SMB Adoption of Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) On the Rise

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

Today’s small businesses need the right mix of collaboration tools to create a productive work environment. SMBs looking for new collaboration solutions that will help them work smarter, and achieve top business goals of attracting new customers, growing revenue and improving customer experience. Flexible solutions that connect employees with each other and with customers and partners from any location, device or network will play a big part in achieving these goals.

But as SMBs increase their reliance on collaboration tools, managing and integrating multiple solutionsincluding email, instant messaging, voice, click-to-dial, presence, videoconferencing, and morecan become difficult. As a result, more SMBs are considering unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions to aggregate and integrate these functions and bring some order to collaboration chaos.

Mainstream VoIP Adoption Lays the Foundation for UCC

SMB adoption of voice over IP (VoIP) solutions is already well underway. According to SMB Group’s recently completed 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, 53% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 68% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) are currently using VoIP. In addition, 16% and 10%, respectively, plan to implement VoIP within the  next 12 months.

Figure 1: SMB VoIP and UCC Adoption

b2-picture1-768x383Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

With a VoIP foundation in place, more SMBs are considering deploying UCC solutions. Currently, just 12% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 28% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) use UCC solutions. But, over the next 12 months, 17% of small and 35% of medium businesses say they plan to deploy a UCC solution, potentially doubling year-over-year penetration.

SMBs Are Split on UCC Implementation Preferences

Our study shows differences in SMBs’ UCC implementation preferences. While small businesses tend to gravitate to cloud-based solutions, medium businesses are more likely to choose on-premises deployments. In addition, 14% of small and 20% of medium businesses favor a hybrid UCC approach.
Figure 2: SMB UCC Implementation Methods

b2-picture2-768x320Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Drivers for UCC Adoption

As shown on Figure 3, SMBs are turning to UCC to:

  • Improve employee productivity from any location, device or network
  • Standardize communication and collaboration tools
  • Increase security
  • Easier to use, monitor and manage
  • Better integration between communication solutions and business applications
  • Lower telecommunication costs
  • Create a more professional image with customers, suppliers and partners

Figure 3: Top Reasons to use UCC

b2-picture3-768x340Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

UCC Solution Purchase Channels

32% of the small businesses and 23% of medium businesses have purchased or plan to buy their UCC solution from their traditional phone carrier (Figure 4). A greater percentage 28% of medium businesses have purchased these solutions from an Online UCC service provider vs. 24% of small businesses. Small businesses prefer to buy from channels they have an existing relationship with. Medium business that have some more IT resources prefer to buy from newer online channels or VARs (if their requirements are more complex).

Figure 4: UCC Solution Purchase Channels

b2-picture4-768x354Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Most Important UCC Features

SMB survey respondents ranked the UCC features that are most important to them (Figure 5), with the following coming out on top:

  • Better security and compliance capabilities
  • Lower cost
  • Easier for end-users to use
  • Easier to integrate with other business applications
  • Easier and flexible to deploy, manage and extend
  • Better voice and video quality and reliability

Figure 5: SMB Rank Importance of UCC Features

b2-picture5-768x378Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Summary and Perspective

The market opportunity for UCC in the U.S. SMB segment is around $4.5B. Adoption among both small business and medium business segments should be continue to rise, as more employees work away from their companies’ main offices. Traveling employees, telecommuters and employees in remote offices represent different types of mobile workers and cloud-based UCC solutions can help keep them connected—both among themselves and with their customers—in a more streamlined and manageable way.

Integrated UCC solutions that also connect easily with key business applications can further fuel adoption. And, UCC solutions can help SMBs gain more control, and as a result—security—when compared to a hodge-podge of disjointed point solutions.

Especially in the resource-constrained small business segment, cloud-based options, which offload deployment and management headaches, and offer more affordable subscription pricing, will continue to help facilitate UCC adoption among SMBs.

However, the concept of UCC as an integrated set of systems and applications is still confusing and complex for SMBs who have yet to adopt these solutions. UCC vendors and their channel partners need to help SMBs better understand benefits and evaluate the best-fit alternatives to best capitalize on the growing interest in UCC.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

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.

