renders these files as you’d view them on a desktop with the original aspect ratio.

Though there are a few software tweaks, as discussed above, that could improve the Office suite, the Lumia is a good choice for business people who want a cloud and mobile first approach to applications.

Overall I was quite pleasantly surprised with the week I spent with the 1520, and would consider it a fitting, and possibly even superior option for anyone looking for a new approach in the smartphone market.

How Would You Like to Pay For That? Let the Customer Decide!

baroquon_Add_MoneyA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present on the topic of key trends in payments and commerce at Sage Summit 2014, Sage North America’s annual customer and partner event. Since getting paid is a top priority for all businesses, the topic garnered quite a bit of interest from small and medium business attendees.

So, I thought I’d share presentation highlights in this post, which discusses the sea change underway when it comes to how people want to shop and transact business, and why it is driving the need for businesses to reframe how they think about payments.

View the presentation above to learn about:

  • Key trends in payments and commerce, including ecommerce, mobile commerce, social shopping, omnicommerce and new types of forms of payments and currencies.
  • What this means for you as an SMB decision maker, and why flexibility and integrating payments with financials and other business systems will become critically important.
  • What you need to think about and plan for in this area, and why taking a more strategic view of payments and help you attract more customers and grow revenues.

And please let me know what you think about this topic! What other trends are you seeing, and how are you thinking about them in terms of your business?

Mobility Perspectives from Intel’s 2014 Solutions Summit

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at the 2014 Intel Solutions Summit with panelists Bob Moore, Founder, RJM Strategies LLC; Jeffrey R Zavaleta, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Graphium Health, an integrated, mobile electronic medical records (EMR) platform; and Dave Bucholz, Director of Enterprise Client Strategy, Business Client Platform Division at Intel. We chatted about how companies are adopting and using mobile solutions in their businesses, and some of the challenges they face.

Our conversation was very interesting, as mobile is one the fastest growing technology trends in small and medium business (SMB). Because mobile devices and apps are so user-friendly, SMBs can deploy them quickly. As a result, mobile solutions are quickly revolutionizing how SMBs get work done. In fact, 91% of SMBs already use mobile solutions in their businesses, according to 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, and 67% of SMBs indicate that “mobile solutions are now critical for our business,” as shown on Figure 1.

2013 SMB Attitudes re Mobile (1)Figure 1: SMB Attitudes About Mobile Solutions

As we discussed during the panel, SMBs understand that mobile solutions not only help improve employee productivity, but also enable them to improve customer experiences and fuel business growth. In fact, 70% see mobile apps as a “complement to current business applications”, and 55% think that mobile will replace some of their existing business applications.

So it’s not surprising that mobile solutions are gobbling up a growing share of SMB technology budgets. SMBs currently spend about 11% to 20% of their technology budgets in the mobile space, and 68% expect they will need to spend more on mobile solutions next year.

However, panelists also agreed the rapid and explosive growth of and reliance on mobile solutions has caught many SMBs off-guard, resulting in some key challenges, as we also found in our study (Figure 2).

2013 top mobile challengesFigure 2:  Top Challenges to Using Mobile Solutions

SMBs often find it difficult to manage the growing plethora of mobile apps for employees, especially as SMB adoption of “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies for employees doubling over the past year to 62%. SMBs also have more customer-facing mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites to manage as well.

With adoption of and reliance on mobile solutions rising, SMBs are looking for management solutions to help them to:

  • Remotely install, update and remove managed apps from devices.
  • Track and view installed/approved/blacklisted apps at the user/device level.
  • Authenticate, manage and deploy apps based on user groups/roles and restrict content access.

Security concerns are behind many of these requirements. SMBs want solutions that enable them to:

  • Lock devices when devices are lost or stolen, or the employee leaves the company
  • Provide data encryption on devices
  • Partition/separate business-related data apps from personal data and apps

In addition, rising adoption of mobile payments and other apps that collect personal information is spiking SMB security concerns on the external app side as well.

