SMB Group recently wrapped up our “2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study,” in which we looked how U.S. SMB technology adoption and the buying cycle in ten key solution areas, as shown below.
Business Application Solutions
IT Infrastructure Solutions
·ERP, Financial and Accounting
·Online Storage and Sharing (new addition for 2014)
·Contact and Customer Management
·Workforce Management (new addition for 2014)
·Business Intelligence and Analytics
·Integration (new addition for 2014)
Cloud Adoption is Soaring
The most dramatic finding is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution, and 87% already use at least one cloud infrastructure solution. (Figure 1).
Figure 1: SMB Cloud Adoption
Furthermore, when compared with our 2012 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, we see cloud adoption increasing in every solution area. For example, since 2012, SMB cloud adoption is up 10% for collaboration, 5% for business analytics and 2% for accounting and ERP. The same types of gains hold true for infrastructure applications. In addition, we see that as SMBs shift to the cloud, purchase channels are also changing to favor direct purchase from software or a software-as-a-service/cloud vendors and to managed service providers (MSPs).
Integration Remains Problematic
However, while the cloud has made it much easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, it has yet to do much to help SMBs integrate them. Although 63% of SMBs have at least partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, instead of using modern integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 2).
Figure 2: SMB Integration Methods
Integration is essential to helping SMBs reap the full business process value of new applications—and of course to gaining a more unified, consistent view of the business. But as this research signals, vendors need to do a lot more both to educate SMBs about the value of application integration, and to make their integration solutions easier to use and more affordable.
For more information
SMB Group’s 2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study assesses the entire SMB technology solution purchase cycle, including needs identification, information sources, advice sources, key selection and short-list criteria, and purchase channels. Fielded in February 2014, the study is based on the results of a 700-respondent web-based survey of SMB technology solution decision makers and influencers, and segmented into eight employee-size segments and 18 vertical industries.
Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or email@example.com for more information about the study, including a Table of Contents.
Last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to IBM Connect to learn about the latest and greatest developments in the company’s collaboration and talent solutions. Over the years, IBM has transformed its former Lotusphere conference to Connect, grown a portfolio of cloud-based messaging and collaboration solutions, and added talent and workforce management solutions into the mix.
This year’s Connect theme was “Energizing Life’s Work,” which plays across IBM’s collaboration and mail solutions, as well as Kenexa, IBM’s talent suite (IBM acquired Kenexa in 2012). Here, I’ll focus on news in the cloud-based collaboration space, which is arguably IBM’s best possible route to the small and medium business (SMB) market.
IBM’s big news in this arena focused on:
The unveiling of Mail Next, IBM’s web-based, enterprise-focused email service: It combines mail, meetings, chat and content management systems, creating unified hubs for in which users can interact via email and create groups based on shared interests or projects, and track projects. For instance, users can mute email that doesn’t need immediate attention to view later. IBM intends to make the solution available in 2014, both on-premises and via the cloud.
A new name and enhanced user capabilities for IBM’s cloud-based collaboration suite: In 2014, IBM will rebrand IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business (which includes business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail, calendars, etc.) to “IBM Connections for Cloud”. (In 2012, IBM renamed LotusLive Engage cloud suite to SmartCloud for Social Business.) IBM also announced several enhancements for the suite, including the new Mail Next web mail discussed above, as well as improved audio/video for meetings and chat, a better guest model experience, and “mobile everywhere” capabilities.
Automated, dynamic infrastructure capabilities enabled by SoftLayer: On the backend, the company is now running IBM Connections for Cloud in its recently acquired SoftLayer data centers. SoftLayer not only expands IBM’s data center footprint (an increasingly important capability as more countries legislate that cloud providers operate in-country) but also provides enhanced automation capabilities to get infrastructure and applications up and running much more quickly, allowing new images to be set-up in 15 to 20 minutes. This enables IBM to stand up a small footprint first, and expand dynamically as new customers sign on.
Added sales and distribution capabilities: IBM has done several things to fuel sales of its SaaS solutions, including its Connections for Cloud portfolio. First, the company has changed the SaaS compensation model for direct sales. In the past reps got bonus for selling SaaS; now SaaS sales are part of their quota. Second, the application programming interface (API) is now the same for both IBM’s on-premises and SaaS collaboration apps, so that older on-premises apps can now be certified to run in the cloud. IBM hopes that this will help ease the path for traditional Lotus ISVs and resellers to join the Connections for Cloud partner ranks (which currently have about 60 reseller and 100 ISV partners). Finally, IBM is working with Parallels to create an automated platform for telco partners to easily rebrand, provision, sell and bill IBM Connections for Cloud and other SaaS offerings in an integrated, streamlined manner.