Can IBM’s Redesigned PartnerWorld Move the SMB Needle?

ibm pw logoEast coast weather and flight issues foiled my attempts to attend IBM’s annual PartnerWorld Leadership Conference last week. I was disappointed, as IBM took advantage of the event to formally launch its newly revamped PartnerWorld program, which focuses on helping partners drive business in strategic areas, most notably in cognitive and analytics. However, I was able to talk to Brig Serman, IBM’s Director of Global Commercial Business, about what these changes mean for IBM, its partners, and small and medium business customers.

Here are some of what I consider the key changes that IBM made, followed by my perspectives on them.

  • Introduced the newly named “commercial segment.” This segment includes the former midmarket segment (businesses with less than 1,000 employees) and “white space” larger enterprises in which IBM has a small or non-existent footprint. IBM has consciously moved away from identifying this segment based on company size, and calling it “SMB” or “midmarket.” Big Blue made the shift because it believes that this segment—which it sells to via the channel—is not well-defined by size, and that other characteristics such as different buying and consumption behavior, including self discovery, self-service transactions, a preference for cloud, and partner involvement.
  • Committed to a channel only model for the commercial segment. IBM has committed to serving this segment by driving higher value solutions exclusively through its global business partner network. Brig’s group includes 450 IBM sales people. Each is responsible for a territory, from understanding market requirements to driving engagement with business partners to increase penetration in that territory. IBM sellers will only be compensated if the sales transaction goes through a business partner.
  • Redesigned the PartnerWorld program to help partners provide more value to this segment. IBM is offering partners refined “roadmaps” to help partners identify and build skills in selected areas in a more simplified and integrated way. These roadmaps direct business partners to invest in software asset certifications for all software brands, with a focus on analytics, cloud, security and mobile solutions. Partners will earn incremental incentives for sales in these areas, offering margin opportunities that are two to three times higher than for hardware sales. The goal here is to help partners move away from hardware only sales towards higher value solutions that include IBM software, industry expertise, their own IP and/or integration. IBM is also providing Business Partners with the shared best practices of its most successful partners, so they can model skills investments, lead generation, presales and post sales support more effectively and make investments that will pay off.
  • Announced new digital programs to help partners build skills. IBM is expanding digital partner benefits. It has overhauled the PartnerWorld University portal, which offers web-based training for both sales and technical skills, adding new courses and certifications, and giving users more tools to track and manage their progress. IBM is also adding Digital Marketing workshops to help partners use digital and social media more effectively. Big Blue is also expanding its Business Transformation Initiative (BTI) to help more partners move up the solutions value chain. Finally, IBM is offering developerWorks.Premium at a reduced price to help developers more easily tap into the IBM ecosystem and build new applications on IBM Cloud.

Perspective

Although IBM has changed the name, the Commercial segment really has the charter as it did before the name change: to help IBM more effectively reach the millions of businesses that it doesn’t sell to today.

IBM’s new channel programs and directions will certainly help IBM increase its footprint in the large enterprise “white space,” where its worth it in terms of deal size for the business partner and IBM to make the investment. The new initiatives are also a step in the right direction in terms of making gains in the SMB market, as partners are clearly IBM’s best bet to grow, scale and make headway in this diverse and complex space. Boosting partners’ technology, sales and marketing expertise will help them make some inroads with prospective IBM customers. These tactics should also help partners more easily surface solutions that might be a good fit for SMBs who are looking to solve a problem.

But IBM also has a big perception problem in the SMB market. Many SMBs believe IBM lacks solutions that are relevant, consumable, and priced right. While IBM does have some solutions, such as SoftLayer, IBM Verse (for collaboration) and cloud-based Watson analytics that are suitable for SMBs, and has recently begun offering free trials for a handful of them. But, most SMBs are blithely unaware of them, and while IBM has the vision, it really doesn’t have mechanisms in place to stimulate the type of viral adoption that vendors such as Google, Box and Slack have enjoyed. In fact, IBM’s cloud marketplace is just in the early stages, and having IBM solutions in third-party marketplaces is also nascent.

