Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 5: SMBs Place a Premium on Protection

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The last of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “SMBs place a premium on protection”

protectionKalynn: Okay, one more question for you. I really wanted to ask you about this particular trend in your report because of what happened with the Sony hack. We talked about the cloud, we’re talking about technology solutions and yet there’s going to be the other side of the fence where people say yeah but once you put everything in the cloud and once you’re connected there you’re leaving yourself open to hackers and any other kind of malicious things that are going on. How am I going to protect my business from them?

Laurie: Right. Buying security and backup solutions and protection from hackers, whatever kind of thing that comes under that data protection umbrella that you could think of. It’s kind of like insurance, until the disaster strikes we’re kind of like oh, do I really need that? Do I really want to spend x amount on that? Again, this is another area where many smaller companies may have bitten off one part of the problem. They may be using something for antivirus and anti-spyware and things like that, but maybe they’re not backing things up in a way that makes sense that’s going to protect them. Maybe they have a kind of spotty device control situation. Yeah, we’ve got all the right security measures in place for our desktops and our laptops, but we haven’t really thought about it for mobile yet, right?

Kalynn: There’s so many parts to the puzzle now.

Laurie: Yeah, exactly, so there’s way more moving parts, there’s the traditional apps and infrastructure, desktops and servers, there’s the cloud apps, social, mobile, and really the other big thing is that your own data and data you may need that is your own business data may reside in more places since it’s on all these devices. How do you control, manage, and protect that and I think some of these big hacks and data breaches and everything else like at Sony and Home Depot, eBay. I just went and Googled 2014 data breaches and it was crazy. You’re never going to prevent every kind of issue in your company but I think it’s something that I would hope at least that more small businesses are going to say hey, we need to at least do a health check on the basics here, on devices, on data loss prevention, on security which will get into spyware, the hacking and all that, and overall disaster recovery. If you do have your own servers what if your building gets flooded in a hurricane? Do you have that all backed up somewhere? I think with these really high-profile things obviously we’re all learning, there’s huge financial, and legal, and brand ramifications if your data isn’t protected. I think that more small businesses will say hey, I have to do a health check here and a sanity check, and make sure my business isn’t going to go down because something is hacked or data is lost or stolen, or it’s just an act of God.

Kalynn: Right. You know, it surprises me. I talk to a lot of IT people, IT digital marketing are good sources of referral for one another so I end up talking to a lot of IT people. It amazes me when they tell me stories about not just individual business owners, but rather significantly sized small businesses or mid-sized businesses that don’t have any kind of backup. They’ve got their own little server farm in a basement somewhere and they think that that’s good enough, that they have control over their data. You really have to stop and think.

Laurie: You have to. I don’t have the statistics off of the top of my head but if you Google any kind of disaster that’s happened, Hurricane Sandy, or anything really. If you take a look at any of these disasters you find an enormously high percentages of small businesses end up going out of business because of the disaster. A lot of times it’s because IT suffered so much damage in terms of losing records, losing customer information, everything you need, all that information you need to run your business.

Kalynn: And it’s all preventable, that doesn’t have to happen.

Laurie: Much of it is preventable. But it is overwhelming to think about, just like a lot of these technology areas but you don’t need to think of it all and do it all yourself because the important thing would be to engage with a local provider or a bigger company that would probably be online then who can help you kind of run through the basics and make sure you’ve covered at least 80%. It’s like the 80/20 rule, you’re not going to probably be able to account for everything but you can probably pretty easily get the most important stuff covered.

Kalynn: And that is very true, and I agree, the 80/20 rule is terrific. I wrote a blog post on it once. I’m such a big believer and there’s so many ways you can apply it. That’s a good way to look at it, rather than let this whole thing overwhelm you as you’re planning for 2015, even if you’ve already written your plan for 2015 go back and look at it and say did I really take into account protecting my data and protecting my customers, and my employees, and my business in general so that should something catastrophic, whether intentional or not, happen, then I’m prepared for that.