IBM said that 2013 was a tipping point for adoption of its Connections for Cloud, touting triple digit growth in new customers and quadruple digit growth in new signings. Although IBM doesn’t release information about the number of active accounts using Connections for Cloud, it claims to have millions of users, and a 50/50 split between large businesses and midmarket accounts. In a breakout session, executives noted that some midmarket customers have replaced Office 365 or Google Apps with IBM Connections for Cloud. They cited IBM’s strong security and governance capabilities, and the fact that the company doesn’t sell ads or mine customer data as key competitive differentiators.
Missing the B2Me Connection
Judging from the demos, IBM Connections for Cloud is making headway in terms of creating a more user-friendly and SMB-friendly collaboration experience and developing lightweight, lower priced bundles. In fact, I have spoken with several smaller organizations such as Apex Supply Chain and Colleagues In Care that are very satisfied with IBM’s collaboration solutions (more customer stories can be read here. IBM’s growth metrics are also impressive.
In addition, IBM’s new design thinking philosophy puts the user experience at the center of its development and roadmap planning, indicating IBM’s recognition that consumer-oriented applications have a big influence on user expectations. The vendor’s design thinking philosophy incorporates best practices from popular social apps, brings features such as activity streams, social feedback and network updates to the forefront, and use analytics to flag high-priority items for users. IBM is also putting mobile-inspired design first. For instance, event demos showcased tablet-optimized design principles for Mail Next even when accessed through a traditional web browser.
But IBM remains a distant third to Microsoft and Google in the SMB email and collaboration market. Given the company’s current position, its traditional B2B sales model, and the ongoing consumerization of IT, the odds look slim that IBM can dramatically grow SMB share.
Across the technology spectrum, and especially in the collaboration space, decisions are increasingly being made in a bottom-up instead of top-down manner. User preferences forced a massive corporate shift from BlackBerry to iPhone, and business users are signing up on Dropbox and Google Drive by the millions without IT’s blessing. I’ve dubbed this trend “B2Me.” As consumer technology gets friendlier and friendlier, people are increasingly likely to seek the same type of technology access and experience in their business lives as in their personal ones.
Therein lies the rub for IBM. Although it offers a self-service model, including a free trial, onboarding services and credit card purchase options for IBM Connections for Cloud, it lacks any presence in the consumer or prosumer space—a growing onramp for SMB technology adoption. In addition, IBM’s service and support model is geared towards making large corporate accounts happy. Shifting gears to serve far-flung issues and requirements from the masses presents another big hurdle for Big Blue and other enterprise-facing vendors.
Without the ability to create and a support a viral, bottoms-up business model, its hard to see how, no matter how good the solution is, IBM Connections for Cloud can make serious headway in the SMB Market.
Does It Really Matter Whether IBM Connects With SMBs?
IBM has an impressive stronghold in the large enterprise collaboration space. In fact, the company has augmented, reshaped and restyled the Lotus portfolio—which was once declared dead—into its now thriving Social Business division.
So why should IBM divert attention and resources to SMBs? Especially as Google, Dropbox and others drive pricing downward, many IBMers likely view this as a profitless tail-chasing game.
However, I believe that if IBM chooses to put SMBs and the B2Me phenomena on the back-burner, it does so at its own peril. IBM needs to grow its SMB market footprint to fuel growth, especially after missing revenue targets during 2013. Furthermore, there’s the pesky fact that small companies grow and large ones go out of business. Consider that238 of the companies that made the 1999 Fortune 500 list had slipped off the 2009 Fortune 500 rankings. Technology, generational and cultural shifts will only intensify this turnover. IBM needs to get a foothold in fast-growth companies while they are young.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, IT consumerization is not a passing fad. As evidenced by Apple displacing (crueler people might say killing off) Blackberry, consumer and B2Me can’t be ignored. Collaboration is the one activity that every person engages in every day, both in business and at home. Perhaps more than any other area, collaboration solutions will be adopted from the bottom up instead of top down. In fact, one of the IBM Connect keynote presenters noted that some employees are willing to pay for rogue collaboration tools out of their own pockets if those solutions make their lives easier. That makes collaboration the natural—and possibly the only—starting point for IBM to get in touch with its inner consumer.
Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Businesswith 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 last of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight.”
Kalynn: You know, there are ten different SMB technology trends. We’re not going to have time to go through all ten things, but there is one more that I do want to talk about.
Even though we talk about small business and marketing and how to grow business on this show, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss your prediction regarding the Affordable Care Actor ACA. I know it’s at the forefront of my mind, it’s in the media constantly, and it’s a real issue for people right now.
Laurie: Absolutely. Our prediction is really that the Affordable Care Act puts workforce management front and center for SMBs.
Many SMBs have already automated and integrated things like sales and marketing and customer facing kinds of solutions, because they see this as key to business growth.