Perspective

SMBs look at mobile solutions and like the value that see from them. Consequently, they plan to increase investments both for employee apps, and for external-facing mobile websites and mobile apps.

At the same time, BYOD shows no signs of abating. Employees want to use the devices that they’re most comfortable with, and some SMBs view BYOD a way to trim voice and data service costs. But at the same time, BYOD ushers in additional security and management challenges that can result in added costs can change this equation.

As our panelists discussed, this means that SMBs need to be more strategic upfront about using mobile in their businesses. Think not only about the devices and apps you want to use, but who will use them. Consider both the business outcomes you need from mobile solutions–and the management capabilities you’ll need to have to safeguard corporate and customer information.

Mobile management, security, and consulting services spending categories will see significant spending increases as SMBs endeavor to reap more value from and do a better job managing an increasingly complex assortment mobile devices, services and solutions. Given that many SMBs lack adequate IT resources and mobile expertise, we expect that they will increasingly turn to external solutions providers to get the management job done.

For more commentary on this, see the follow-up video interview.

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.

 

 

                       

Six Surprises That May Change Your View of Dell

Dellworld 2013Dell’s journey to transform itself from a hardware company to a solutions vendor has been ongoing for a couple of years. To achieve that, the company has been acquiring, building and blending hardware, software, services, cloud and open standards to broaden its technology footprint. But, much of Dell’s progress has been buried in the drama of the fight to take the company private.

As the first major event since the company’s tumultuous–but ultimately successful–struggle to go private, Dell World 2013 promised to be somewhat of a bellwether. Would Dell, newly freed from Wall Street’s constraints, reframe itself as innovative, end-to-end solutions provider?

Of course, one event won’t change things overnight. But Dell is off to a good start. At Dell World, the company unleashed, unveiled and underscored a comprehensive, innovative vision for its future. If you still view Dell as a stodgy hardware provider, here are six things it is doing that may surprise you–and prompt you to look at the company in a new light.  Consider that Dell is:

  1. Becoming an über-cloud provider: Except for its role as an arms supplier, the cloud has been a murky space for Dell. But at Dell World, it announced that Microsoft, CenturyLink, Dropbox and Google are on board with its expanded Dell Cloud Partner Program which is designed to give customers more choice and flexibility in the cloud, and to provide end-to-end support for offerings from multiple cloud vendors. For instance, customers gain the ability to manage single or multiple public, private and hybrid clouds through one pane of glass via Dell Cloud Manager (formerly Enstratius).
  2. Enabling customers to build open, private-cloud solutions based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack PlatformDell is the first OEM vendor to collaborate with Red Hat to provide businesses with co-engineered solutions and dedicated support and services for OpenStack. The goal is give businesses more confidence in using OpenStack as an alternative to proprietary IaaS and PaaS (infrastructure and platform as-a-service) alternatives.
  3. Consolidating channel and direct sales teams into one organization: To support its transition from hardware maker to solutions provider, Dell announced that it is combining direct sales and partner sales into a single organization–and providing a 20% “compensation accelerator” to motivate direct sales to work with channel partners on seven solution areas. Dell also announced expanded profit and coverage opportunities for partners, including turning over 200,000 named accounts to the channel.
  4. Innovating in industries: I knew that Dell is a top technology provider in the healthcare industry, much of this a result of its acquisition of Perot Systems. But didn’t know that it is the top IT provider in healthcare, and is helping pioneer change in this quickly evolving industry. For instance, Dell Services helped launched a state exchange for the Massachusetts Health Connector, and manages and secures Dell Cloud Clinical Archive, one of the largest (with nearly 7 billion images) cloud-based, vendor-neutral medical image archives in the world. At Dell World, te company announced a new cloud-based hospital administration system (HIS), which will launch first in India. Dell is also increasing its focus on other industries, including finance, where it has launched digital transformation frameworks and payment transformation services to help banks reduce costs, retain customers and improve compliance. In the insurance area, Dell has won more than 10 multi-million dollar contracts in the last eighteen months with its Third Party Administration platform.
  5. Going mobile. Sure, you know that Dell has mobile devices–from the new convertible (laptop to tablet) XPS 11 and Venue 11 Pro tablet to the newly released Dell Chromebook 11 (designed for the education market). But, building on prior solutions , Dell announced Enterprise Mobility Management, a unified mobile management solution to managed devices, apps, and content, and Secure Remote Access Gateway to protect endpoints, which will be available through the channel in 2014. I also learned that Dell Services offers custom mobile app development.
  6. Extending its investments in innovation: In his keynote, Michael Dell unveiled two new programs designed to foster innovation. First, Dell has created a research division to pursue organic innovation with a five to ten-year focus. Second, Dell has upped its investment in Dell Ventures with a $300 million dollar Strategic Innovation Venture Fund, a five-fold increase over its initial $60M investment. The Venture Fund invests in early to growth stage companies in the technology areas that Dell is focusing on–storage, cloud computing, big data, data center, security and mobility. Dell’s model is to co-invest with venture capitalists, serve as a board advisor, and provide product and go-to-market resources to the companies it invests in. Dell also reaffirmed its pledge to provide a broad range of entrepreneurs with technology, financing, networking and knowledge via the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs. It highlighted this focus with Dell Pitch Slam which attracted 6-8 late stage startups from several regional events to Dell World, where they pitched their ideas to Michael Dell and other judges. Check out the winners–Guavus, Neverware, and Fantoo.