Laurie: Even if you’re a very small business and you’re a solo business and let’s say your revenues were around $80,000 but if you were to lose all the information about your customers, about billing, about whatever it is you have that might mean you don’t have any revenues the next year.

Kalynn: Yeah, could you come back from that? So think in terms of the worst case scenario and what would that do to your business?

Laurie: Right, or if you’re not protecting your customers’ information and that somehow gets compromised, your reputation is down the tubes. So in that case it’s not like you’ve lost it but it’s been hacked into and those customers no longer want to do business and don’t trust you.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 4: KPIs Trump ROI and TCO as the New “Show Me” Metric

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The fourth of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Kalynn: Now there’s a very interesting trend that I want you to talk about and that has to do with key performance indicator (KPIs), that versus return on investment, ROI, because in digital marketing the thing that small business has been saying all along about social media is, “but what’s the return on my investment? If I pay a company to do this how soon am I going to be on the front page of Google? Or how often is my phone going to ring?” Those are very hard things to determine and they’re very hard things to track quite often because a lot of what goes on in digital is similar to networking. What’s the ROI of networking? I don’t know. So talk to me about these key performance indicators versus return on investment.

Laurie: I think historically, the vendors anyway, in white papers and other kinds of educational collateral, have tended to focus on proving that their solutions can return value via these return on investment type of models and analysis, which honestly are kind of complex and very big picture. You have to factor in everything to an ROI. Likewise there’s another thing called a total cost of ownership calculation where you have to figure out all the money you invested for a solution and how much that solution is going to cost you over let’s say a five-year period. The assessments and metrics, while they can be a bit beneficial, they’re usually kind of vague and they’re very dependent on nuance measurements.Honestly, I’ve yet to run into very many small and medium businesses that every do any kind of ROI or TCO calculation at this big picture level because they’re very complicated to do, and time-consuming.

So what we’ve been seeing is there’s something that most companies have been measuring for years, whether or not they call it KPI, but key performance indicators. These are more discrete metrics. Some of them are general, for instance, what’s the time it takes to close your financial books, right? Probably most companies have that function because hopefully they’re making some money and they have to close the books. Are you doing that with a shoebox full of stuff or are you doing that with Excel, or are you doing that with QuickBooks, how are you doing that, what’s your process, and how much time it’s taking you is a key performance metric.

Then there are also metrics that are also very industry specific. For e-commerce we might want to measure things like conversion rates, what is our rate of visitors to the website that actually convert into paying customers? A nonprofit might want to measure the number and increase in donors and the average contribution per donor. There are a lot of different KPIs, the nice thing about KPIs is that they give small and medium businesses more specific very actionable insights on business performance so they can see where they’re doing well and kind of measure and monitor where they need improvement. What we’re seeing is a lot of vendors starting to kind of cater to this more specific measurement requirement and giving small and medium businesses more information about the kind of metrics and benefits that existing customers are getting for their key workflows and business processes.

I think if you’re contemplating any kind of new business solution it really makes sense to seek these out to really understand okay, what were the specific areas of the business solution impacted, and how, and by how much, how much time did it reduce? If it was a revenue metric how did it affect revenues? If it was a conversion rate what was the number or the percentage of new customers that are converting? How did that change that? Repeat customer sales, whatever it is, but I think this more discreet metric is a good way to go for small business because I think it will give you a lot more actionable information and the solution is going to give you the kind of results that you’re going to need.

Kalynn: They seem much more concrete for small businesses. If it’s the kind of thing that you can put on an Excel spreadsheet every month and track and see a trend line that’s either going up or going down then you feel that you have some sort of control over it. Was it Peter Drucker? Who said that if you’re not measuring it then you can’t do anything about it? One of those business gurus, right?

Laurie: Yeah. I remember that quote.

Kalynn: It was something like if you’re not measuring something then how do you ever expect to be able to change it because you don’t really know what’s happening, anecdotal stuff is not going to help you.