But many have put workforce management solutions on the back-burner. They think of that as a cost area so they often limp along with a bunch of disconnected things and manual tracking to take care of things like payroll and time and attendance, scheduling and benefits.
Kalynn, as you said, the Affordable Care Act has made everybody kind of sit up and pay attention. We’ve gotten a little bit of a reprise because they’ve delayed the mandate for the companies with more than 50 full-time employees until next January to provide health insurance. It was supposed to kick in this January.
But, now everybody is realizing because a lot of, unfortunately, very negative publicity and all these issues that this is very complicated and it’s a situation that’s in flux.
SMBs are worried, and rightly so, about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks. They are starting to realize that need to be able to more easily do things like calculating employee eligibility for benefits, choosing the right plans, managing compliance and keeping costs under control.
So, for purely practical reasons, SMBs that haven’t paid much attention to automating in the workforce management are going to start to do so to gear up for 2015.
Kalynn: Yes, and it could take longer than they thought the whole thing did turn out to be more complicated than we were led to believe. So, it’s probably a good idea to take this year and make sure you have in place whatever you need to have in place to make your life easier and so that you’re ready January 1st of 2015 to go live, you’ve got everything handled, you know what’s going on, and everything is taken care of from a legal stand point.
Laurie:It’s really about having the visibility into what’s going on in the workforce. Now there are a lot of cloud-based workforce management services for SMBs. With many of them, you can usually just get the modules you need. So maybe you just need payroll and time and attendance, right, but you can add other modules like benefits as you need them and they all integrate automatically.
Automating and integrating this gives you better visibility into things like hours worked, overtime, and all the things that you need to know about to make good choices, not only for ACA, but for other workforce management decisions.
Kalynn: Right, because any of those kinds of solutions you’re going to have reporting modules that will let you look at all of your data so that you can make the best choices, and so document it all.
Laurie:It’s like in your own personal life you want to kind of evaluate the risks and benefits of different healthcare options, right. Well, think of how complicated that is to do that just for your own family. It’s not easy information to sift through. Well, now think about if you have to make that choice for your workforce.
You want the ability to do what if scenario kind of thing. What if I use this plan? What will it cost? What are the downsides? What are the upsides? In some cases –not that I’m advocating this– some businesses want to know if they should be cutting down workers to part-time.
So, you want to be able to play with all that. It’s very difficult to do that if you have any more than just a handful of employees without having some kind of workforce management solution to do it with.
Kalynn: It goes back to something that you had talked about at the very beginning of the interview. If you don’t have metrics that you can run reports with then you don’t really know what the health and well-being of your business is and what decisions you should be making. That’s just the bottom line.
Laurie: Yes, and again you want to have flexibility. Think about it; right now the economy is in a lot better shape than it was a few years ago, so your decisions today might be a lot different from they would have been four years ago.
And, you know what, in a couple of years hopefully the economy will continue to improve. We may have a very tight labor market if that happens and companies may go back to providing richer benefits packages. So, it’s all about being able to adjust and adapt to kind of get ahead.
Kalynn: Right; you want to have all your options available so that you can look and scoot them around on the table and see what happens and make some good decisions.
You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here.
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.”
Kalynn: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 apps—calendars, emails, messaging and contacts—are already mainstream. About 83% of SMBs use them.
SMBs 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.
So 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.
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. This, the first of a four-part series, summarizes our discussion of “Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices” and “Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer.”
Kalynn:Welcome back to Act Local Marketing for Small Business, Laurie. I just want to let you know that the show you were on last year, discussing the 2013 SMB trends was the most downloaded interview that I have ever had on the podcast.
Laurie:Thanks, Kalynn and Happy New Year!
Kalynn: This is a perfect time of year for you to be on the show again because SMB Group recently published its 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends. We won’t have time to go through all of them, and of course I’m more interested in the ones that are more relevant to marketing.
The first one I want to talk about is social media marketing. What you discovered might surprise a few people. Can you give some insight into that?
Laurie:As you know, SMBs have been rapidly adopting social media as a marketing tool, whether building a presence on Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or some combination thereof. In fact, more than half of small businesses and two-thirds of medium businesses are using social media for marketing.
But, more SMBs are realizing that even though they don’t need to spend a lot of money to establish a social media presence, social has a voracious appetite for more and more content. There’s a lot of pressure to keep the content fresh because that’s what keeps people coming back. This is wearing on some businesses.
It’s also tough to keep up with changing social media preferences, for instance as millennials move from Facebook, for instance, to Snapchat or Instagram. So we predict that while social media marketing isn’t going away, it will stall a little as SMBs focus more on figuring out what really works and clicks with their target audiences.
