Security Doesn’t Have to Be The Elephant in the SMB Room

The Internet, cloud computing and mobile solutions have empowered people with the freedom and flexibility to do their jobs more easily and quickly than ever before. At the same time, new technologies continue to expand the volume and variety of data at our fingertips, enabling us to create and share information in new ways.

Technology is rapidly reshaping how people work in all businesses, regardless of size. In fact, the old stereotype of SMBs as technology laggards no longer fits: SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends reveal that today, the vast majority of SMBs have more favorable views about technology’s role in their business (Figure 1). Furthermore, Dell’s Global Technology Adoption Index (GTAI 2015) finds that enterprises using new technologies including big data, cloud computing and mobile solutions have up to 53% higher revenue growth rates than enterprises that don’t.

Figure 1: SMBs View Technology as Key to Success

Figure 1-SMBs View Technology as Key to Succes
Source: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

As Reliance on Technology Grows, Security Requirements Become More Complex

Most SMBs understand that data security and management challenges grow as technology becomes a bigger part of the business fabric. Our study shows that both small and medium businesses rank security as their second-most-pressing technology challenge (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top Technology Challenges for SMBsFigure 2-Top TEchnology Challenges for SMBsSource: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

However, as noted in SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, “Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room.” SMBs often feel overwhelmed, confused or inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the seemingly endless potential for digital security breaches. The growth of data, mobile solutions, cloud computing and other technologies give users more flexibility and freedom. But with data living in more places, the risk of data loss and leakage rises. Unfortunately, as we put more information into the right hands, we also increase the likelihood of putting it into the wrong ones.

As the sheer magnitude of potential cyber-security risks grows, SMBs that continue to take an outdated, ineffective, 1990s-era “whack-a-mole” approach to security–deploying point solutions to ward off the security threat du jour–are at increasing risk for both accidental and malicious data breaches.

But, SMB Group research indicates that on average, only 22% of businesses with fewer than 100 employees have full-time, dedicated IT staff, and 31% have no IT support at all. Meanwhile, although 85% of medium businesses have dedicated IT staff, these employees are likely to be IT generalists. Given the fact that there are no chief security officers in SMBs, what’s an SMB to do?

Finding Balance: A New Security Approach for SMBs

SMBs need a more comprehensive approach—one that makes security a manageable challenge instead of a bewildering, unsolvable nightmare. They need a solution that enables them to continue taking advantage of the latest mobile, cloud and other technology advancements, and also offers peace of mind that their biggest risks are being managed.

Endpoint security management solutions help close off the biggest vulnerabilities to the most critical corporate data, wherever it resides—whether endpoint devices, mobile apps, on-premises infrastructure and applications or the cloud (Figure 3). Endpoints can include any end-user device, such as smartphones, PCs and tablets, as well as specialized devices such as point-of-sale terminals and bar code readers.

Figure 3: Endpoint Security ManagementFigure 3-Endpoint Security ManagemtnSource: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

These solutions provide policy-based approach that requires endpoint devices to comply with specific criteria before they are granted access to network resources. For instance endpoint security management solutions:

  • Check the status of a user’s device when it connects to the network to ensure that the operating system, browser and other applications are in compliance
  • Determine whether security components are up to date.
  • Enable policies to be created to set up individual rules for different levels of access to files or applications.
  • Are deployed on both the client and server-side, enabling centralized monitoring and management on the server.
  • Are often data-centric, meaning that they encrypt and protect the data itself so that it remains protected as it travels across different devices or cloud platforms.

Sponsored by Dell, SMB Group’s free research brief, Finding Balance: A New Security Approach for SMBs, is designed to improve SMB understanding in this area. The brief discusses how endpoint security solutions work; internal considerations to keep in mind when developing an endpoint security strategy; and key capabilities to look for in an endpoint security solution.

Although you can’t eliminate every risk, endpoint security management can offer a more holistic, rules-based approach to face and address the security elephant in your business a more effective way.

This post is sponsored by Dell.

Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two

canstockphoto24687951Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group, and today I’m continuing my conversation with Jason Shepherd, who is Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division. In this second post, we talk about top challenges IoT partners face, how Dell helps address these challenges, and get an update on Dell’s IoT contest. In the first post,  Jason provided an overview of Dell’s new Internet of Things division and how its partner programs are structured. In this one, I’m following up to hear about your meeting with Dell IoT partners recently to talk about their challenges. What did you learn?

Jason: Yes, we had our first IoT partner round table, with over 30 different ISV partners, to have an open discussion about their challenges and what they need to accelerate in the market. (see one attendee’s perspective here). We found that their number one challenge, after security–or in some cases, even before security–is data integration. They are looking for hardware solutions, such as Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 Series to provide a foundation for normalizing all the different fragmented data standards in the field.

Another top challenge is making end users aware of the potential of IoT, helping them to understand potential ROI (return-on-investment) for a solution, and convincing them to take that first step to deploy. So in addition to helping partners on the technology side, partners also want Dell’s help with marketing use cases, case studies, solution blueprints and other assets that help demonstrate ROI and show customers IoT’s potential.

We’ve found that Dell’s perspective about starting small and building fast for IoT is really resonating. There’s a lot of big talk about IoT, and that can be overwhelming. Dell’s approach is practical, to help people first connect existing systems and solve an immediate problem, and then build from there. And then of course, being able to incorporate security and management tools that IT is familiar with helps our OT-focused partners gain credibility and overcome potential IT hurdles. Also, partners need help to connect with other partners. At the end of the day IoT is a partnership game.

Dell’s focus on edge gateways, combined with providing credibility and visibility are really critical, especially for smaller innovators in this space. The other thing that came out of it was having quality hardware. Something in the sweet spot between maker-grade and boutique product that’s purpose-built for these industrial use cases but affordable, that they can really trust and rely on. They’re looking to us to help with that.

Laurie: Can you talk more specifically about the kinds of support you give them?

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Jason: Yes. We have certification and sales engineers that work with partners to go help them build on Dell technologies, and we have Dell IoT Labs around the globe (Santa Clara, Limerick and Singapore). Partners and customers can bring in their own technology to prove out their solutions on Dell technology.

As partners build solid use cases for their solutions, we can help them create blueprints, ROI proof points, and go to market plans to jointly pursue opportunities.

Laurie: Do you do that on an individual basis?

Jason: Yes, and as Dell and its partners mature together and IoT use cases become even more repeatable, we can develop focused solution bundles complete with sensors, infrastructure and software. We won’t be able to do this for highly complex scenarios but it’s certainly foreseeable that we can create bundles for things like a remote monitoring solution for a data center, a predictive maintenance solution for a machine, a quality control system for the end of a manufacturing line, or a building automation solution for a small retail space. Reducing complexity through solution bundles is where you really start to enable scale or deploying IoT solutions.

Laurie: Do you foresee Dell building sensors?

Jason: We’re do not plan to make sensors, but in time we will certify partner sensors to work with Dell Gateways, the rest of our infrastructure and enabling technologies, and offerings from our key software partners.

Laurie: Okay. So, what are some of your favorite partner stories?

arrow logoJason: One is Arrow Electronics, which we showcased at Dell World last fall. Arrow has a warehouse in Phoenix, with eight business units using the facility and power. They all just split the power bill at the end of the month, because they couldn’t determine who was using how much. Arrow, their system integration division, and OSIsoft, which is a well-recognized leader of data historian software with their PI platform, teamed up with Wireless Glue, a startup that provides gateway middleware for connecting to industrial sensor protocols. They all came together to build a solution to instrument the warehouse and create dashboards and analytics of the power consumption. which is a great example of how different partners with different capabilities can join forces to solve a problem. And now that Arrow has the IoT infrastructure in the warehouse they can look at other things they can do to add value. For example, it could be something like making their forklifts more effective, or doing indoor location tracking for pallets and other assets in the warehouse.

Laurie: So the light bulb goes on and they start to look at other use cases.