Furthermore, all businesses (regardless of size and whether or not they are IBM customers) are doing much more research, comparisons and shopping and purchasing online. IBM is changing its high-level value proposition (e.g. easier to discover, shop for, buy and use) to accommodate this evolution, and intends to make the necessary business model and solution changes required to execute on it. But, this type of tectonic shift will take time, and in the interim, it will be difficult for IBM raise awareness about the relevancy of its solutions for the broad SMB market.

Given these realities, helping business partners to invest to accelerate skills development and marketing and sales movement will only go so far. To really move the needle, IBM needs to fully execute on significant cultural, business model, sales and marketing and product design changes. Whether or not IBM has the will to put enough time, energy, commitment into the market to make bigger gains this time remains questionable.

BizSlate: Weaving QuickBooks Into ERP for Small Businesses

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Marc Kalman, who is the CEO and founder of BizSlate, which provides inventory management solutions for small businesses. So, welcome Marc!

Marc:  Thank you. Glad to be here today.

Laurie:  Thanks for coming. We’re here at the QuickBooks Connect conference, a very appropriate place to be talking about small business solutions. I’m wondering, before we get into the specifics of what BizSlate does, can you tell us about your role how the company got started?

Marc:  Sure Laurie. I’ve been in the supply chain technology field my entire career. I started off as a software engineer right out of college, did that for about nine years and had the opportunity then to move into more of the practitioner side of things where I was an EDI (electronic data interchange) analyst for a while, I was a supply chain specialist at companies like Coach Leatherware, and then I had the opportunity to direct a team for a nine division accessories business in New York City. From there, I started my last company, which was, and still is a successful EDI provider, Easy Come Software.

What we found was, because of our unique way of addressing the market for small businesses, we were upwards of 90% more efficient than any of our competitors as far as a supply chain capabilities around EDI were concerned. That led to our customers calling up after a while saying, “Hey Marc, this is great what you’re doing for us in the world of EDI. While in our case it might be 70% or 80% of our business, it’s two customers and we have a thousand customers and we’re using QuickBooks and we want to see our inventory and we can’t keep track of things correctly. And people are traveling and need access to real-time information quickly to make important decisions and keep up with the market.”

So it caused me to look at what was going on in the supply chain space for small businesses and I saw that it was a big problem. I’m very passionate about the space, I’ve been involved with it for a very long time and decided, you know what? I’m going to go do something about it and so here we are.

Laurie:  So, what specifically does BizSlate do?

BizSlate_Logo2Marc:  So, we obviously we do integrate with QuickBooks, predominantly focusing on QuickBooks Online right now. That seems to be the direction that QuickBooks is pushing everybody towards anyway, and we want to be the forefront of that.

Laurie:  Right. And new companies are starting more with cloud-based offerings.

Marc: Exactly. We are web-based, and we focus on helping small businesses improve how they manage everything–customers, orders, vendors, inventory, logistics of the supply chain–and give them the tools that they need to succeed this very intense, omnichannel market.

Laurie:  Does it plug right into QuickBooks, Marc?

Marc: It does, seamlessly. We connect right to QuickBooks through APIs, so as you process documents in our system, let’s say like you post invoices or you receive inventory, if you go into QuickBooks you would instantly see those transactions.

Laurie:  It sounds like it kind of fleshes out QuickBooks beyond accounting and basic financials into what other companies would call ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning, with functionality that manufacturers or distributors might need.

Marc:  Correct. And you know, QuickBooks is great from an accounting system perspective. But certain businesses, particularly product-related businesses that have to track inventory, as they evolve, the operations aspect of QuickBooks doesn’t always keep up with the rate of growth. This causes companies to start looking outside of QuickBooks, at companies like MAS 90 or Dynamics. And until now, QuickBooks really hasn’t had a lot of defense against that. In fact we just did a demo for someone earlier and they said, “You know, QuickBooks plus BizSlate equals NetSuite.”

Laurie:  What are you finding in terms of the sweet spot of customers that are interested in BizSlate? I would expect you have a lot of QuickBooks users that say, “I like QuickBooks but I need more.” Any other kinds of people coming by that are interested?

