Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

IoT: Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic in technology. IoT, which connects objects to the Internet, will radically change how businesses, governments, and individuals interact with the physical world. Consequently, developers are seizing on the opportunity to capitalize on the almost $6 trillion that Business Intelligence estimates will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.

seersucker

Dell and Intel’s “Connect Wha Matters” IoT Contest awards dinner was held Searsucker in Austin, TX.

With so much development in the pipeline, what will success look like in the IoT market? Dell and Intel recently sponsored the “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, which sought out innovative industrial IoT solutions that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. In my first post about the contest, I discussed V5 Systems’ Portable IoT Security System, which took top honors for its solution, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system. This second post takes a broader look at the awards event, traits that many of the Gold and Sliver award winners share, and my perspectives on IoT and Dell’s approach in this area.

And The Winners Are…

The title of the contest, “Connect What Matters,” gets at the heart of why IoT is sparking so much interest. IoT marries technology–from the data center to endpoint sensors, from the cloud to analytics, from wireless to wired networks–to objects in the physical world to address pressing industrial challenges in unique and effective ways.

winners

Congratulations to the 16 winners of the Dell and Intel “Connect What Matters” IoT contest!

Contest winners brought IoT excitement to life with creative, pragmatic solutions. The five Gold contest winners, selected from more than 970 contest entries, included solutions that span across many industries, from farms to factory floors:

  • Eigen Innovations has built a video analytics solution for the factory floor. The solution uses thermal imaging cameras and PLC/sensor data captured through Dell Edge Gateways to help manufacturers integrate factory floor big data, machine learning, and human intelligence to improve process control and quality monitoring directly on the factory line.
  • Iamus combined IoT platform and facilities management expertise to build a unique smart street lamp solution for a smart city project. The solution enables cities to visualize, monitor, manage and optimize their environments to improve quality of life and reduce environmental impact and energy costs.
  • n.io developed a solution to transform manual, subjective farming operations into highly instrumented, automated precision agriculture systems. The solution helps agricultural companies increase crop yields and optimize delivery of resources, such as water.
  • RiptideIO created a packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) IoT solution for small retailers to make store equipment smart. RiptideIO monitors and captures data on air conditioning, lighting, locks and other systems, stores it in the cloud, and alerts retailers if there’s a problem. The solution diagnoses the problems so service technicians know what parts to bring to fix the equipment.
  • Software AG has built a predictive maintenance solution that brings in-memory edge analytics to collected machine data for real-time predictive maintenance. Software AG’s solution enables both real-time condition monitoring and dynamic remaining useful life prediction. Key capabilities include data filtering, aggregation, threshold monitoring, Bollinger band calculation, baseline threshold calculations, gradient trend discovery and missing data notifications.

The 10 Silver winners include AZLOGICA, Blue Pillar, Calibr8 Systems Inc, Daliworks, ELM Fieldsight, Independent Automation, Onstream, PixController, Inc., PV Hardware and We Monitor Concrete. These companies further underscored just how enormous the IoT opportunity is. For example, solutions ranged from PixController, which aims to plug leaky systems in the gas industry with optical methane emissions detection, to ELM Fieldsight, which has partnered with Dynoptix to create a connected health system to monitor human body temperature and heart rate.

Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

Dell’s IoT contest winners are combining innovation and pragmatic industry expertise to solve real world problems. These companies are helping businesses and government replace manual data collection and subjective judgments with automated data collection and analysis and objective measurements, helping them to operate more efficiently and effectively. This translates into good news for both vendors and their customers.

Industrial IoT solutions must solve very complex and often specific problems, making collaboration another key success factor. No one vendor can possibly supply all of the technology, operational and industry expertise required to successfully bring an industrial IoT solution to market.

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I had the opportunity to network and meet with many of the winners as well as members of the Dell IoT team.

Partners I spoke to at the event emphasized the value of working with Dell’s IoT Partner Program, citing Dell’s Edge Gateway, deep technology expertise, strong brand and go-to-market support as critical to their initiatives. They were also excited about Dell and Intel’s partnership to build re-usable building blocks that promises to make it easier and faster for them to develop and scale IoT applications. For more info on Dell’s IoT Partner Program, see Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One and Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two.

In addition, IoT winners spent a considerable amount of time at the awards ceremony learning about each other’s offerings, and exploring how to partner with each other to extend their solutions for additional industries and uses, and to enhance their solutions with additional capabilities.

Delivering Fast, Measurable Value

Unlike some technology areas where the value proposition is fuzzy and the return on investment can be difficult to measure, by their very nature, IoT solutions offer a built-in value proposition for customers. Dell’s IoT contest Gold winners easily paint the picture of how their solutions provide clear, measurable value, as described above.