Summary and Perspective

M DellMaybe as important as the collective weight of all the announcements offered at Dell World 2013, Michael Dell deserves high praise for not only retaining so many employees, but for inspiring staff to stay the course through the trials and tribulations of the privatization process.

As Dell stated in his keynote, “I feel I’m part of the world’s biggest start-up.” His attitude seemed to be contagious among employees, creating a sense of excitement that I hadn’t seen at the past two Dell World events. This renewed commitment and energy from within is the essential first step to a successful transformation, and getting customers and the broader market to view Dell in a new light as well.

Disclaimer: I attended Dell World as an invited media guest.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1.     Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
2.     Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
3.     Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
4.     Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
5.     SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
6.     SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
7.     SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
8.     The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
9.     It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
10.  Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4.  Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events.
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage.
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses.
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are.
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions.
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy-saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green.
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

AVG: Taking the Fear Factor Out of Digital Security

MH900363330Whether in our personal or professional lives, most of us love the ease of connecting, collaborating, and shopping online, whether in our personal or professional lives–anywhere, anytime and on any device. At the same time, we worry about the increasing privacy and security risks that we expose ourselves to in the digital world. But taking steps to safeguard our activities across myriad social, search, and shopping sites can seem overwhelming and futile. As a result, we simply keep our fingers crossed that our credit card info won’t get stolen or that we’ll unwittingly share things we meant to keep private.

It’s no a lack of security and privacy solutions that keep people from taking action, as there are hundreds of them. But most security and privacy vendors have taken an approach that is hard for many people to warm up to. For the most part, vendors have taken the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) approach ratchet up anxiety about potential threats so we’ll buy their solutions to mitigate them. How many times have we read headlines from security vendors such as, “Vendor X Warns of New Android Vulnerabilities ” or “Security Vendor Y Identifies New Facebook Privacy Risks.”

In addition, while many security and privacy solutions get the job done, they’re often designed more for IT managers than users. As a result, end-users don’t use or keep them updated. Much worse, of course, are the black hat vendors that give “freemium” a bad rap by luring people in with free trials of purported security solutions that turn out to be malware that is designed to create security breaches and mess up your devices.

AVG logoFrom FUD to Enabling

Enter AVG with a fresh twist: to make it “safer, easier and more enjoyable to live life online.” At its 2014 launch event in New York last week, AVG unveiled its new branding campaign, updates to its antivirus and Internet security offerings, and some new solutions.