Jason: Yes, once you have that infrastructure you can start to riff off of it and do new things. It’s a classic example of starting with a focused problem—not trying to do too much at once. Fix the core problem and then grow from there, which is right in line with our message of starting small and building fast

Inex logoAnother example is INEX IoT Impact Labs, in New Bedford, MA, is focused on accelerating and improving how small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in the community learn about and gain value from the Internet of Things (IoT). Dell,  IoT IMPACT LABS’ parent INEX Advisors, Analog Devices, BCC, Foley and Lardner LLP, and PTC Inc. have teamed up to create this IoT solutions hub with many of the end users being fisheries or farms–small businesses in small cities, which don’t have the IT expertise or resources to take advantage of IoT on their own. The Lab is working to field-test, document and commercialize the most efficient and effective approaches to IoT so that SMBs can deploy solutions to level the playing field and help them compete more effectively.

Laurie: Yes, INEX is very interesting, this video does a great job of telling their story. One last question for you: How is the Dell Internet of Things contest shaping up?

Jason: Really well. Solution designs had to be submitted by March 31 and we received more than 120 submissions worldwide from a mix of current Dell customers, ISVs, developers, systems integrators, entrepreneurs and channel partners. Across all different sizes and industries, in different verticals–from universities and schools to hospitals to financial services to food distributors. All are interested in building solutions on top of our new Edge Gateway and with other Dell technologies. We’re seeing use cases that we’ve never even thought of, which is what’s really exciting about bringing this community together in this way.

Laurie: How will you select winners?

Jason: We’ll be looking for solutions that are really innovative, and also have strong market viability, balancing technology, implementation, and go to market opportunities.

Laurie: When will the contest be judged and winners announced?

Jason: Judging is underway and it’s going to be tough to pick the winners. I anticipate in the May-June timeframe we’ll start to announce the winners. There will be 16 prizes, and the total prize value is $600,000.

Laurie: I’m sure you’ll get some really creative entries, please keep me posted! Maybe we can do a follow up about the winners. And thanks again for taking time to dive into Dell’s IoT program with me.

This is the second of a two-part blog series on Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division and partnership programs, sponsored by Dell.

 

Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group, and today I’m talking to Jason Shepherd, who is Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division, as part one of a two-part blog series.

In this first post, we’ll discuss Dell’s IoT strategy, and how Dell has structured its IoT partner programs. In the second, we talk about the top challenges IoT partners face, how Dell helps address these challenges, and get an update on Dell’s IoT contest.

So to start, can you give me a high level overview of Dell’s IoT strategy?

Jason Shepherd, Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell's Internet of Things (IoT) division

Jason Shepherd, Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s Internet of Things (IoT) division

Jason: Sure. Our strategy is to be the leader in open, scalable IoT infrastructure that enables successful solution deployments. Dell is one of the few companies in the world that have a little bit of everything needed for an IoT stack. We have broad relationships and partnerships that we will continue to grow to accelerate IoT adoption.

First, we decided that while consumer IoT is interesting, our focus is on commercial and industrial use cases. Some high level vertical focus areas include building automation, manufacturing, and transportation.. Specific use cases include remote monitoring and control within these environments, asset management, process and quality controls, fleet management, logistics and many more.

 

Dell Edge Gateway

Dell Edge Gateway

The core purpose of IoT is performing analytics on the data that you capture to yield some benefit or ROI. But one of the biggest challenges developers face is getting to the data, especially from existing systems. So we designed Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 Series to bridge these systems to the Internet first and allow you to connect to more new equipment as you go. Dell’s gateways can also perform analytics on data locally so only meaningful information is relayed to the data center or cloud, so you’re not flooded with noise. Our strategy is to drive intelligence and capabilities to the edge in industrial use cases so people can get the data and build value on top of it. Our edge gateways fill a critical gap in the market for purpose-built products that can reliably withstand harsh industrial environments, yet come at attractive price points and are backed by Dell’s brand and global presence and support.

The other thing that drives our strategy is the notion of fostering IT and OT (operations technology) convergence. Many times IoT solutions are purchased by a non-IT entity, whether it’s OT, facilities, or even the marketing organization. These folks can find it difficult to get the IT support they need on the network to bridge their “things,” such as equipment and sensors, to the Internet. Meanwhile, IT departments are often wary of adding more technology from brands they don’t know to their network, due to security and management concerns. Dell has been deployed in IT environments for a long time, has built strong credibility with IT, and can help bridge these conversations and foster OT and IT cooperation and convergence.