Laurie: As a matter of fact a lot of the vendors we’ve been talking about are using analytics to build in these reporting capabilities to help you see those metrics in your own business, more easily. They are kind of taking that oh I’ve got to be a data scientist out of the equation so the rest of us can understand what’s going on in our business. For instance, Intuit is providing a service where you can benchmark yourself against other companies in your industry on some of these KPIs. For instance if you’re a salon and spa owner in the northeast you can say this is kind of what my customer retention rate looks like, repeat business or up selling, selling product with the service, whatever you want to measure. Then you can also opt in to get aggregate information from people with similar businesses. So you can see am I ahead? Am I behind? Then focus on the areas that you need to improve.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Top Tech Trends, Part 2: The Internet of Things (IoT) Comes Into Focus

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.

the-internet-of-things-300x210Kalynn: Now I would like you to talk to me about the Internet of things. First of all not everyone will have heard that term so describe what that means and what it means to us as businesses.

Laurie: Exactly. Internet of things is really interesting, and you’re right, a lot of people have no idea what it means and even if they have some kind of glimmer of an idea that’s kind of where it stops. The IT vendors out there and the prognosticators have been forecasting very big growth, or intelligent connected devices of all types, so think anything from Apple Smart Watch or Google Glass to sensors and manufacturing equipment or maybe you’ve heard of these smart parking meters. The whole idea between internet of things is that you can have these devices kind of seamlessly connected, and you as a user, you don’t have to necessarily do anything but the device is doing something for you. An easy to understand example is something called Tile, which is a little thing you clip on or paste on to your keys or your glasses or something like that, and when you can’t find those things you can get a signal from that tile as to where they are.

Kalynn: Oh that’s brilliant. I hadn’t even heard of that.

Laurie: Kalynn, it’s probably a must for us Baby Boomers, right?

Kalynn: Wow. I have a husband and three sons. Of the four of them, three of them lose their stuff all the time.

Laurie: You know, I really think, obviously for Baby Boomers this is probably going to be a huge hit, right?

Kalynn: Yeah, I love that idea.

Laurie: They’re inexpensive. I’m trying to think, I think they’re like $24.99 or something, but it’s a great way to find your stuff.

Kalynn: Now you know what? I’m even thinking that you could attach this to your dog or cat’s collar or to a tag?

Laurie: I don’t know what the limits are, but it’s pretty much designed for the stuff that we misplace, but I guess our dogs kind of misplace themselves.

Kalynn: Especially cats, they like to hide and you don’t know where they are.

Laurie: This is just kind of just starting to really spark imagination in the consumer end of things. People are starting to get an idea of things like this and smart watches, and FitBits, those are another smart device, right? But I think a lot of small, medium business owners, they say well what does that have to do with my business? I don’t get the business case for me, right? We’re starting to see some use case scenarios come out that I think just like Tile or FitBit does in the consumer space bring this into better focus to have people start getting more ideas about how they could use internet of things.

For instance, a couple of the examples I mention in the report are RFID, Radio Frequency Identification, which has been used in logistics and packaging and all that kind of thing, distribution for a long time. It’s usually been used in kind of closed loop systems for more high value goods because it hasn’t been necessarily easier and cheap to implement. With internet of things technology it will really bring down the cost and make it more practical let’s say for a small retailer to use it so they could track everything with devices that would be in concept very similar to something like Tile with RFID capabilities that would give them better inventory accuracy, if something is purchased in the checkout it would deplete the supply by one, and also of course help them reduce theft. Another idea I like is this whole idea of beacons. Not only could you use beacons in stores, beacons are like indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with the smart phone or other computing devices via computer.

Somebody was telling me the other day about a trucking company that is installing beacons. They have a fleet of about 100 trucks and the beacons are set up to monitor all kinds of things like fuel, mileage, and when maintenance is due and inspections are due. This can really help this company reduce their vehicle downtime and cut costs. I think we’re still very early going but I do believe in 2015 we’re going to see a lot of examples of SMBs putting Internet of things to work and getting value. I think one of the neat things about it is that with the Internet of things you as a user, once you deploy the solution, you don’t have to do much. For instance in that trucking example, the trucker doesn’t do anything, this thing is just hooked under the dashboard and that’s that. You don’t have to worry about user adoption and will the user learn to use it and like it and all that. I think at the end of the day this could be a really great area for small businesses. The trick will be a lot of this will probably be industry specific, so you have to see what are other people in my industry doing and that might help a lot of small businesses get good ideas.