Kalynn:Which makes a lot of sense. Google is a content monster; to get found you have to give it more and more content. But there has to be a happy balance between creating content and promoting your content. You need to promote your content more than once but you do have to find that balance. All audiences will probably be different depending on what market you’re in, how often they’re willing to hear the message before they start to tune it out, and you do need fresh content.
Laurie:Absolutely, and at the end of the day it’s all about converting social connections that you’re making into customers and advocates. So the first step is to look at how you can repackage and reuse content in different ways to reach a wider audience.
I’ll give you an example. Today we’re talking about our 2014 top ten trends list. We initially published it in December and sent it to clients, prospects and press via email marketing, and got good traction with it.
As the new year started, we created individual tweets about each prediction, and that sparked more interest. Now I’m talking about it here on your show. It’s just not feasible for most of us to create fresh content every day, so it’s important to repackage it in different ways.
We also see more SMBs integrating social media marketing with their marketing and sales applications to get more insight into what’s going on, how what they’re doing is working and to make the information more actionable from a sales and marketing perspective.
Kalynn:Your very first prediction was another one I wanted to talk about: technology as a game changer for SMBs.
Laurie:That’s our overarching theme because of what we’ve been seeing since we started doing our surveys 5 years ago.
SMBs split into some clearly defined segments. One segment is what we call Progressive SMBs, who share a few characteristics. They’re much more likely to view technology as a business enabler; they invest more in technology; and they are also more likely to be growing revenue than other SMBs.
This gap has been widening and we predict it continue to do so. Trends such as generational shifts, the sharing economy and new technology fueled services that you may not even think about as technology solutions are accelerating this and reshaping what it means to be an SMB.
Kalynn: You talk about the generational shifts; I talk a lot about this with my primary audience, baby boomers, age 50 and over. There’s a drastic difference in communication styles between boomers and 20-somethings and millennials…people don’t retire early as often as they used to…that means there are many technologies and ways people are communicating. And also many ways that a business needs to be able to converse with customers and prospects, and it can be overwhelming.
Laurie: It can, and that relates to social media too. I think everyone should be spending at least some time with social media just to keep a pulse on what’s going on. It’s really important.
But we also see how Progressive SMBs are increasingly capitalizing on technology, cultural and demographic shifts to create new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Just think about the businesses that have started up in the last few years and have been replaced in the last few years. I think the last Blockbuster finally closed. Now we’ve got Roku and we can stream everything whether it’s from Netflix or Hulu or whatever. There’s also a shift in talent acquisition and management…with more use of outsourced services or Elance for contractors or freelancers instead of hiring salaried employees.
Or, in rethinking office space. Shared office space and shared IT infrastructure services are really growing in popularity. These are all ways to think about your business in a different light. And most often technology provides the fuel that businesses need to really get ahead.
Kalynn: Right, and in case people are not aware, Elance and oDesk, who recently merged, are websites where you can virtually hire temporary staffing, either for projects, or on a day-by-day or week-by-week basis.
They serve as middlemen, but protect you because they help with any disputes if things weren’t done well or not to your satisfaction. And they make it easier to track everything and for somebody not to get taken advantage of; either freelancer or the business owner.
Laurie: Yes, it’s basically a technology platform to help you manage the projects, execute the payments. The take care of all of the transaction stuff for you. People bid on the jobs, and you can see the ratings of each Elancer or oDesker, and you pick the bid you like.
At a higher level, we see that these more agile, Progressive SMBs taking advantage not just of technology per say but of solutions that are built on technology and also the sharing economy. Whether it’s shared workers, shared office space or shared IT infrastructure in the cloud or shared workers, you don’t have to own all your resources. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s better not to.
Kalynn: Absolutely; there’s less headache often if you don’t own them. And, you can adjust more quickly and scale up and scale down more quickly through projects, so it’s actually a really good thing.
In the second of this four-part series, I’ll recap Kalynn’s and my conversation about “Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars.” You can listen to the complete podcast here.
Happy New Year!While we often make personal New Year’s resolutions, I don’t think too many businesses make them. But you can start to change that in 2014 by resolving to make better use of technology to power your business, and create a more sustainable, competitive business.
With that in mind, here are a few resolutions that can help you work smarter, not harder, and enjoy a happier, healthier business in 2014.
1. Manage your mobile investment. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. SMBs are using mobile apps and solutions to help employees work more productively and efficiently, and to boost customer engagement and transactions. But while mobile apps are often easy to use, you also need to provision, support, and track and manage them on the back-end. Unfortunately, many SMBs are not yet using solutions to manage mobile devices and applications, and to protect valuable data from being lost or stolen. The good news is that vendors have taken notice and are offering cloud-based mobile management solutions specifically tailored to SMB requirements and constraints. Just a few to check out include: AirWatch Professional, Mobile Iron, Tangoe, and Dell Cloud Client Manager.