And so do the Silver winners. For example, Blue Pillar Systems’ has more than 7,000,000 Energy “behind the meter” that control electricity in hospitals, data centers and other facilities, providing real-time control and visibility to make critical infrastructure safer and more efficient. Meanwhile, We Monitor Concrete can help concrete companies, builders and contractors monitor and manage concrete mixers to ensure that concrete is the right temperature and strength when delivered to a construction site.

Perspective

canstockphoto23533086The IoT revolution has only just begun, and Dell’s Connect What Matters contest also marked the one-year anniversary of Dell’s IoT Division. Dell’s IoT award winners are living proof that even at this early stage, IoT is quickly moving from hype to reality.

The diverse applications demonstrated provided abundant proof of how industrial IoT (IIoT) can deliver strong, evident value across industries and use cases. As important, although winners’ IoT solutions required a lot of technology and industry expertise to build, their customers don’t need to be technology experts to quickly deploy and get benefit from their solutions.

In addition, winners also validated Dell’s IoT approach and Edge Gateway Series, which takes care of some of the heavy technology lifting, and frees partners up to focus more of their energy on building unique and valuable solutions tailored to the needs to different industries and uses. Based on the innovation and value showcased in the first “Connect What Matters” contest, I expect that Dell’s IoT strategy and partner programs will yield an even more abundant crop of strong IoT solutions in its second year.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

Missed Sales Machine? Attend the Encore Presentation!

I had an amazing time attending and being a panelist at #SalesMachine in NYC a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the best line up of inspiration, motivation and education I’ve seen at one event! Plus, there were so many great opportunities for networking.

SM16-Twitter-1025x512-EncoreStream

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, Salesforce and SalesHacker are presenting a 2-day Encore presentation of the entire Sales Machine event on July 6 and 7. Just use this link,www.salesmachinesummit.com/encore, if you’d like to attend!

QuickBooks Self-Employed: Built for the Business of One  

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), over 40% of all U.S. workers are now contingent, which includes the self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees. That number is up 10% from the previous GAO survey in 2006.

This trend spans across industries, from construction to pet care, and from professional services to Uber and Lyft drivers–and shows no This trend shows no sign of abating, with the GAO predicting the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 50% by 2020. Self-employed workers need tools to manage finances, build brands and grow their business—but they must do all this on a shoestring budget and little or no accounting expertise.

I recently had the chance to speak with Intuit’s Cassie Divine, Business Operations Leader for the Self-Employed Solutions business unit of Intuit’s Small Business Division about the “gig” economy and Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed solution , developed specifically for people that are self-employed.            

Intuit built QuickBooks Self-Employed to fill the gap between personal finance solutions, which are easy to use, but don’t address accounting and tax needs, and small business accounting solutions, which can be too complicated and expensive because they include many things self-employed people don’t need.

Whether you think of yourself as a business of one, solopreneur, freelancer, or contractor, QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you track and organize business and personal expenses, maximize deductions, estimate tax payments, and manage cash flow more easily and efficiently.

QuickBooks Self-Employed may be just what you need to streamline these tasks, get better visibility into your finances, and make tax time a whole lot easier to deal with. Watch this video to learn more!

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

The Right IoT Stuff: V5 Systems Wins Dell’s IoT Contest

The Internet of Things (IoT) has come a long way since 1982, when researchers at Carnegie Mellon University modified a Coke machine to create the first internet-connected appliance, which could report on inventory and whether drinks were cold.

Today, cloud, analytics, wireless and other technologies have advanced to the point where IoT can provide a simple, effective way to communicate with and through machines to get things done more easily, and to make better decisions. IoT, which connects physical world objects to the Internet to sense, control, interact and report on activities, is growing at an exponential pace. IDC and Intel project that the number of IoT objects will grow from 2 billion objects in 2006 to a projected 200 billion by 2020, equating to about 26 smart objects for every person in the world. And while consumer devices get the lion’s share of attention, industry represents the greatest opportunity for IoT to help companies track inventory, manage operations, improve efficiency, save money and protect people and property.

So it’s not surprising that according to CB Insights, corporate investors (e.g. corporations and their venture arms) have funneled $3.2B into the IoT space over the past six years, and that in 2015, they nearly doubled their 2014 IoT investments.

V5 Systems: From 12 Volt Batteries to State-of-the-Art Outdoor Security Systems

Amidst so many IoT startups, what makes one rise to the top? Dell has just announced the winner of its “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, in which it sought out innovative IoT solutions for businesses that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. More than 970 contest registrations from 93 countries with 16 winners from 9 different countries claiming prizes worth more than $600,000.

Dell awarded the top, Platinum honor to V5 Systems for its V5 Portable IoT Security System, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system.