AVG’s new campaign speaks directly to users–whether individuals, families or small business users. Instead of using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) as a motivator, the company is positioning its security and protection solutions as a means for users to take charge of their digital life. AVG gets that most of us like using the Internet to stay connected and conduct business, but that we would like greater peace of mind when we use it.

AVG also reiterated its long-standing commitment to provide robust free versions for its solutions so everyone can gain this peace of mind. For example, AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 detects blocks and removes viruses, lets you control who tracks you, clean up your computer–and is sufficient for many users. Meanwhile, the paid version, AVG AntiVirus 2014 does all of the above, plus adds protection against spyware and new encryption capabilities to protect files.

AVG has also added a new File Shredder to all of its solutions (free and paid), which allows you to permanently and completely remove all traces of selected files from your computer. AVG also updated its comprehensive AVG Premium Security 2014, which provides antivirus, privacy and performance for PCs and Android devices. (AVG Linkscanner is a 2013 product that is available for Macs and IOS devices).

The company unveiled new device specific solutions, such as AVG Safe Browser for iOS devices. This  blocks unsafe sites and helps you identify which sites are collecting your data so you can decide if you want to allow block them or not. For Android users, AVG introduced AVG Cleaner to speed performance , and AVG Image Shrinker, to shrink and share photos more quickly. AVG also updated its mobile antivirus app , which now supports camera tracking by snapping a photo if it looks like someone has stolen your phone.

AVG also announced AVG CloudCare service module, which will be integrated within AVG’s Managed WorkPlace to provide AVG’s 1500 managed service provider (MSP) partners the ability to remotely monitor their customers’ device security measures from within a single dashboard.

PrivacyFix to Manage Privacy Across Social Networks

PF1While at the launch event, I installed AVG’s new PrivacyFix tool (a result of AVG’s acquisition of PrivacyChoice in May), which is free and now works on Android and iOS apps as well as all major web browsers. Ironically, at first I couldn’t get this to work because of a program I’d (unfortunately) downloaded a while back called Little Snitch, which is supposed to do x but which I found intrusive and ineffective. Turns out I had never really deleted all of it when I thought I had, and it was interfering with my PrivacyFix install.

With the gracious help of Jim Brock, AVG Vice President, Privacy Products, however, I rid my Mac of Little Snitch and powered up PrivacyFix, which is a very user-friendly tool to analyze your account privacy settings across Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn. With PrivacyFix, you can:

  • View and manage privacy settings for all of these apps from one place. The app identifies where privacy settings are weak, tells you the tradeoffs of increasing or decreasing privacy settings. When you click to change a setting, PrivacyFix, opens up the selected settings page in your account, points you to the area you need to fix and tells you how to do it.
  • Automatically cull out your “real” friends from casual acquaintances on Facebook–think Google Circles, but automated–with a “crowd control” capability.
  • Analyze tracking and privacy policies for thousands of websites to inform you of things such as whether they share your data with third-parties, or if they’ve had known data breaches.

It also has an interesting feature that shows you how much you are “worth” to Facebook and Google.

Perspective

AVG’s approach seems simple, but it has definitely been the road less traveled by security vendors. Instead of starting with all the things you should be scared of and likely don’t want to think about, the campaign focuses on helping you have a better experience doing the things you like to do online.

Of course, positioning alone is not enough. AVG’s willingness to back it up with a broad range of free yet capable offerings provides a solid foundation of trust–as well as a gateway to its paid solutions. And while other vendors struggle to make a freemium formula profitable, AVG formula has been very successful.  The vendors’ Q2 2013 was $100.4 million, up 22% from $82.5 million in Q2 2012, while net income was $21.7 million, up 95% from $11.0 million for the same period.

AVG’s strategy aligns with market trends and user behavior. As the variety of devices, sites and things we do online continue to expand and evolve, this course should continue provide positive differentiation for AVG in both consumer and SMB markets.

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