2. Tune up your content marketing strategy. Many SMBs feel overwhelmed by the care and feeding that marketing requires these days. Back in the day, when marketing was a one-way street, businesses could get by with creating a marketing campaign and collateral that would see them through a quarter or even the year. But in the digital age, businesses are under pressure to create new content every week or even every day to keep customers coming back. If you don’t have one, put a plan in place for creating and scheduling content to keep everyone on track. When you create fresh content, think upfront about ways to recycle and reuse it. For instance, if you create a YouTube video, write a blog post about some aspect of it, and tweet out bite-size tidbits from the post. In addition, put a system in place to measure what networks and content click for your target customers. Depending on your business, free or low-cost tools such as HootSuite, SocialMention,Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly and/or Buffer may fit the bill. Or, you may want to investigate marketing automation solutions, such as Infusionsoft and Hubspot, that integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications to make your content investments more actionable.
3. Integrate key workflows to get more bang for your software buck. The cloud has made it easy for businesses to add applications to address pain points on a piecemeal basis. But integration is often an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs end up with a hodge-podge of disconnected applications and workflows. People end up wasting time and making mistakes manually re-entering data into different systems, and getting accurate reports for decision-making can become a Herculean task. Things start falling through the cracks because the different applications and processes “don’t talk to each other.” This could be the year you do something about it! If you’re looking to upgrade core business apps, such as accounting, HR or CRM, consider pre-integrated suites from vendors with open application programming interfaces (APIs) and marketplaces. This makes it easier to snap in new, integrated functionality as needed. If moving to an integrated suite isn’t feasible, you can still get plenty of value just from the most repetitive workflows in your business. Many vendors (Informatica, Scribe, Actian (formerly Pervasive), Dell Boomi, Jitterbit and Mulesoft, just to name a few) offer integration solutions that enable you to connect, map fields, and integrate business processes between different applications.
4. Go green to save green. You don’t need to be a tree hugger to get value from green technology. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but also money and time as well. Often, these resources could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees.But its easy to be green. For instance, when you buy new products, look for vendors with green certifications from ENERGY STAR or EPEAT; use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste; and use recycled plastics in their products. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device, and recycle old equipment so component materials don’t end up leaching into landfills. Moving up green curve, consider making the switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing, etc. Replace some of your travel with web conferencing and consider creating a telecommuting program (cloud-based collaboration solutions such as Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365 and IBM Smart Cloud make this easier than ever) if you haven’t already done so. Finally, if your business suffers from server and storage sprawl, virtualized server and storage resources, consider solutions such as Dell PowerEdge VRTX, which take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance.
5. Upgrade and integrate payments with accounting and financials. SMB Group research shows that many SMBs still spend a lot of time manually re-entering and reconciling payments back to their accounting and financial systems. This not only saps productivity, but also results in errors that end up taking even more time to correct. If you’re still doing this manually, its time to look at solutions that automatically integrate payments with accounting, cutting time and errors out of payment processing, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. While you’re at it, investigate whether your business would benefit from being able to accept new payment methods. Chances are, you already take checks and credit cards, but getting set up to accept ACH, mobile payments, gift cards or PayPal may be able to help you attract more customers, gain new business, and enter new markets–or just get paid faster.
6. Take to the cloud–but proceed with due diligence. Cloud computing promises organizations a faster, easier and cheaper route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. So it’s no wonder that SMBs are moving to the cloud. However, not all cloud vendors are created equal–and some have backtracked on the original cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing and contracts that are about as clear as mud. Others fall short when it comes to taking security and privacy precautions. Seek out vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise as evidenced with transparent pricing, clear and flexible contracts, free trials and clearly documented virtual and physical (data center) security measures.
Here are SMB Group’sTop 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
Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues tofuel 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In today’s always-on world, we are all using more technology. Chances are, you rely on several devices – smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and PCs. You’re also probably connecting to more servers to access more apps, and using more storage to house all the information you need to access.
Our appetite for technology is likely to continue unabated because, simply put, we like it. It helps us runs our businesses better, work more productively, stay in touch with friends, and get through holiday shopping more quickly. However, our increasing reliance on technology has environmental consequences. From devices to data centers, technological products require metals, minerals, wood products and chemicals, and energy.
Unfortunately, we are not using these resources in a sustainable way. A case in point is our handling of e-waste: just 27% of the e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2010 was recycled. Consider also the fact that, most servers run at utilization rates of 25% or less, but require just as much energy as if it they were being used at 100% capacity. This means that when a server is only performing about a quarter of the work that it ‘s capable of, it still uses the same amount of power as if it were operating at full tilt.