Kalynn: You’ve already got my brain sort of turning because the trucking example reminded me, I have a car for the first time that has OnStar. People have either owned that kind of car or they’ve seen commercials on TV but the OnStar system sends me emails when my oil life had reached a certain level in the car. It sent me an email and said you really need to change your oil and stuff like that. I’m realizing that there are certain kinds of small businesses like HVAC contractors and businesses of that nature. It helps them, not just when someone has an emergency and they need you to come in, or you get a big project and it’s one time construction, but it’s the maintenance of people’s systems.

Laurie: Maintenance of anything really, vending machines, whatever, it just holds huge potential to change the way you get information about devices so you can service them.

Kalynn: You can be proactive.

Laurie: Yes, keep them shipshape.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 1: Cloud is the New IT Infrastructure for SMBs

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The first of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.”

White Clouds in Blue SkyKalynn: Welcome, this is Kalynn Amadio and you are listening to ACT LOCAL Marketing for Small Business, and I want to introduce you to a previous guest of the show. I can tell you that Laurie’s previous podcasts were some of the most downloaded in this show’s history. Laurie, I’ll have to look up how many downloads you have altogether, I haven’t done that in a long time, it’s always fun.

Laurie: Hi Kalynn, great to talk to you again too.

Kalynn: I’ll tell you, I mentioned that the couple of other interviews you’ve done with me, because Laurie always looks into her crystal ball and tells us what is on the horizon, what can we be thinking about, and people must really like this Laurie because they download those two podcasts that have predictions more so than many of the other interviews that I’ve done over the years, so kudos to you.

Laurie: Thank you Kalynn, that’s great to hear. We try to put these technology trends into a language that us mere mortals that are not necessarily technologists can understand and relate to in terms of our businesses.

Kalynn: It’s important to have some smarty-pants people like you looking at all this stuff and making it understandable for the rest of us. Now you have a report that’s going to be coming out soon that are the small and medium SMB groups, Top Ten Small and Medium Business Technology Trends for 2015. We won’t have time to go through all ten of them but I have cherry picked half of them that I’m hoping that we will get through because several of them will impact local businesses, small businesses, a lot of the baby boomers that I deal with and marketing related things. The first one I want to ask you about is the cloud, right? A lot of businesses still get confused about what that means. I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to explain what the cloud actually is, but tell us about the cloud as the new IT infrastructure for small to mid-size businesses.

Laurie: Okay, fantastic. Our first prediction, as a matter of fact, is that cloud is the new infrastructure for SMBs.   What we’ve seen over the years, and believe it or not, this concept of cloud computing has been around since really the late 1990s, but it kind of got off to a rocky start for a lot of reasons that we don’t really need to go into in detail. Suffice it to say that maybe in the beginning the concept was a little ahead of its time in terms of the available technology and network bandwidth and things like that. We’ve basically seen cloud really take off in the last few years, especially since the recession. Interestingly what we’re finding is the cloud is definitely enabling a lot of smaller companies that no way no how could they have ever been able to implement a lot of different technology solutions on their own. The cloud is kind of leveling the playing field because they don’t have to have in-house technology expertise to deploy these solutions. We’re really seeing in our research more and more small businesses believe very strongly that technology solutions help them improve their business outcomes or run their businesses better. The cloud has really been a way for these guys to get those solutions that can really help them fulfill their business goals without having a lot of IT staff.

Kalynn: When you talk about cloud IT solutions, give us some household names.