Marc: There are two key areas that customers are attracted to us. One is what you just described, where someone is using QuickBooks, loves it, or their accountant wants them to stay on QuickBooks. They don’t want to have that disruption of having to change the whole system, they just want to expand functionality. We give them a nice path to be able to do that with a system that will help them not just today, but sustain them for the future. Also, the power that we offer is at a very affordable price. So we also find companies that use solutions like NetSuite that maybe aren’t capitalizing on all of the capabilities that NetSuite offers, or it’s too complex, it’s too big, it’s too expensive. This is an opportunity for them to get the same efficiency but easier, and more affordably.

Laurie: Is there a sweet spot in terms of company size for BizSlate?

Marc:  We are primarily focusing on businesses that are fifty million in revenue or less. Industry-wise, we have a lot of traction in apparel, footwear, also housewares, consumer goods, and electronics

Laurie:  A lot of companies are targeting small businesses who are outgrowing QuickBooks. So why BizSlate? What makes you different?

Marc:  That’s one of my favorite questions. Because we get it. We understand small businesses. Small businesses today are understaffed and overworked. People are doing fifteen different jobs at the same time and that’s on a good day. They don’t have time to sit in front of a computer processing documents. Every single person at that company needs to focus on the growth and profitability of that organization. It’s actually detrimental to the business in a very aggressive market to have people who are wasting time on a lot of data entry.

When some vendors target small businesses, they just don’t understand what these small businesses need. They say that they do, but they don’t. These providers, what they say is, “Well, for a small business it has to be affordable,” right? It does. Has to be easy, and it has to be easy, right? But to get there, the typical provider does that by removing value. But this removes ROI. So where BizSlate is different is we bring enterprise value, the kind of tools, the intelligence that small businesses really need to be able to capitalize on the market. But we do it in a way that is affordable and easy and gives them tools that to really rev the business up and focus on things that are more important to the company.

Laurie:  I think you hit the nail on the head. Time is usually the most precious resource for many small businesses. So how long on average does it takes somebody to get up and running on BizSlate, and how do you help them get productive more quickly?

Marc:  Every customer’s a little different. There are different levels of complexity. We start our promise to our customers with ease of use by making sure that the software itself can be learned and trained and used without anybody ever having to teach somebody something. Now that said, that doesn’t mean we don’t support our customers. In fact, I believe we’re one of the few, if not only, providers of this type that offer free unlimited phone support.

Laurie:  That’s a big deal.

Marc: Because we want to make sure our clients succeed, it’s not just about selling software here.

Laurie:  Yes, in a subscription model you really want to keep them once you get them.

Marc:  Exactly. And we’re passionate about small business, I come from the space. Half the employees at BizSlate come from the space. We are really here to make a difference and we want our clients to be successful. As great as our software is, we want to be known for the service that we offer and really make a difference.

Laurie:  Last but not least, is there anything here at QuickBooks Connect that you’re highlighting that you’d like to just give a shout out for?

Marc:  We have two very exciting themes here at the show. Number one, we just found out that we were selected as one of the top twenty cloud providers of 2015 by CIO Review magazine.

Laurie:  Congratulations.

Marc:  Thank you, we’re very excited. Also we’re just finishing up QuickBooks partner certification. In about a week or two, we should be listed on apps.com so everybody will be able to find us.

Laurie:  That’s great. It looks like you’re having a good time at the show too.

Marc:  I’m having a great time. I’m meeting lots of great people, having great conversations, and excited to see that there’s a lot of interest for what we’re doing.

Laurie:  Well Marc, thank you so much for talking to me today and sharing this information so people can learn more about BizSlate and connect with you.

Marc:  Thank you.

Intuit: Finding New Footing In the Small Business Cloud

For Intuit, small business is big business. The company has long dominated the very small business, or VSB (1-19 employees) accounting market in the U.S. (Figure 1), and in the last few years, has also been campaigning hard to win global business against incumbents in countries such as Canada, U.K., India and Australia.

Figure 1: U.S. VSB Accounting Solutions Purchased/Upgraded in Last 24 Months

Slide1

Yet Intuit has had a mixed track record in terms of evolving from a traditional package software model to a cloud-based services and platform company. Although Intuit initially launched QuickBooks online in 2004, the vendor seemed conflicted about how best to navigate its own transition to a cloud based business model for several years. However, it started getting serious about the cloud a few years ago, and today QuickBooks Online has grown to serve over 1,150,000 small businesses.