As I discussed in the first post of this two-part series, Dell’s Green IT Growth Path: Paving the Way for SMBs, both technology vendors and consumers have an important role to play in curbing the negative environmental impact of technology. In this post, I discuss how Dell is raising the bar yet again, and how SMBs can follow suit.
Dell Raises the Green IT Bar
Dell has been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years. Last month, it significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.
Specifically, Dell’s ambitious goals include plans to:
Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%
Reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%
Ensure 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills
Develop and maintain sustainability initiatives in 100% of Dell-operated buildings
Ensure 100% of product packaging is sourced from sustainable materials
Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
Use 50 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials in its products
Ensure 100% of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable
Phase out environmentally sensitive materials
Recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics
Identify and quantify the environmental benefits of Dell-developed solutions
A Green Pathway for SMBs
“OK,” you may be thinking. “Dell is a big company and a major technology producer, so its strong environmental commitment can have a major impact. But for me as an SMB —using technology, not creating it—what role do I have in all this? And why should I bother?”
The answer is: every business has a role, and reasons to go green. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but money and time as well. Often, these are resources that could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees. In fact, even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.
No matter the size of your business or where you’re starting from, you can take steps to go green and save green. For example:
Shop green. When buying new products, shop with vendors that walk the Green IT walk. Look for certifications from ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA’s mark designating energy efficiency; and from EPEAT, the mark of sustainability for electronics from the Green Electronics Council, which looks at multiple environmental criteria. Check out this video to learn more about EPEAT. TCO, a Swedish eco-label, is used mostly in Europe, and includes ergonomics, energy consumption, and recyclability factors. Whenever possible, buy from vendors that use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste, and put recycled plastics to work in their products.
Virtualize. Since hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, even SMBs often find themselves with server and storage sprawl. As mentioned above, these systems require the same amount of power at 25% utilization as at higher levels. Moreover, managing 20 servers at 25% utilization is more complex and requires more people than i managing 10 servers at 50% utilization. While you have to invest in initial startup costs, virtualized server and storage resources typically take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance. For instance, at just 12 inches wide and 19 inches high (30cm x 48cm), Dell PowerEdge VRTX is a simple and affordable way to run high-end, on-site applications with local storage, standardized infrastructure and centralized management. Incorporating Fresh Air capabilities, VRTX is made for the office environment. It uses standard 100V – 240V AC power, and doesn’t require any specialized cooling. You can just plug it into the wall, and it runs as quietly as an air conditioner.
Reduce paper and ink waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. Even in this digital age, paper use in the average business is growing by 22% a year; at this rate, you’ll double the amount of paper you use in just 3.3 years unless you make a conscious effort to reduce. Switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing and other functions whenever possible. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and cut waste.
Decrease power consumption. When buying new equipment, look for ENERGY STAR ratings of 5.0 and above. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device.
Recycle old equipment. The U.S. EPA estimates that only 27% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2010. But it’s getting easy to recycle. Dell’s Asset Recovery Program offers an environmentally appropriate and convenient way to dispose of computer equipment. Or you can donate unwanted devices via Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership—Goodwill gets the proceeds and you get a tax write-off.
Replace travel with web conferencing. Web conferencing reduces fuel consumption and saves time and money. Ecopreneurist estimates that if every small business owner in the United States were to conduct one teleconference in lieu of a domestic business trip, we would save $25.4 billion dollars in travel expenses and 10.5 million tons of C02 in just one year.
Embrace telecommuting. While it may not work for every employee or business, research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time. Collaboration tools—from Google Apps to Microsoft Office 365—make working from home and staying connected easy.
Think thin. Thin clients are cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. For instance, Dell Wyse cloud clients use just 7 – 15 watts of energy on average when in full operation. In contrast, a PC uses 80 watts of energy or more. In addition, it takes fewer materials and less energy to produce a thin client than a PC. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. Desktop virtualization also frees users from being tied to a specific workstation and creates greater security because it is centrally stored on servers, instead of on local clients.
Technology vendors such as Dell are leading the charge to design server, storage and client devices that consume less energy, build and package computers with eco-friendly materials, and provide recycling programs to reduce ewaste.
But creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big business. Everyone needs to think about the environmental impact of technology, and how they can put green technologies and practices in place to contribute to environmental sustainability. As an SMB, you can start taking steps today— not only to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, but to gain significant business and IT benefits as well.
This is the second in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses why green IT is important, and how SMBs can develop and benefit from their own green IT initiatives.
Originally published on November, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the third of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.
Big data is a big buzzword–and for a good reason. We’ve already created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – 90% in the last two years. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. 160 million emails are sent every 60 seconds and 58 million tweets are sent each day.
Of course, most small businesses don’t need to understand and manage these boggling amounts of data. But small businesses do need to effectively find, measure and take action on the data that is important for running their businesses.