Laurie: There are a million of them. You now have QuickBooks Online, Intuit QuickBooks Online, which has now I think probably 750 or 800,000 customers are running QuickBooks online. That’s something obviously kind of a household name for small businesses. Also vendors like Salesforce.com, InfusionSoft, or ReachLocal, which has a great marketing automation solution for local businesses. There are lots of them virtually in every solution category. Most of us are already using cloud-based email solutions for using Gmail or Office 365 or something like that. Really almost every single category of applications is now available in the cloud. What we see in our last survey that we did in 2014 earlier this year is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution which is the kinds I just mentioned, like accounting, marketing and sales and things like that. 87%, almost as many, are using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. That could be for security, or backup, or file sharing like DropBox and Box.net, and things like that. We really see small and medium businesses it is already mainstream for them, but a lot of them are only using maybe one or two. I think as these businesses really see the benefits of automating parts of their businesses with technology and have a good experience with cloud solutions we’re going to see that cloud expansion rise even further. There really aren’t a lot of barriers to adopting a cloud-based solution.

Kalynn: Right, and it really saves you in your budget because you don’t have to maintain any of this infrastructure or these types of software yourself. They’re so helpful.

Laurie: It’s really helpful. One of the big sticking points for cloud is that while it reduces a lot of the technology barriers, it hasn’t helped a lot of small businesses in terms of reducing business expertise barriers. In other words, you may have a very successful business but you yourself may not be an accounting expert or a marketing expert, or whatever, but we’re starting to see especially in what I would call some of the newer cloud solutions more expertise built-in and more kinds of hand holding services provided, and a big emphasis on user experience, creating a user experience that makes it much easier for people that aren’t subject matter experts to understand how they can most effectively use the solution in their business for better marketing, accounting, or whatever.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

Report Card: 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions

–by Laurie McCabe and Sanjeev Aggarwal, SMB Group

Before developing our 2013 predictions, we wanted to assess how we did on our 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions. Here’s our take–please let us know what grades you would have given us!

And stay tuned for our Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013, which we will post in a couple of weeks!

Note: On this grading scale, 5 means that we came closest to hitting the mark, and 1 means we missed it entirely.