Meanwhile, the company has continued to wrestle with how to grow its business beyond its core QuickBooks franchise. This past summer, Intuit announced plans to divest several businesses, including its original Quicken consumer finance product; QuickBase, a collaborative workspace to build custom apps; and Demandforce, an automated marketing solution for small businesses. In addition, the vendor laid off about 5% of its workforce this past August.

Given the opportunity to attend this year’s QuickBooks Connect conference, I was curious to learn more about Intuit’s transformation strategy, and how it will grow its small business footprint. At the event, Intuit emphasized plans to:

  • Double down on small business financial management-related services that leverage the QuickBooks Connect platform. With plans to take Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce off its plate in the works, Intuit can free up resources to concentrate on innovation in small business financial management. The vendor announced new solutions to help retailers and e-tailers automatically connect QuickBooks to inventory and sales data across multiple channels. This includes integrating data from e-commerce providers like BigCommerce and Shopify, as well as integration for QuickBooks Point-of-Sale. Intuit also showcased a new QuickBooks financing option, offered in partnership with OnDeck. The QuickBooks FinancingLine of Credit uses small businesses’ QuickBooks accounting data to qualify applicants for lower-rate loans than those available from traditional lenders. Intuit also highlighted its partnership with Fundbox, which provides advanced payments for outstanding invoices in QuickBooks to help improve cash flow.
  • Bet the future on the cloud and big data. While Intuit will not abandon desktop users, it has shifted its resources (and partner ecosystem, see the next bullet) to the cloud. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Online accounted for 60% of new sales in FY15, and the company expects that to jump to 70% in FY16. As it transitions more customers to the cloud and the QuickBooks platform, Intuit gains access to more customer data that will enable it to create–and monetize–a broader array of financial services for small businesses.
  • Ramp up its ecosystem and platform play. Over the past year, Intuit has grown the number of third-party apps that integrate with the QuickBooks platform from just over 300 apps to more than 1,500. At the event, Intuit announced that it has set up a $4 million co-marketing fund to help developers promote apps developed on the QuickBooks platform. Through the program, the vendor will double developer partners’ marketing investments of $10,000 to $20,000. For example, if a partner spends $10,000, Intuit will double the match to $20,000.
  • Boost its focus on the self-employed sector. Last fall, Intuit announced QuickBooks Self-Employed, its somewhat late counter to rival Freshbooks, which launched in 2003, and now claims to have over 5 million users (though Freshbooks doesn’t disclose the number of paid subscribers). Designed to provide the rapidly growing self-employed segment with tools to organize and manage their finances, QuickBooks Self-Employed enables users to connect bank and credit card accounts to import transactions, and categorize them as either business or personal. The solution also automatically assigns them to the proper IRS Schedule C deduction category. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Self-Employed currently has about 25,000 paid subscribers. At QuickBooks Connect, Intuit highlighted a new partnership with Stride Health, which integrates Stride Health’s personalized approach to managing health insurance, healthcare and compliance within QuickBooks Self-Employed.
  • Strengthen its accountant solutions and network. Intuit introduced Trial Balance within QuickBooks Online Accountant at the event. The solution helps accounting professionals save time by pre-mapping most of the accounts from QuickBooks Online Accountant to an Intuit Tax Online form, reducing or eliminating manual data import, export and entry work. It also gives accountants one, centralized location to store the work they perform for clients. Intuit also launched a New ProAdvisor Fathom Partnership, designed for accounting professionals who want to deliver more frequent, engaging advisory and management reporting services. The new partnership provides ProAdvisors with exclusive benefits, including a free Fathom single company license for life, discounts of up to 50% off licenses for their clients and dedicated support for ProAdvisors and their clients. Intuit also hosted a special VIP event for key accountant partners. Intuit used the VIP event to provide partners with deeper insights into Intuit’s plans, and to tap into partner ideas and recommendations to strengthen QuickBooks small business and accountant solutions and programs.
  • Grow globally. Intuit currently provides localized versions of QuickBooks in the UK, India, Canada, Australia and Singapore, with plans to launch in France and Brazil later this year. Intuit’s commitment to global expansion was underscored by a large accountant and developer representation from these countries, especially the UK, Canada, India and Australia.