In other words, the “big” in Big Data is relative. If you’re having problems finding the data you need, when you need it, you have a big data problem! Lack of vision into what’s going on in the business can lead to missed opportunities and the inability to spot problems.
In the 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, the SMB Group found small business use of analytics is low, but early adopters gain big advantages. Key benefits cited in the study were better answers to critical business questions, deeper understanding of customers and market trends, and the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities while avoiding risk, just to name a few.
“I am always looking to improve my business based on what is going on in the industry, and the Trends feature in QuickBooks Online helps me do that,” said Michael Brewington, president of Arion Systems, Inc. “I can get a better understanding of my accounts receivables and payables versus other companies. That makes my business more competitive.”
Top Tips for Getting Smart About Your Data
What options exist for small business owners who want big business analytics capabilities? The SMB Group recommends small business owners ask themselves three questions before getting started:
What information do you need to understand and measure?
Where is the data and how much do you need to analyze?
Who needs to use the data?
In addition to understanding what needs to be measured, small businesses should assess capabilities required to make data actionable for users. For example, do you require a solution with an easy to use interface or customized reporting? Starting with a focus on making data actionable will help ensure you maximize effectiveness once the solution is in place.
Something Old, Something New
There’s a chance your current solutions already include some form of analytics. Look into how well these tools support your needs, and integrate new analytics solutions to add more horsepower.
For example, the Trends tool included with Intuit’s QuickBooks Online product displays average sales growth, cash flow, income and expenses of small businesses within a specific industry or location to allow small business owners to compare themselves to similar businesses and make informed decisions. Trends figures are compiled from anonymized data submitted by 1.3 million QuickBooks users.
“I’ve been using the Trends feature in QuickBooks Online to see how my Oracle PeopleSoft consulting firm’s expenses compare to others in the industry,” Mr. Brewington said. “I can easily recognize if I need to continue to increase my profit margins and reduce costs to stay competitive. Trends makes it easy to stay aware of what is going on in the industry.”
Once you identify your analytics needs and any gaps in coverage, you can determine if you can implement a do-it-yourself analytics program or whether you need external resources to get the reporting you need.
Blog written by Laurie McCabe, who brings more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry to her role as co-founder and partner at SMB Group. Laurie has built widespread recognition for her capabilities and insights in the small and medium business (SMB) market in several areas, including cloud computing, mobile solutions, business solutions, social networking and collaboration, and managed services.
Laurie: Hi, this Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s new General Manager and VP for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me on this two-part discussion about developments at IBM in the midmarket and SMB space. In our first discussion, I’d like to focus on the IBM acquisition of SoftLayer, which I understand provides dedicated hosting, cloud computing and cloud services offerings.
Before that though, I’d like to learn more about you and your background. I understand you’re relatively new to IBM. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’ve been and what kind of experience you bring to your role?
John: Thanks Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I joined IBM three months ago. I started my career at Compaq in the 80s. I spent thirteen years there and moved to Cisco, and ran the SME and midmarket business with Cisco in Europe, Middle East, Africa.
Then, I ran global channels for Nokia’s Enterprise business. I also ran a mobile cloud service in eReading and News for a couple of years, and a white label mobile messaging service provider that had been acquired during my time there.
So, when the discussion started with IBM, it was an interesting combination of different hardware, software and services businesses in small and midsize enterprise and across mobile and social. It was the opportunity to combine that with IBM’s amazing global reach in over 170 countries and find ways to get that to the millions of small and midsized companies. Many are possibly not even doing any business with IBM today but can benefit from those solutions.
Laurie: What will you be focusing on in your new role as GM, John?
John: Finding new opportunities to grow the business and bring mobile and social and analytics, and particularly cloud solutions to small or midsized businesses. This means working very closely with our partner organization and focusing on MSPs as the key route market.
Laurie: Thanks for that background. So help me understand a little bit about the SoftLayer acquisition and why it’s so important. IBM makes a lot of acquisitions in general, and I think probably at least a dozen in the cloud area. What makes SoftLayer stand out for IBM?
John: This is one of those few times in our industry where there’s an absolutely fundamental shift that changes everything. When client-server computing started taking off was one, and when mobile really went to a whole new level was another. Now, with cloud, we’re seeing a major shift, which is very beneficial to smaller and midsized companies. They may not have the IT expertise in-house to take advantage of some of the technologies that larger companies are able to use, but now through cloud, they can use more advanced solutions without having to deal with the complexities.
Laurie: Tell us about what SoftLayer does and how that will help IBM help SMBs? What does it give IBM you that it didn’t have in the cloud area?