Prediction Score  Comments
1.     Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets 4 Year-over-year data from our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies indicated that more small and medium businesses (SMBs)* were forecasting flat or decreased IT spending heading into 2012 compared to 2011. Given SMB budget constraints and the plethora of solutions aimed at SMBs, vendors had to work harder to convince budget-constrained SMBs that their solutions would really help address top SMB business challenges to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. More SMBs turned to lower-risk, pay-as-you-go cloud options, and several vendors (IBM, Dell and HP, to name a few) introduced new and/or enhanced financing options to help SMBs overcome financial hurdles.
2.     The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground  5 We identified a distinct category of SMBs that we termed “Progressive SMBs,” who see technology as integral to achieving business goals and to gaining a competitive edge. Progressive SMBs invest more and purchase more sophisticated solutions than their counterparts. Trending analysis from our 2011 to 2012 Routes to Market Studies show that the percentage of SMBs in the Progressive category is growing. Furthermore, Progressive SMBs continue to gain ground over SMBs that skimp on technology in terms of expected business performance.
3.     The SMB Social Media Divide Grows  5 SMB adoption of social media did indeed jump, from 44% to 53% among small businesses (and from 52% to 63% among medium businesses from 2011 to 2012, based on trending analysis in our SMB Social Business Studies. The divide between social media haves and have-nots is also growing: our research reveals that 65% of SMBs that use social business tools anticipate revenue gains, while only 17% of “non-social” SMBs expect revenues to increase.
4.     Cloud Becomes the New Normal 4 SMBs haven’t swapped out all of their on-premises solutions in favor of the cloud–but the puck is clearly moving to the cloud in all application areas. The evolution is continuing at a steady pace, as evidenced by trending analysis in our annual SMB Routes to Market Studies. In some areas, cloud is poised to overtake on-premises solutions. For instance, over 30% of SMBs that purchased or upgraded collaboration, marketing automation, BI and data backup in the past 24 months chose cloud, and over 40% of SMBs planning to purchase solutions in those areas in the next month plan cloud deployments. 
5.     Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications 5 SMBs significantly ramped up mobile business application use and plans in 2012, as evidenced by trending analysis from our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies. More SMBs are providing mobile business apps to employees in categories ranging from CRM to time management to expense reporting.  In addition, adoption of external-facing (for customers, partners and suppliers) mobile apps and websites also rose considerably.  For instance, SMB use of a mobile-friendly website is up 10% among small businesses and 23% among medium businesses.
6.     Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate  3 The avalanche of data generated by cloud, social and mobile has certainly created the need for better analytics. However, year-over year trending data from our SMB Routes to Market Studies reveals a mixed bag in terms of adoption. Use of BI solutions among medium businesses spiked 24% in the past year, but adoption rose just 2% among small businesses. While vendors appear to be doing a good job of developing and marketing BI solutions tailored to the needs of medium businesses, they have not yet figured out the right formula for smaller ones.
7.     Managed Services Meet Mobile 5 We forecast that the explosion of mobile devices and apps, “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon and the increasing concerns about security would spark increased demand for and more solutions to manage mobile on the back-end. Our annual SMB Mobile Solutions Studies show that SMB adoption of mobile management services—from simple device management to comprehensive mobile management platforms—has accelerated rapidly. For instance, 16% of SMBs have already deployed an outsourced mobile management platform, and 30% plan to do so within a year.
8.     The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions 5 Small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies. We hypothesized that the 2008 recession and subsequent layoffs generated a new and often “accidental” breed of entrepreneurs that would spike demand for—and growth of—applications targeted to meet the needs of these businesses. And they have. New and improved cloud-based and mobile apps from traditional small business powerhouses (Sage, Intuit, Microsoft, Google, etc.), SOHO pioneers (Freshbooks, Nimble, Dropbox, Zoho, etc.), and freelance talent sourcing solutions from companies such as Elance and oDesk are making it easier than ever for SOHOs to get their work done.
9.     Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites 4 Trending from our Routes to Market Study Medium businesses shows that overall, use and plans to deploy collaboration solutions is up year-over-year. Low-cost, low-risk, cloud-based collaboration and communications services have made it easier for SMBs to use integrated collaboration tools, while eliminating the inconvenience of using multiple sign-ons and interfaces.The fact that vendors are integrating more into their offerings—such as  Google integrating Google+ hangouts, IBM SmartCloud Engage adding social communities and Citrix adding video capabilities to GoToMeeting—doesn’t hurt either.
10.   The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift. 5 Cloud, social and mobile trends continue to reshape how channel partners must deliver value across the board. SMBs are increasingly choosing to purchase directly from software and cloud vendors in most areas. And Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have gained ground as a purchase channel over VARs in several solution areas, including security, BI and collaboration. The need for more specialized business and/or technology expertise has also made some types of channel players more relevant in each specific solution category than others.

*In SMB Group Syndicated Survey studies, we define small businesses as those with 1-99 employees, and medium businesses as having 100-999 employees.

For more information on our most recent SMB Mobile, Social Business and Routes to Market Studies, please visit our website, www.smb-gr.com, or contact Sanjeev Aggarwal, Sanjeev.aggarwal@smb-gr.com, 508-410-3562.

 

Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012 from the SMB Group

Last week  we published a report card on our last year’s top 10 market predictions for 2011.

Here are the SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012! A more detailed description of each follows below.