Mazin Bedwan

Mazin Bedwan, V5 Systems President & COO

As with most great stories, V5 has an interesting beginning. I had a chance to interview President and COO Mazin Bedwan, about the company’s roots and solution. Mazin had previously been CEO of Pacific Stereo in the Bay Area, which was the largest 12 Volt automotive electronics retailer in North America. A few years ago, Steve Yung (then an ex-Cisco executive, now Chairman and CEO of V5 Systems) came to Pacific Stereo looking for a four-camera security system for his Volvo SUV. He wanted it to run–regardless of whether his car was running or not. Mazin tried to sell him a $200 car alarm, but then learned why Steve wanted an always-on camera system. Steve lived in a nice neighborhood that was experiencing rolling blackouts, making it easier for criminals to break into cars and homes. He wanted a car-mounted security system to watch his house from his driveway, as he was intent on catching the bad guys.

A few weeks later, Mazin and his brother Eddie delivered the camera system to Steve, who decided it was commercially marketable after it recorded video that led to the arrest of a home intruder/burglar. They named the company after V5, the region of the brain responsible for motion detection.

Bringing the Right Stuff to Dell’s IoT Contest

PSU Solution

V5 Systems V5 Portable IoT Security System

V5 Systems’ V5 Portable IoT Security system solves a big and pressing problem. Until V5 brought this solution to market, outdoor security vendors would cobble together solutions with off-the-shelf parts. Because power isn’t readily available in many outdoor locations, vendors would fill up trailers with 12-volt batteries and or diesel generators to back up solar panels, power cameras and motion sensors, and then tow the solution around.

Mazin emphasized that V5 chose innovation over integration to create an alternative to this cumbersome approach. Numerous patents and trade secrets attest to V5’s mission to deliver IoT value through innovation on many fronts.

Superbowl Deployment

V5 Portable Security Unit Deployment at Super Bowl 50

For instance, V5’s Portable IoT Security System:

  • Overcomes the power supply challenge. V5 has been granted 6 patents for its solar-powered smart power system, which enables it to run continuously outdoors. This negates the need for multiple batteries and generators, and the space they take up.V5 Systems has developed their own proprietary power and power management system. This means businesses can deploy the device to create a security zone in places without power–such as on a mountain top or in a forest–and get real-time alerts sent to their IoS or Android devices. 
  • Makes installation and transport easy. Businesses can install and start using the device, in under an hour. V5 pre-integrated computing, power, communications, storage and sensor capabilities in what amounts to a micro-data center. Because no trenching is required, users can circumvent lengthy permitting processes. And, at less than 20 inches long, it’s a snap to take the device down and redeploy in another location, such as changing security vantage points at festivals, concerts and other events.
  • Features bullet-resistant solar panels. Solar panels are a real pain point for law enforcement, because people can shoot and break them. V5’s proprietary bullet-resistant solar panel provides customers with an additional level of reliability, and gives V5 strong differentiation versus competitors.
  • Improves analytics accuracy. V5’s analytics library increases the accuracy of the data sent from the device. For instance, motion sensors at airports can be triggered by turbulence from planes, but V5’s analytics library provides more granular identification. For instance, at San Jose Airport, V5 has achieved 98% accuracy in detecting actual people or vehicles versus motion from jet turbulence.
  • Not only sees, but also hears. Unfortunately, campus violence has become all too common. Prior to deploying V5’s multi-sensory solution, San Jose State University lacked the capability to deploy a multi-sensory security solution for Spartan Stadium and one of its dorms. Now, the university has deployed V5’s Portable IoT Security System with cameras as visual sensors and microphones as acoustic sensors, to monitor dorms and Spartan Stadium from vantage points outside the facilities. The multi-sensory capabilities enable them to detect gunshots with 95% accuracy distinguishing gunshots from other loud sounds, and also to triangulate where the shots are coming from.
  • Will soon be able to detect chemicals. Methane, ammonia, chlorine and other gases are hazardous to breathe. With enough volume, these gases can also cause explosions, as on a Los Angeles city block in 2016, and in a cow barn in 2014 in Rasdorf, Germany. V5 will add chemical sensors in Q4 of this year.

Scaling With Dell

V5’s system is relevant and replicable across many industries. But V5 initially targeted law enforcement agencies. According to Mazin, they figured if they could succeed with skeptical cops, they’d succeed anywhere. Law Enforcement represents 10% of V5’s addressable market but accounts for 90% of its credibility. This strategy has worked, with endorsements from early law enforcement customers helping V5 open the door to sell to airports, universities, transportation, oil and gas, agricultural and other industries.