John: The SoftLayer acquisition was driven by a change in the way that customers are looking to buy. I would say it’s as simple as answering these questions. Is this technology solution is going to be hosted at your place or mine? Is this something that I have to build and manage on my premises, or is it something that I can tap into through a web browser to connect to infrastructure that’s sitting somewhere else outside of my physical office buildings? Then, is that going to be dedicated to me or is it something that I share with somebody else? So, it’s really your place or mine, shared or dedicated, and what software brings is the ability to offer the full range of different deployment options.
That’s whether it’s a complete public cloud solution or it’s a private cloud or it’s some mix of some parts public, some parts private in a hybrid deployment. SoftLayer lets us accelerate our ability to deliver those pieces across a broad range of different businesses and different services.
Laurie: What about purchasing and pricing mechanisms for customers?
John: Yes, that’s really key. It’s really important to make it easy and simple to understand what the offering is, and how can I choose the combination that is right for me. Then make it really easy for them to purchase and deploy that solution.
The beauty of SoftLayer is they have a very simple credit card purchase capability. You can be up and running literally within the hour and choose whether you want to be billed monthly or hourly. It’s simple and flexible, and that’s as important as the underlying technology.
Laurie: One of the other things that I’m curious about is that it seems like managed services is another big part of the SoftLayer business. IBM has been heavily courting managed service providers (MSPs) for quite some time. Does this create a conflict with them?
John: SoftLayer is really complementary to what we’re doing with MSPs. In fact, we’ve had a number of key wins with MSPs for SoftLayer with service providers who have said, “I really don’t want to have to manage this infrastructure myself. It’s not my core business. My focus is on security services or hosted exchange services. So, rather than me scarce resources building and managing an infrastructure layer, I’d rather focus on the higher value services on top of that, and I’ll use SoftLayer as infrastructure.”
Laurie: Will they be able to resell SoftLayer?
John: Yes, there’s that too. MSPs can use SoftLayer themselves as part of their own infrastructure, or they can resell it to customers together with other value-add services that they bring to the mix.
Laurie: Where does SoftLayer sit in terms of IBM’s SmartCloud services?
John: SoftLayer gives us the ability to accelerate our own leadership position, scale out the smaller cloud service portfolio, add additional higher value services and solutions across mobile and data analytics, social–together with partners. It’s the combination of all of that into a solution that adds value for customers.
Laurie: What kind of experience in SMB and midmarket does SoftLayer bring that IBM can leverage, and how will you do that?
John: I mentioned this earlier in our conversation when we talked about what attracted me to the role at IBM. Frankly, the SoftLayer acquisition hadn’t closed but had been publicly announced. That was a real additional level of credibility that we could use to address the SMB market because SoftLayer had over 20,000 SMB customers already. They clearly have a very strong focus on that market and a solution that is very simple, easy for the smaller customer to understand, choose, purchase, deploy and operate.
So, to me that said IBM’s not just talking about the midmarket, but actually putting a significant investment in technologies, ease of purchase and deployment to enable this. SoftLayer convinced me that we very serious about this and that was a decider for me.
Laurie: What does the bigger go to market plan look like? Many SMBs still think IBM doesn’t have solutions that are relevant for them. How are you going to change that?
John: First, we need to be careful that we don’t hug SoftLayer to death. We need to give them space to continue to operate their own very successful go to market model. There’s always a risk when a big company acquires a smaller company that sometimes the big company process can slow down the smaller company. We will be very diligent about ensuring that doesn’t happen and that SoftLayer continues to operate somewhat independently with their existing go to market model.
At the same time, we need to take advantage of what they bring and combine that with IBM’s traditional business partners, managed service provider partners, and some of the ISVs that we work with. Really, this is more about connecting the ecosystem that needs to work together to deliver solutions to small and midsized companies. SoftLayer helps us accelerate that with a full range of all types of different deployment options–everything from bare metal dedicated servers, virtualized shared servers, managed private and public cloud through to a full range of storage and networking and managed services.
Laurie: So, what does success look like here if this all goes according to plan?
John: I think we’ll see continued acceleration of cloud adoption within small and midsized companies and SoftLayer will help to significantly accelerate the deployment of both hybrid private and public cloud solutions for small and midsized companies. I certainly expect the 20,000 existing SoftLayer customers will increase significantly without putting a specific number on it. Beyond that, it’s about helping MSPs to accelerate their offerings with more value-add services above and beyond the infrastructure layer. That way we really bring complete solutions for small and midsized companies that are simple to deploy and use.
Laurie: John, thank you for joining me, and I look forward to our next discussion, when we will talk about IBM’s other new plans for SMB and mid-market customers.
John: Thank you Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion and certainly look forward to future discussions we’ll have.
This is the first of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager and VP for Midmarket, sponsored by IBM. In the second post, I’ll ask John about other new IBM strategies and developments for SMB and midmarket companies and channel partners.