Dell IoT GatewaySo we can help OT be more successful while also calming IT’s concerns, and enable IT to manage and support these systems.

In fact, even partners that are rebranding our systems are saying, “Hey, I still want it to say ‘Built on Dell’ because it means something to IT when I bring it in.”

Laurie: Good segue to dive into specifics on Dell’s IoT partnership initiative. How is it structured and why?

Jason: Well, IoT is still in the buzz cycle. It’s early in terms of what it represents, and the landscape is really fragmented. There are many different platforms and solutions, which is great, but can also make it difficult for customers and solution providers to navigate.

In addition, many partner programs out there are structured like traditional channel programs, in which partners that pay more are in higher tiers and get preferential treatment and visibility. We think the IoT market is too immature for the typical partner program approach where partners pay fees. Even just certifying products is tricky when these solutions are so complex.

Dell’s IoT partner program does have multiple tiers, Executive, Associate and Registered, but tiers are based on the partner’s ability to perform in the market. We want to help customers find the right partners, versus just throwing everybody into a big bucket and seeing what happens. With this structure, we can help reduce some of the fragmentation problem. We curate Dell’s IoT partnerships based on factors such as maturity, solution value and differentiation, and will add mechanisms to help partners move up in status.

For instance, our entry-level Registered partners are doing very interesting things that warrant us helping them drive awareness, but we haven’t had enough experience with their solution to broadly recommend them into Dell’s customer base. Moving up, partners at our Associate tier offer more differentiated and proven solutions, whether through great integration, scalability, established channels or other factors. Highly strategic companies that offer clear differentiation, best in class solutions, and a proven ability to execute are in our top Executive tier.

Laurie: So, there’s room for the new innovators.

Jason: Absolutely, the main point is that we don’t allow providers that haven’t yet proven themselves to pay their way into more prominent placement, because this wouldn’t help end-customers make a good decision about who to work with. Instead, partners are vetted on ability to execute and overall maturity. It’s definitely more of a lift for Dell, but it’s a better service to the end customers. It’s by merit and demonstrated ability to solve customer problems, including providing support after the sale.

Laurie: What other partner attributes are relevant to Dell in the IoT space?

Jason: Since much of our initial go to market strategy is based on our new purpose-built edge gateways, our initial focus has been on partners that build software platforms that leverage gateways in their solutions. Another partner type are makers of cloud platforms that don’t have a strategy for edge data integration and analytics today, but realize that they need one because you can’t send all of your IoT data to the cloud because it gets expensive. For these cloud platform partners, we can bridge to the edge and provide value there. We’re also building partnerships with pure-play visualizataion providers and analytics companies that complement other partners and our own Dell Statistica offering with capabilities such as stream processing, video analytics and artificial intelligence.

Laurie: So, these different types of providers could be laid out across the different tiers based on maturity and strategic importance?

Jason: Yes. The one exception is with security tools. Dell has a broad security portfolio that IT trusts, but we’re always on the lookout for new solutions that address some of the net-new challenges at the edge. But we are not adding entry-level security partners – companies are either offering strategic value or they’re not. We take security very seriously.

Laurie: Makes sense! So, why are partners choosing to work with Dell in the IoT area?

Jason: Many IoT providers will participate in multiple partner programs. But Dell is attractive for a few reasons. First, we have a very broad customer base, and we’re very in tune with our customer needs. Even at the entry partnership level, when we flat-out set expectations that we will not recommend or directly sell the partner’s solution, they want to work with us to gain visibility. Being tied to the Dell brand, and the IT credibility that we talked about, and our global presence and support, are key. Many IoT innovators are very small, so this credibility really helps them. In addition, partners like that we provide choice and we’re open in how we do things.

People also like that Dell has such a strong hardware base, providing something tangible to attach their software to. Many partners are looking at appliance-type IoT models. Dell has been doing that with PCs and servers for a long time, and we can also do it for IoT with the Edge Gateway Series. Through our configuration services, partners can have software pre-installed, so their customers can simply purchase gateways directly from Dell, load them on trucks, and install them in the field. We also have ISV partners that are OEMs. They use our hardware and sell their own branded solution. Of course, there’s also attraction to the potential for co-marketing and joint selling. But, like I said, we can’t do that for everybody. We would only do that for people further up in the tiers.