Perspective

Intuit has traveled a somewhat rocky road to the cloud, but now seems to be finding its footing. It has elevated QuickBooks Online to flagship status; significantly ramped up developer activity on the QuickBooks platform; is gaining awareness and customers in new geographies; and continues to have a large, loyal accountant network.

This doesn’t mean all will be easy climbing from here on in. Intuit needs to play an aggressive catch-up game in the race to win self-employed customers. Furthermore, while Intuit is focusing on helping small businesses better manage their financials, VSBs (businesses with 1-19 employees) seem more concerned with business growth. According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, VSBs rank growing revenue and attracting new customers as their top two business challenges–ahead of improving cash flow, maintaining profitability and obtaining financing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top U.S. VSB Business Challenges

Slide2

Meanwhile, competition for customers in new geographies will be fierce and nuanced with global complexities. And, in all cases, Intuit is competing for limited IT dollars: 62% of VSBs spend just $1,000-$9,999 on IT annually (SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study).

Figure 3: U.S. VSB Annual Technology Spending

Slide3However, Intuit’s tack to build new, data-driven services for small businesses–such as its new lending service–provides the company with an exciting opportunities to disrupt the status quo and create new revenue streams, such as Intuit is doing with QuickBooks Financing. While other companies may launch similar services, Intuit’s dominant market share in the U.S. provides it with a unique advantage. While its too soon to know how this will actually play out, Intuit’s ability to capitalize on this potential will likely prove to be the biggest factor in spurring the company to the next level of growth.

Note: Intuit hosted me at QuickBooks Connect and paid for my travel expenses. 

Cloud Cover: Cloud Management and Security for SMBs

Cloud solutions already play a big role in most small and medium business (SMBs), with SMB adoption of cloud solutions gaining momentum across many solution areas (Figure 1). For many SMBs, the cloud offers a way to use new solutions to help grow the business despite limited IT resources and budgets.

Figure 1: SMB Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods

Slide1
Benefits such as cost effectiveness, flexibility, and easier and faster deployment are driving SMB adoption of cloud applications and storage solutions (Figure 2). The cloud gives SMBs the opportunity to harness more of the solutions that they need to get ahead–solutions that many would never have been able to deploy and manage on their own.

Figure 2: SMB Drivers For Cloud Adoption

Slide2

But as cloud adoption grows, so does the complexity of managing and securing data in the cloud. As SMBs start to utilize a mix of public, private and hybrid clouds to meet different requirements, managing multiple solutions across multiple types of clouds can strain SMB resources. Many struggle to gain a holistic view of cloud performance. Compounding the situation, as SMBs spread data across multiple cloud environments, challenges to locate and safeguard data increase. In fact, SMB Group’s SMB Group 2015 Routes to Market Study shows that medium businesses rank security as their second most pressing technology challenge, and for small businesses, security is #1.

So how can SMBs continue to take advantage of new cloud solutions that help move the business forward, and at the same time, more easily manage and protect their data in this increasingly dispersed cloud environment?

Take Ownership of Your Cloud Strategy 

Because cloud solutions are typically easier to acquire and start using than traditional on-premises applications, many SMBs have taken a tactical approach to cloud adoption. It’s likely that corporate, line of business, small groups and individuals have all “turned on” cloud solutions for different purposes.

Think about it: the odds are good that you’re using public cloud services, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Work, or Dropbox, and maybe using a platform-as-a-service like Salesforce.com, and an , or Infrastructure-as-a-service like Amazon Web Services to run a traditional financial application, or for testing and development.

There’s nothing wrong with using a mix of cloud services and deployment options. But an ad hoc, siloed cloud approach can quickly spiral out of control–leaving you with poor visibility, a lack of control and management, and potential security risks.

Take a step back and inventory who is using what and why. Then look ahead to develop a more proactive and strategic cloud strategy that aligns with business goals, applications and workloads, IT resources and budgets, as well as your requirements in areas such as compliance, security and performance.