However, V5 needed help to effectively scale its solution, sales and service capabilities. Through its partnership with Dell, which began in 2015, Dell Services sells a unique V5 SKU. The SKU includes V5’s portable security unit, sensors, enclosure, power system, communications, storage and Dell’s Edge Gateway. Dell Services also provides 24/7 first-line tech support for the system, and access to Dell Financial Services.

Dell Unit

Dell Edge Gateway

 

V5 has also standardized on Dell servers.Dell’s Edge Gateway serves as the “industrial IoT brain” for the system, connecting to V5 devices. The Gateway Edge aggregates and analyzes the input, and sends it on to users’ Android or IoS devices. Because the Edge Gateway is designed for harsh conditions (from temperatures ranging from -30°C to 70°C), has a low-energy, fanless design, wall and DIN-rail mounts and it can sit within the V5 device. As a result, it sends only meaningful data to the cloud or control center, reducing data overload and bandwidth requirements.

Summary and Perspective

IoT is more than a technology buzzword. It is literally changing the very definition of computing. With IoT, devices and objects of all shapes and sizes can communicate directly, and as Mazin noted, “we’ve created a system that fits in your hands, has all the capabilities of a data center and can be deployed in any outdoor environment.”

IoT companies such as V5 and others highlight the enormous potential to IoT to do many things more easily, cost-effectively and intelligently than was possible in the past. IoT challenges–including privacy, security and skills–still need to be addressed, but the increasing digitization of the physical world make the sky is the limit for IoT innovation.

Mazin, Steve and Eddie seized this opportunity, creating a new business and business model based on the Industrial IoT. They serve as a great example of how IoT is redefining and reshaping how businesses get things done, and the elements needed to turn an idea into a reality.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

 

Got Cloud? Get Integrated to Reap the Full Business Value

Cloud is the new normal for most small businesses. But, while the cloud has made it much easier for small businesses to access and use new applications, only 17% of these small businesses have fully integrated them. And, although 29% of have at least partially integrated some applications, 54% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code  for integration, instead of using modern integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Small Business (1-20 employees) Integration Levels and Methods

Slide1

Most small business owners understand that when apps are integrated, they can spend less time entering and moving data around. And what small business wouldn’t want to be able to have a more unified view of their business, not only to make better decisions, but also present a more professional image to customers?

But as the data indicates, many small businesses think integration is too expensive or complicated. So it was great to talk with Vinay Pai, who leads Intuit’s Developer Group, about Intuit approach to tackle this issue for small businesses. In this video, Vinay and I discussed trends in cloud adoption and integration, and Intuit’s approach to help small businesses reap the benefits of integrated applications.

If you want to slash the time you spend manually re-entering or exporting data, and get a more unified view of your business, this video is for you. Vinay discusses how Intuit is building integrations between QuickBooks and Square, PayPal, AMEX Open and hundreds of other popular apps that small businesses use.

QuickBooks users will find pre-integrated apps at the QuickBooks App Store.

When you find an app you want, you can usually try it for free. If you’d like, you can also opt-in to have Intuit recommend apps that may be useful to your business. Once you decide to buy an app, the data will automatically flow between QuickBooks and the new app you’ve added. Refreshingly, there’s no additional charge for these integrations, clearing the cost hurdle as well.

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

 

Intuit QuickBooks Financing: Speed, Ease and Low Fees for Small Business Loans

Small businesses are very diverse, and so are their needs and sources for financing. For small businesses, borrowing money, or debt financing, is one of the most common sources for funding. While small businesses can seek out loans from many sources, including friends and family, banks, savings and loans, credit unions, commercial finance firms, and the government, the borrowing process can be frustrating, difficult and time consuming for many small business owners.

So I was excited to talk with Rania Succar, Director and Group Leader for QuickBooks Financing at Intuit, about financing considerations and options that are available for small businesses today. Rania recently joined Intuit from YouTube, motivated in large part to her desire to help fuel the economy by helping small businesses succeed in area that is ripe for innovation.

In this video, we discuss trends in small business financing, and what Intuit doing to give small businesses more options and easier access to financing. Rania noted that on average, small businesses spend 33 hours to pulling together all the documentation they need for bank loans, but are declined by banks 70% of the time.

Three years ago, Intuit decided to address this problem with QuickBooks Financing, focused on delivering “speed, ease and low fees,” according to Succar. Intuit’s financing service automatically compiles loan documentation by pulling in data from the small business’ draws QuickBooks account–dramatically slashing time from the loan application process. Then, Intuit matches the small business with one or more of the dozen lenders, including Fundbox, OnDeck and Kiva, on its platform. Loan decisions get processed quickly, and small businesses can compare the different offers they get and select the one that’s best for them.

If you need access to working capital to smooth out cash flow for a seasonal business, or to expand your business, watch this video to learn how QuickBooks Financing can help.

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

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