This is the first of a two-part blog series on Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division and partnership programs, sponsored by Dell.

Desk.com: Playing a Leading Role in Saleforce’s SMB Story

desk logoDesk.com recently unveiled a new option for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to connect the sales and service experience. While the vendor announced free integrations with SalesforceIQ for SMBs last November, and with Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud via Desk Connect in October 2014, Desk.com’s new offering, Desk 360 adds opportunity management capabilities for service reps as part of the standard Desk.com service solution.

Aimed at helping SMBs differentiate and excel by providing a more holistic customer service experience, service reps using Desk.com can now proactively open up sales opportunities directly from their Desk.com accounts. The solution also gives service agents better visibility into customer information, including:

  • Improved customer and company views: Improved customer and company views give agents access to additional context about customers. Agents can easily set parameters, sort, filter and view a complete history of that particular customer. For example, when a customer contacts a service agent in a retail company about an incorrect shipment of furniture, the agent can check to see if that customer has experienced a similar issue in the past, in addition to seeing the latest case. This helps agents move beyond simply closing the case to personalizing the customer experience. For instance, in this scenario, the agent can resolve the current issue, and offer to free shipping on all new orders.
  • More complete reports on interaction history: New customer and company insights enable SMBs to run reports on company history, such as number of cases and the average response time per company. This gives them a more holistic of the overall company relationship. Armed with these insights, SMBs can adjust the service experience to improve every interaction and the overall customer experience.
  • Sales and service on the same platform: Enhanced opportunity management facilitates richer conversations and engagements between service agents and customers, so that agents can proactively suggest products or services that the customer is likely to need or appreciate. Agents can identify, open and even close sales opportunities. For example, if a customer calls a service agent at a catering company about an incomplete order, the agent can see that customer places a large order each month, and may offer to provide a discount on their next order.

This gives companies that don’t currently use sales CRM a way to create and automate the sales process as opportunities are identified. For companies already using SaleforceIQ or Salesforce Sales Cloud, the bi-directional link between Desk.com remains. In other words, sales people can continue on with either of these solutions, while service reps can start creating opportunities that connect and feed into these sales systems.

Putting Salesforce’s SMB Focus Into Focus

In 1999, Salesforce was a cloud pioneer, focused on capturing the underserved SMB market with a faster, easier, better and less expensive CRM solution. But, Salesforce’s story proved to be as compelling for larger companies, and the vendor gravitated to the higher value enterprise market over time. As it built out its products and sales organization for larger accounts, Salesforce’s story for SMBs got complicated and hard to follow.

However, Desk.com (formerly Assistly, acquired by Salesforce in 2011), managed to retain and build on its original SMB mission to give even the smallest companies a way to provide their customers with a better service experience. Now, as Salesforce has begun to refocus its overall SMB story (Does Salesforce’s Refreshed SMB Strategy Add Up?), Desk.com appears to be taking a leadership role in Salesforce’s reenergized SMB story.

This makes sense, as Desk.com positions itself as “Salesforce’s out-of-the-box helpdesk for small businesses,” and the majority of Desk.com’s customers are companies with less than 1,000 employees. Desk.com has been steadily adding service capabilities and integrations to make it easier for SMBs to improve the customer service experience. For instance, as cases come in, Desk.com assigns priorities based on rules that can be based on customer, company or case details–such as automatically promoting a case that comes up on Twitter to urgent, or if a case has been pending for more than one day. Desk.com has also made it easy for companies to create macros to reply to frequent types of requests, such as a lost password.

Beyond service functionality, Desk.com has also been building the integrations SMBs need to connect other areas of the business with support. In addition to the free integrations with SalesforceIQ and Salesforce Sales Cloud via Desk Connect, Desk.com provides 12 pre-built integrations to connect phone systems directly into Desk.com.