Consider the differences (Figure 3) between public, private and hybrid clouds. Clouds come in different shapes and sizes. Understanding the differences can help you determine which type of cloud deployment is best suited to your business goals, workloads, resources and security requirements. There’s no one size fits all answer; even for the same application and workload, a private cloud may be the right option for one organization, while a public software-as-a-service (SaaS) might be best fit for another.

Figure 3: Different Types of Cloud Application Deployments

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Increasingly, SMBs are exploring a hybrid cloud model, in which some resources run in the public cloud, while others run in a private cloud. This approach is gaining momentum in situations where organizations want to use a public cloud/SaaS app, but security requirements dictate keeping some resources/data behind the corporate firewall; or companies need “burst” capacity for peak times, or have different needs for different data types/users.

Take Control of Cloud Security and Management

securityAs SMB reliance on cloud solutions rises, so does the need for better management and security. Solutions such as Dell Cloud Manager, featured at Dell World 2015, can help SMBs simplify and streamline cloud management of their cloud across multiple applications running in different private and public cloud platforms. Instead of having to juggle management dashboards from multiple cloud providers, Dell Cloud Manager gives IT a way to manage heterogeneous clouds from a single pane of glass. With this type of cloud management solution, SMBs can monitor, manage and govern existing cloud solutions, and bring new solutions into a centralized environment more easily.

Protecting your data–regardless of which cloud, on-premise system or network, or user device–also creates new security challenges. To address these concerns and protect data wherever it goes, Dell showcased new, more comprehensive security solutions. Some are designed specifically to address cloud challenges, such as:

  • Dell One Identity Cloud Access Manager 8.1, which enables secure access to all internal and cloud-based web applications, enforces security policies and controls. This new version also incorporates SaaS-based, multi-factor authentication.
  • Dell Data Protection, Cloud Edition 2.0, which allows businesses to encrypt their data and apply policy controls to data as it moves from endpoints to leading public cloud platforms, such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Box and Dropbox.
  • Dell SecureWorks, which now includes a new, on-demand Emergency Cyber Incident Response (ECIR) capability for clients using AWS. The solution helps organizations investigate cyber incidents affecting assets deployed on the AWS Cloud, and more easily and efficiently and contain, mitigate cyber incident response investigations.

Be Prepared for the Future

As SMBs rely more on cloud solutions to run their businesses, the requirements to manage, secure and protect data across different cloud environments will continue to rise. While an ad hoc approach to the cloud may provide a quick fix, it won’t provide the visibility and control needed for sustained, long-term success. By taking a proactive approach, SMBs can build a cloud strategy that not only provides a tactical fix to immediate challenges, but also helps ensure that you can securely scale and adapt it to meet future needs as well.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

Automation and Insight: Intacct’s Focus for Dreamforce 2015

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Today I have the opportunity to talk to Rob Reid who is CEO of Intacct, which is a cloud-based financial management solutions company. We’re here at Dreamforce 2015 for this SMB Spotlight. Rob, I’m delighted to be speaking with you.

Rob: It’s a real pleasure. It’s always good to see you.

Laurie: Thanks and likewise! Before we kind of get into some of the specifics of what Intacct is focusing on at Dreamforce, can you provide a quick review about Intacct–who you are and what you do?

Rob:  Sure. At Intacct we deliver ERP solutions for midmarket firms. We focus on being best in class and complementing other best in class applications like Salesforce. So connecting the front office and back office seamlessly is one of the things that we really focus on at Intacct . We’re doing that for midmarket firms that are typically going through a lot of growth that want to automate their processes so they can invest in their mission. You know, so maybe they can hire more engineers, or if they’re a not for profit going on out and really helping the world. We help them eliminate some of the costs of running the business so that they can go and attempt the big things.

Laurie: Yes, helping midmarket companies to automate a lot of backend processes. So how did you arrive at this focus?

