A Clear Message for Vendors In the SMB Technology Market

We recently wrapped up the SMB Group’s “2010 Small and Medium Businesses Routes to Market Study”, which uncovered quite a few interesting trends about how SMBs discover, learn about, evaluate and buy technology solutions and services. We are publishing free research briefs on the SMB Group site on some of the key findings, including Social Media: Shaking Up the Way Small Businesses Evaluate and Purchase Technology Solutions and Services, and SMB Business Outlook and Plans to Invest in Technology Solutions and Services, which are available here.

Another finding that I find quite fascinating is how frustrated and confused many SMBs are about technology solutions. Survey respondents indicated that their top two technology challenges are figuring out how different types of solutions can help their businesses, and getting better insights out of the data they already have:

  • Top technology challenges for small businesses:
    1. Get better business insights from existing data: 35%
    2. Figuring out how different solutions can help the business: 32%
    3. Implementing new solutions/upgrades: 32%
    4. Integrating social media with Web site, marketing tools, etc.: 24%
  • Top technology challenges for medium businesses:
    1. Get better insights from existing data: 33%
    2. Figuring out how different solutions can help the business: 32%
    3. Integrating social media with Web site, marketing tools, etc.: 32%
    4. Implementing new solutions/upgrades: 30%

As you can see from the above data points, SMBs view figuring out what solution can best help the business and getting better insights from existing data as bigger challenges than implementing a new solution! Scarily, these challenges are just as significant in medium businesses as in small ones, despite the fact that most medium businesses have IT staff, larger IT budgets and better access to external technology advisors.

Clearly (no pun intended) this confusion and frustration creates a huge, and in my view, a vastly under-rated (by most vendors, anyway) inhibitor to SMB technology adoption. It reinforces my belief that any company trying to sell into the SMB market needs to do some serious self-evaluation,  as I discussed in my post earlier this year, Does Your SMB Marketing Message Need a Makeover? Seven Questions to Ask.

SMB requirements for clarity, transparency and a demonstrable value proposition will become even more intense as more SMBs starting shifting from generic search engines to application marketplaces/app stores and social media to learn about, evaluate and buy solutions. These newer channels provide more and better context for SMB customers, and provide a source of unbiased insight about other customers’ actual experiences with solutions.

While our study shows that search engines are the top information source for SMBs today, social networking site such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are gaining momentum at a rapid rate. And, although SMB app stores are an even more recent phenomenon, our findings indicate that a majority of  SMBs are aware of and using/planning to use them. Among small businesses, 23% use them and 29% plan to use app stores; while among medium businesses, 44% use app stores and 24% plan to use them.

With so many products and solutions competing for SMB mind and wallet share, and new information sources and channels that are making it easier for SMBs to sort through the clutter, vendors need to redouble their efforts to clearly describe their solutions, provide solid evidence of how it can help businesses achieve their goals, and clarify how it differs from competitive offerings. Otherwise, the market–with the help of social media and app stores–will do it for them.

Dell KACE Secure Browser–A Free Tool to Help Firefox Users Stop Malware Invasions

Dell KACE Secure Browser–A Free Tool to Help Firefox Users Stop Malware Invasions

Anyone that’s ever unwittingly downloaded malware from the Internet knows that it can bring your PC to a virtual stand still. This horrible stuff can infect your computer by exploiting vulnerabilities in your browser, or by opening and taking advantage of security holes in a PC application. Even if you think you are confining your surfing to secure sites, these evil-doers can get in to your PC via banner ads on those sites. Getting rid of this malware can require hours of times and sometimes expensive support calls–and can make you tear your hair out.

Announcement Highlights

Which brings me to the Dell KACE announcement last week. Dell KACE is offering Secure Browser as a free download to help Firefox users proactively decrease the risk of installing malicious software via the Firefox browser. The Secure Browser does this by creating a virtual instance of the Firefox browser application, which isolates any activities run in the browser from the user’s computer and operating system. The tool also gives users the ability to clear any changes made with the browser with a single click.

Is There Something Valuable in this Free Offer for Me?

If you’ve ever been hit by on of these insidious malware attacks, or watched someone else suffer through one, you’ll immediately recognize the relevance of this offering. As more of the computing we do shifts from PCs to the Web, Secure Browser can give Firefox users another hedge against the headaches and lost productivity that come with these types of attacks.

Of course, this is of value to you today on the one in three chance that you use Firefox as your browser. Firefox is currently the number 2 browser, with about 1/3 market share. Secure Browser doesn’t run on the number one browser, Internet Explorer (IE) or on Opera, Chrome or Safari–although Dell says it is considering introducing a Secure Browser for IE in the future.

Why is Dell Offering Secure Browser for Free?

Dell acquired KACE, which designs and builds systems management and deployment appliances, in February of this year. Dell KACE aims to serve a very wide swath of organizations–from 100 to 10,000 employees–which it loosely labels “medium business” by helping them to more easily attend to the chores associated with deploying applications and managing their IT environment.

KACE solutions are available both as physical appliances (delivered as a pre-packaged hardware and software appliance) and as software-only virtual appliances, which customers can buy and load onto servers they already own.