Perspective

If you believe, as I do, that customer service and support are becoming the ultimate differentiator, baking opportunity management into the core Desk.com service offering makes sense. As discussed in Cloud Is The New Normal for SMBs—But Integration Isn’t, integration is key for SMBs, who may adopt several cloud solutions, but lack the resources to integrate them, and end up frustrated that they don’t talk to each other. This new capability facilitates the natural connection between sales and service, which may be even more important for SMBs than for larger businesses, which can more easily compete on scale and price.

However, Desk.com is giving companies another choice when it comes to CRM. On the surface, choice is great. But Desk.com will need to educate customers to help them make the best choice. While the answer may be obvious for existing Desk.com customers, prospects will need guidance to get their “just right” solution. Will the new service opportunity management built into Desk.com suffice, or should they use it in conjunction with Salesforce CRM and/or SalesforceIQ? Desk.com will need to clarify where the capabilities overlap and where they don’t.

More broadly speaking, Desk.com also needs to elevate the conversation among SMBs about the importance of providing exceptional customer service. Unfortunately, SMBs improving customer experience and retention comes in at #4 in terms of SMBs’ top business goals, and customer service may not get the same priority as sales. Helping SMBs understand customers’ rising service expectations, how to meet or exceed them, and the critical link between service and repeat and referral sales is critical to fuel SMB uptake of customer service solutions.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Challenges Slide1

That said, Desk.com’s newest move is yet another sign that its team is in the forefront of Salesforce’s new strategy and investments to accelerate growth in SMB, and will likely continue to play a pivotal role in moving these plans forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Using Cloud Analytics to Make Big Data Actionable For SMBs

abstract data

“Big data” is a big buzzword in the IT industry—and for good reason. Basically, we’re doubling the amount of digital data that we create every two years, according to the EMC Digital Universe Study. Think about all of the different types of information that’s moved from physical to digital form just over the last several years.

Doctors have moved from paper charts to electronic medical records; merchants have moved from paper credit card imprinters to POS terminals to virtual terminals to mobile payment devices. Internet of Things (IoT) technology is equipping objects—from Fitbits to traffic sensors to seismographs—to record, report and receive data, and create entirely new digital data streams. And everyone is growing their digital footprint on myriad of social networks, and with the companies they do business with,

Organizations that can effectively harness and use this information can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t: SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that SMBs that have deployed analytics solutions are 14% more likely than peers to expect revenues to rise than peers that rely on spreadsheets for business analytics.

But let’s face it—most small and medium businesses (SMBs) don’t have dedicated data scientists on staff. Without this type of in-house expertise available, SMBs feel that moving from basic tools that analyze internal, transactional data to a more comprehensive analytics approach is out of reach.

However, a new generation of powerful, yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions are emerging that can help level the analytics playing field for more SMBs.

Cloud Is the New Normal for SMBs

SMB adoption of cloud solutions has grown steadily over the last few years (Figure 1) to become part of the business fabric for most SMBs. In fact, SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that SMB cloud deployments are poised to overtake on-premises deployments in the next year in areas such as collaboration, file sharing and marketing automation.

Figure 1: Trends In SMB Cloud AdoptionSlide1
SMBs are moving to the cloud include because they view it as a more cost-effective, flexible and faster way to deploy IT solutions (Figure 2). Cloud computing take care of IT infrastructure, applications, and ongoing management and support, offering SMBs economies of both scale and skill.

Figure 2: Top Reasons Driving SMB Cloud AdoptionSlide2

Analytics Meets the Cloud

In the analytics space, in which technology is advancing at warp speed, cloud analytics providers are building powerful, yet easy to use analytics solutions that few SMBs would have the resources or expertise to build on their own.

For instance, cloud analytics solutions often utilize database technologies that can deal with both structured and unstructured data, so that you can analyze different types data from both internal and external sources. They also use technologies to speed data processing, number crunching and analytics to deliver analysis more quickly to decision-makers.

Some vendors provide pre-packaged applications that integrate all of the components necessary for analytics solution, including connectors to business solutions; the data model; tools to extract, transform and load (ETL) data; a semantic layer; query and reporting capabilities; and predefined metrics, reports and dashboards.