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift

2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions in Detail

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets. After the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, the U.S. economy resumed moderate economic growth in 2010—and the SMB outlook for 2011 became fairly bullish. But new economic worries and uncertainties are dampening some SMB outlook. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studyindicated that SMBs are less confident about their revenue prospects for 2012: 56% of small and 63% of medium businesses are forecasting revenue growth for 2012, compared to the 77% of both small and medium businesses that forecasted growth for 2011. And many SMBs are tightening their tech wallets: More are forecasting flat or decreased IT spending for 2012 compared to 2011. To loosen the purse strings, tech vendors must deliver a rock-solid case for how their solutions help address top SMB challenges—which are to attract new customers, grow revenues and maintain profitability. In addition to broadening subscription-based cloud solution options (which offload big upfront investments), more vendors will offer flexible, alternative financing to help ease the financial burden—and gain a leg up on competitors.
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground.That said, we also see a distinct category of SMBs that we are terming “Progressive SMBs.” Despite economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs plan to increase IT spending. These SMBs see technology as a vital tool for business transformation, a mechanism to create market advantage and a way to level the playing field against bigger companies. Although price is still a key factor for Progressive SMBs, they are more likely to rate other factors—such as easier to customize for my business, strong reputation and brand, and ability to provide local service and support—higher than other SMBs when making technology decisions, according to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology and see the results in terms of higher revenue expectations. For instance, 73% of medium businesses that are investing more in technology anticipate revenue increases in 2012, compared to just 17% among those decreasing IT spending. Technology vendors need to develop different marketing campaigns and more sophisticated solutions for Progressive SMBs than for their counterparts to win in this very important segment.
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows. SMB use of social media is rising. According to our 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50% of SMBs already use social media, and another 25% plan to do so within the next 12 months. The study revealed that about half of SMBs take a strategic and structured approach with social media. These “strategically social” companies use social media for more activities, use more channels and are more satisfied with the business results than the other half of SMBs that are still throwing spaghetti on the Facebook wall. These more informal, ad hoc users say that they don’t have enough time to use social media effectively; they can’t decide what social media strategies and tools will work best; it’s too difficult to integrate social media with sales, marketing, service and other business processes; and they are unable to measure value from social media. As new social media tools—from crowd-sourced pricing to video commerce—take shape, SMB social media “haves” will gain business ground on the “have-nots” in an exponential manner. As the have-nots lose ground, they will clamor for better social media guidance and easier-to-use, better integrated and more affordable social media management solutions.
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal. Is the cloud perfect? No. Is it right for every solution and every business? No. But that said, the rate and pace of technological change are in overdrive, and the need for businesses to harness new technology-based solutions—social, mobile, analytics, etc.—to maintain a business edge is rising. Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Studyresults reveal that demand for cloud-based solutions is accelerating in almost all solution areas. For instance, in the past 24 months, only 7% of small businesses purchased or upgraded cloud accounting/ERP solutions, compared with 13% that plan to purchase them in the next 12 months. Areas that show the biggest potential for cloud gains in 2012 are marketing automation, business intelligence/analytics, and desktop virtualization solutions and services. Most SMBs simply don’t have the staff, expertise or capital budgets needed for do-it-yourself IT—and they can’t afford the time it takes to get business payback from a solution that they need to vet, buy, install and deploy in-house. This makes the arguments for cloud computing—reduced capital costs, speed to deploy, and real-time collaboration and visibility—compelling. Demand for anytime, anywhere, any-device mobile access to applications will also accelerate cloud adoption, as many SMBs will want to offload management of mobile applications to a cloud solutions provider too. Enterprise players such as Oracle (with RightNow) and SAP (with SuccessFactors) have already begun their cloud shopping sprees. Look for traditional SMB vendors (Intuit, Microsoft, Sage, etc.) to join in the fun.
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications. In a custom study we completed this summer, SMBs indicated that they plan to significantly increase spending on mobile devices and services in the next 12 months, with the highest jump in the 5-to-49–employee size band. The study revealed that with mobile use of collaboration apps (email, calendar, etc.) now mainstream, SMBs are mobilizing business applications. Some of the strongest categories for SMB current and planned mobile app use are mobile payments (52%), time management (59%), field service (59%), and customer information management (69%). This rapid uptake will also include more vertical apps that are a perfect fit for industry-specific needs, especially given the choice of both smart phone and tablet (read: iPad) form factors. Unfortunately, our crystal ball is cloudy when it comes to predicting if another vendor will be able to give Apple a run for its money in the business-use tablet market.