By providing users with a snippet of valuable functionality via the Secure Browser, Dell hopes to create awareness and spark interest in its KACE appliances. When the free Secure Browser is used in conjunction with the KACE 1000 Management appliance, IT administrators can centrally deploy and manage it.

Quick Take

With this announcement, Dell has already achieved one of its goals–generating some good media coverage with its Secure Browser announcement. However, Dell will need to supplement this initial spurt of energy with ongoing education to get more people to try it. After all, most people don’t worry about the fallout from this type of breach until they experience it.

On the tactical level, Dell needs to get IE support out the door as soon as possible expand the potential market footprint and impact of Secure Browser as a lure for KACE. Strategically, Dell also needs to effectively monitor and segment users of the free Secure Browser solution. With such a broad target market for KACE (organizations with 100 to 10,000 employees) Dell must effectively differentiate between these different segments, both in terms of their existing IT management environments and requirements, to make the most out of its free offer.

What is an Online Collaboration Suite, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published on June 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)

What is an Online Collaboration Suite?

An online collaboration suite provides businesses with an integrated set of tools that span a range of collaboration needs. While not every collaboration suite includes the same capabilities, they often feature tools such as business email, instant messaging, contact management, calendars, file sharing, document management, project management, portals, workspaces, web conferencing, and social media tools such as forums, and wikis.

Online collaboration suites are delivered as web-based, Internet delivered services, so you don’t need to buy, install or configure any hardware or software, or hire IT staff or consultants to get up and running. Users simply login via a Web browser to buy and use the service, which are typically sold through a monthly or annual per user subscription pricing model, with certain amount of email storage included as part of the standard subscription price. As with many online services, most online collaboration suite vendors offer free trials so you can try before you buy.

Why Should You Care?

Collaboration is probably the only activity that everyone in every company engages in everyday. Whether you’re the CEO or a new hire, an accountant or a construction worker, you need to share and manage information, ideas, resources and connections to get your job done. Effective collaboration tools help you to share knowledge, streamline processes, and keep everyone in the organization “on the same page”.

Until recently, most small businesses could get along just fine with a few tools, such as email, calendars, document sharing and the good old telephone. But in the last few years, the growth of digital information has been exponential. Newer collaboration tools, including portals, Web conferencing, instant messaging, social networks, wikis, bookmarks and tagging have become more prevalent as people seek out better ways to organize, share and access this information avalanche.  At the same time, the kinds of devices we use to collaborate–from desktops to notebooks to smart phones to iPads–has exploded.

New and better ways to collaborate can help make your business more efficient and productive. But, it can be very difficult to piece together different tools and services into an integrated whole. Online collaboration suites integrate many pieces of the collaboration puzzle into a unified solution that makes it easier to find, share, manage and use information, and to locate and connect with the people you need when you need them.

What to Consider

Is your business is suffering from collaboration chaos? Common warning signs include:

  • Too much telephone tag–wasted time on missed phone calls, searching for missing phone numbers and locating people with the know-how you need.
  • Bottlenecks in finding information or resources needed to get a job done.
  • Email overload and version control issues–such as trying to figure out which document is the most recent one.
  • Mistakes made because people are using incorrect or outdated information.
  • An overload of customer service calls.
  • Inability to easily track, monitor and engage in social media conversations relevant to your business.
  • It takes too long to make decisions because people can’t access and/or agree on what the “right” information is.

While many vendors offer online collaboration suites to help pull together people, tools, services and content to help bring order to the digital chaos, the devil is in the details. The SMB Group is currently conducting research and interviews to provide an in-depth comparison of eight vendors’ online collaboration suites (including Google Apps for Business, HyperOffice, IBM LotusLive Engage, Microsoft Business and Office Productivity Suite (BPOS), OnePlace, Salesforce.com, VMWare Zimbra and Zoho Business). Each vendor has bundled a different a different mix of capabilities into its suite.

For instance, several vendors include email, project management and/or web conferencing as part of the suite, but others don’t. Some focus heavily on social capabilities, while others have just started to add this type of functionality. Standard storage for email ranges from 5GB to 25GB, and each vendor offers different standard service and support capabilities and service level agreements. Some focus exclusively on the small and medium business (SMBs), while others target large enterprises as well as SMBs. Some offer freemium models, others don’t. Of course, pricing varies, as does the minimum contract length–from one month to one year. Some vendors offer pieces of their suite, such as instant messaging or Web conferencing, ala carte, and let you add new solutions as you need them in an integrated fashion. Some vendors sell direct, some through channel partners, and some do both.  And each offering has its own look and feel.

While each of these solutions has its pros and cons, some will be a better fit for your business than others, so it’s critical to take a step back and consider your business needs, priorities and goals before you start evaluating specific solutions. Your assessment doesn’t need to be complicated–it can be as simple as thinking about what’s working well for you now, and identifying collaboration roadblocks and gaps that hamper productivity and business results. Then look for an online collaboration suite that can help you to address these immediate needs quickly and easily, but also give you the option to use more of the suite’s functionality as your needs require and time permits.