In addition, cloud analytics providers build their infrastructures and services to support thousands of companies. This means they can offer customers on-demand scalability to adjust resources up or down as needed for peak decision-making times, such as during the holiday season for retailers.

Cloud analytics also gives everyone access to the same information in real-time. Instead of trying to reconcile data from different spreadsheets and applications, everyone is automatically on the same page in terms of data so they can reach consensus and make decisions more quickly.

As important, cloud analytics solutions are often designed for business users, offering capabilities such as:

  • User-friendly interfaces, with guided discovery to make it easier to ask the questions that will lead to “aha” moments and insights.
  • Visualization tools that turn rows of data into visuals that represent what the data says in intuitive ways.
  • Natural language capabilities so users can easily query the data.

With these capabilities baked in, SMBs can start thinking about moving beyond descriptive analysis, which provides insight into the past to answer, “What has happened?” to more sophisticated analysis, including:

  • Predictive analytics, which use statistical models and forecasts techniques to understand the future and to answer, “What could happen?” For instance, you could use predictive analytics to anticipate customer behavior and purchasing patterns, predict sales profitability trends, or forecast inventory demand.
  • Prescriptive analytics, which use optimization and simulation algorithms to provide advice on possible actions to answer, “What should we do?” For example, Google’s self-driving car uses prescriptive analytics to decide whether and when the car should change lanes on highway by anticipating what might be coming in terms of traffic and other drivers.

SMB Preference for Cloud Analytics Is Growing

As in other solution areas, more SMBs are opting to analytics solutions in the cloud (Figure 3). SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows among the SMBs that have purchased or upgraded an analytics solution in the past 24 months, 62% selected an on-premises solution, while 38% chose a cloud option. Looking ahead, however, just 40% of SMBs that are planning to purchase and/or upgrade analytics solutions are planning to buy an on-premises solution, while 42% are planning to use a cloud offering, and 18% have yet to decide.

Figure 3: SMBs’ Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods for Business Intelligence/AnalyticsSlide3

Summary and Perspective

At a time when information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, SMBs need to be able to easily access, understand, analyze, report and act on critical information. With the right tools, decision-makers can spot new opportunities, avoid mistakes and identify small problems before they mushroom into big ones.

Fortunately, more vendors are building powerful yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions that are much easier to “layer” on top existing data than in the past. Designed for business users, these solutions offer user-friendly interfaces, guided discovery, visualization tools and natural language capabilities to help bring data to life.

While SMBs must still do their homework to determine which of the growing list of cloud analytics solutions will be the best fit for their businesses, the advantages of fact-based decision-making cannot be underestimated. The trend towards cloud analytics will likely strengthen in 2016, as more SMBs continue to opt for solutions that are easy to buy and use and can provide faster and better value to the business.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

 

 

Need CRM? GetApp Can Help You Select The Right CRM For Your Business

crmGetApp is a great site to check out when you are researching CRM software options and other applications to help you run your business. I first got acquainted with GetApp and Christophe Primault, CEO and cofounder when he founded GetApp in 2009, the same year as we started SMB Group.

Since we both share the mission to help SMBs better understand how technology can help their businesses, I’ve worked with GetApp on several occasions. Most recently, I chatted with Suzie Blaszkiewicz, market analyst and content editor at GetApp, to provide some perspectives on their new report which ranks the Top 25 Small Business CRM apps. I spoke with Suzie to get some more information about how they developed the report, and what they learned from it.

Laurie: Your new report ranked the 25 Top CRM apps on the market today… What were the ranking factors you used to determine this list, and why? Were they weighted in anyway, and if so, how?

Suzie: The five unique factors that we use to determine the ranking of each CRM software product are: reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security. Reviews and media presence are calculated using the number of reviews and their related ratings on GetApp.com, as well as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes that an app has online. These represent popularity among everyday SMB users, as well as relative popularity in the market. Integrations are calculated using the number of integrations a product has, which shows an app’s potential compatibility with other software that a business is already using. Mobile scores are based on the availability of an app for iOS and Android, an important metric for CRM especially because of the increasing need for mobile connectivity. Finally, security is calculated using a vendor completed, 15 question survey, based on the Cloud Security Alliance’s Self Assessment Form.