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate.According to our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, 16% of small and 29% of medium businesses purchased/upgraded a BI solution within the past 24 months, and 16% and 28%, respectively, plan to do so in the next 12 months. The social-mobile-cloud triumvirate will fuel new and increased SMB investments in this area as businesses try to plow through the growing data avalanche to get to the insights they need to grow their businesses. As SMBs try to get a better handle on customers’ and prospects’ opinions and influence networks, interest in sentiment analysis and social graphing solutions will grow. New mobile access capabilities and applications from BI vendors designed to provide SMBs with just the information they need, when and where they need it, will spur interest as well. Finally, our study indicated that roughly a third of SMBs use or plan to use cloud-based BI and analytics solutions. An expanding array of cloud options in this area will make it easier and more affordable for more SMBs to deploy these solutions.
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile.Despite momentum toward the cloud, it will continue to be a hybrid world for a very long time. Many SMBs will continue to use existing on-premises apps and choose on-premises deployment as security, regulatory or other needs dictate. So most SMBs will continue to grapple with IT infrastructure management—even as new mobile device management and governance challenges grow. SMB adoption of mobile phones and tablets is now on par with that of traditional landline phones, according to our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study. With employees more likely to lose a smart phone than a laptop, security issues abound and will only increase. The “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon creates additional concerns, not least of which is to create a firewall between personal and business data. These SMB challenges provide ample opportunity for wireless carriers, networking vendors, MSPs and others that can provide integrated and automated managed services. These are likely to include services that encompass management of cloud-based infrastructure and all end-point devices, from desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones to purpose-built mobile devices; network services to reduce downtime and help optimize the network that mobile access relies on; and support for cloud-based dual-persona solutions on personal mobile devices.
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions.As unemployment has increased, so has the number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants and others choosing to go it alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses without a payroll make up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion. Many entrepreneurs never intended to take this path, but stay solo because they prefer it to going back to the corporate payroll. Others stick it out due to limited employment options. Either way, more accidental entrepreneurs view what they’re doing as a long-term business venture instead of a short-term stopgap. As a result, they see themselves more as business owners than as freelancers or contractors. But many have no intention or desire to hire employees. This will spike demand for—and growth of—applications and services that help them to achieve their business goals without adding employees. Traditional small business powerhouses (Intuit, Sage, etc.), pioneers in the SOHO space (FreshBooks, Shoebox, Zoho, etc.), new start-ups and others will increasingly cater to their needs with solutions that make it easier for them to fly solo—whether from a home office or on the go.
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites. As evidenced in our 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study, the SMB pendulum is swinging from point solutions for voice, communications, social media and collaboration solutions to integrated suites. Medium businesses are leading the charge, with 28% currently using an integrated collaboration suite, and 35% planning to do so in the next 12 months. Small businesses are slower to make this leap, but a transition is under way here too. By moving from disparate point solutions to an integrated offering, SMBs can avoid the hassles of learning to use multiple user interfaces, going to different sites to login and remembering different passwords—in short, things that waste time and frustrate users. They also can lower costs and improve their ability to collaborate effectively. A growing roster of low-cost (or free), easy-to-use integrated collaboration suites (Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, IBM LotusLive and HyperOffice, to name a few) are adding fuel to the convergence fire—although vendors will still need to address the obstacle of user resistance to learning something new.
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift. The trend triumvirate—cloud, social and mobile—is also reshaping the IT channel. These trends are moving the goal posts and changing the ways in which channel partners add value. Cloud computing reduces the need for hardware, software and infrastructure deployment skills, and ups the ante for educational guidance, business process transformation and integration skills. Re-imagined channel partner programs from vendors such as Intacct and IBM’s Software Group have blossomed as they shift partner rewards to focus more on value-add and renewals. Meanwhile, non-traditional IT partners, such as creative and marketing agencies, have stepped in to fill a gap by providing social media and digital marketing services for solutions such as Radian6 and HubSpot. In the mobile domain, partners will need to bring more value to help SMBs develop and implement mobile strategies, and offer solutions to manage mobile devices and applications and provide better network performance, reliability and redundancy. As with any significant inflection point, the cloud-social-mobile trend necessitates that older partner models continue to move aside as new, more relevant ones take shape.

For more information, please visit the SMB Groupweb site at http://www.smb-gr.com, contact us at (508)410-3562 or send an e-mail to information@smb-gr.com