Rob: So you know the industry has pretty much segmented for while when we got into the market several years ago. There were solutions initially for enterprise corporations, such as Oracle and SAP. And because there are millions of very small businesses in the United States and across the world, businesses like Intuit went after that arena. And requirements are significantly different between what a large enterprise needs and what an owner/operator needs. But in the middle market, in the past, it was pretty much Microsoft and Sage with offerings there to help those organizations grow and to try to become larger companies. And unfortunately, Microsoft and Sage didn’t migrate to the cloud too quickly. The cloud changes the economic model, it’s a more cost-effective, easy to use type of environment, and enables much better reporting than ever before. So organizations like Intacct went on in to that sector to take advantage of cloud, and it’s been working great for us. We’ve been achieving 40% growth for the last four to five years. We now have 9,000 customers in locations all over the world in every continent other than the Arctic, and it’s just working for these organizations.

Laurie: Here at Dreamforce, you have some announcements or focal points that you’re highlighting here at Dreamforce. Could you talk about that?

Rob: I’d be glad to. At Dreamforce we’re showing Intacct Subscription Billing capability, which allows you to automate the subscription billing practices that you have. So many different industries are moving to subscription billing, they need an adaptive way to do the monthly billing and then connect that from a revenue recognition perspective. So we offer Intacct Subscription Billing, on top of the Salesforce1 platform. It’s totally integrated in with Salesforce, so there’s a seamless flow from the front office into the back office, so you’re accurately billing your customers. In turn, customers are happier, and will pay the bill faster. We’ve tied the revenue recognition requirements in and automated the whole overall process.

Laurie:  You’re absolutely right, even products now are on subscriptions, like on Amazon I have certain things set up for subscription, like vitamins, because I know that I’m going to need them every so often. I think that subscription capability is going to be key for a lot of companies.

Rob:  I’m glad you brought that up about getting your vitamins and other consumer things, but I want to clarify that our subscription billing solution is really focused on B2B type organizations. There are solutions from our partners that do a great job for the B2C area.

Laurie: So you integrate with partner solutions to handle the subscription billing in a B2C environment. Ok, what else is Intacct focusing on here?

Rob: In addition to automation to help organizations take out costs, they need to know exactly what’s going on with regard to revenue and their overall performance. They need to get information to the management team and all the employees about what’s going on in real time. They need empirical data to make both strategic and tactical decisions. If they can see what’s happening, they can spot opportunities and go after them. Or if all of a sudden there’s a new issue starting to bubble, you’ll see it and you can hone in on it. So we have delivered the Intacct Visual Board Book to give organizations the ability to see not just gap performance measures, but the operational measures that go on all the time. In today’s world, many times the operational measures are more important than the gap measures.

Laurie: If you can see where you’ve got either an opportunity or an issue and fix that or address it right away it’s gonna make a big difference.

Rob: Yes, and since we’re here at Dreamforce, there are a lot software companies here, and the change in monthly recurring revenue is actually the most comprehensive way to look at a software company’s health. Looking at revenue from the past, you’re always looking at things in the rearview mirror. When you’re seeing changes in real-time, you know exactly what’s happening. For instance, one of the challenges for most subscription-based software companies is the cost of customer acquisition. Well at Intacct, we’re providing you that information in real-time. Our Visual Board Book it’s keeping track of cash, it’s keeping track of what your customer lifetime value is, all that’s automated and provided visually. Everything is data-driven so that you make the right decisions. So as important as it is to have a financial management system to automate your processes, I think it’s even more important to be able to have the empirical data to make the right decisions.

Laurie: Right, have the insights and get everybody on the same page instead of everybody having a different opinion about what to do.

Rob: You know, you and I have known each other for a long period of time. I’ve been in Fortune 500 companies and I’ve never had more information to make the right decisions than I have right now at Intacct. We use Salesforce, we use Intacct, we use Marketo, we have about 30 different cloud solutions that we’ve integrated in together. We’ve got dashboards on everything and know what’s going on in the real-time.

Laurie: So these capabilities help you grow a business and sustain a business.

Rob: Yes, and that draws us back to that midmarket. According to The Economist, 89% of all the jobs created in our economy since the Great Recession are in the midmarket. The midmarket is driving our economy today. In fact, enterprise level new jobs have gone down 10% since the Great Recession. So we’re helping growth-oriented midmarket organizations take it to the next level. It’s just really an exciting time.

Laurie: We have known each other a long time Rob, and I know you have a lot of experience in business, and you were also honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of this interview, where we’ll talk about your management tips for midmarket businesses over and above automation and analytics.