Together, these five data points provide a good first-look assessment of the leading cloud-based business apps in the industry. Each data point has an equal weighting, but if there is a tie, we prioritize security and reviews scores first, then mobile and integrations, and finally, media presence.

Laurie: It was good to see that GetApp includes ‘security’ as one of the ranking criteria, because sometimes, SMBs don’t consider this as a top factor when comparing CRM systems–even though customer and prospect information is business-critical. Why did you decide to include it, and what did you find in terms of variation in security provided by the vendors you ranked?

Suzie: There’s a lot of concern when it comes to cloud security, and we wanted to explore and factor it into our ranking. Right off the bat we noticed that vendors were (understandably) hesitant to open up about something as sensitive as security, but the questions themselves aren’t too invasive. In fact, most of, if not all the answers to the vendors’ surveys could already be found through publicly available information like Terms and Conditions, but the survey just does a nice job of sifting through all of that. Those that did choose to share their security details shows, if nothing else, that they are transparent about the security measure they take to protect users. We know that security will continue to be an important consideration for users using cloud-based CRM software, especially when contact data is involved.

Laurie: In your report, you discuss the importance for a CRM to be both scalable and mobile. In our research at SMB Group, we also see mobile capabilities as being extremely important to SMBs because smartphones and tablets are becoming the preferred device for many users, but some don’t necessarily think about scalability right out of the gate. What are you seeing in terms of how important scalability is to SMBs?

Suzie: Scalability is a really important factor for small and mid-sized businesses, especially those who are just starting out. If you’re planning to grow, you’re going to want to choose a solution that can grow with you. In the same vein, immediately starting with a mid-market or enterprise level option may prove cumbersome and unaffordable. The key is finding a solution that’s suitable for the current size of your business, but has the potential to handle more volume if the need arises. We think that the results of the CRM ranking turned out to showcase top products that SMBs could adopt and grow with.

Laurie: Agree, it’s a Goldilocks situation. SMBs need CRM that is the best fit for the business now, but can ramp up as needed. We also discussed the increasingly pivotal role that analytics will play in the evolution of CRM,  as well as other applications areas. How do SMBs that use GetApp view the role of analytics in making CRM decisions?

Suzie: We see data and analytics playing a more important role in all types of software, whether that be marketing, project management, but especially when it comes to how businesses are looking to utilize CRM systems. Most vendors now include analytical tools into their CRM feature sets to  help  forecast sales, track KPIs, and see sales performance over time.

Having access to, and being able to utilize the amount of data being gathered by a CRM will become essential in a company’s ability to making informed business decisions. It will make it much easier for SMBs to have a solid grasp on who their customers are, what they want and what the future could hold for their partnership moving forward.

Laurie: The term “social CRM” seems to have been popular for a while, but we don’t hear that term too often anymore. My thoughts are that social has become so pervasive in sales, marketing and service that SMBs expect that their CRM systems will include social capabilities. What role do you see social playing in helping SMBs decide what the right CRM system might be, and what capabilities do they need to have?

Suzie: You’re absolutely right. Social has become a key way to reach out to customers and clients and a key component of the customer relationship process to help meet customers wherever they are. The social media sphere is clearly one of those primary places. No matter which industry an SMB is in, it’s an essential platform for engaging with target customers. But that doesn’t mean that all CRM systems are built equal when it comes to social functionalities.

We see that at a minimum, social media tools in a CRM should include integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as social media monitoring tools and feeds to keep track of, and interact with, conversations taking place around a selected set of products or services.

Similarly, being able to keep up with a contact’s social profiles, see related networks, and reach out via your CRM can be infinitely helpful. Being able to do this can give powerful insight into who a customer is and what their purchase decisions rely on. Whether they fit into a ‘persona’ that an SMB has determined, or remain as a personalized customer, a robust CRM allows for this kind of understanding.

Laurie: Yes, social really has evolved to become part of CRM fabric, and I think that mastering social engagement can really help SMBs to level the playing field against larger competitors.

Suzie, I really want to thank you for shedding more light on your new report, and providing these kinds of comparisons to help SMBs sort through the many CRM solutions available to determine what will work best for them.