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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Digital transformation and employee empowerment in modern midmarket

A Techaisle survey of nearly 900 midmarket firms in the US found that 42% believe that digital transformation is a key to employee empowerment. In an era where employees are expected to move fluidly across a wide range of tasks – and where staffers and contractors expect to be able to work at any time, from any location, with access to any data source they might require – employee empowerment is a key factor in driving corporate responsiveness, staff recruitment and retention and bottom-line success. No wonder improving workforce productivity is #1 in the list of midmarket business priorities.

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Digital transformation offers a path to translating the promise of core technologies, such as mobility and cloud, into new empowerment and process options, via the creation of a connected workplace where applications and collaboration systems seamlessly connect to the anytime/anywhere/anyplace/any data demands of the modern workforce. And this digital transformation evolution leads in turn to realization of the other top issues shown above: reduced cost, increased profitability and growth, and better processes and customer outcomes.

The constraints
It is important that the channel step up to helping clients to build digital transformation strategies – because midmarket firms are struggling with a wide range of challenges that impede the evolution to an empowered workforce. From a workforce perspective, digital transformation demands change within both IT and the workforce as a whole. The key digital transformation challenges identified by midmarket firms – are lack of skills, a risk-averse culture and lack of adequate technology to support digitization initiatives.

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The third of these issues, adequate technology, is often a digital transformation stumbling block for midmarket IT organizations. The digital transformation vision for employee empowerment includes self-service access to needed applications and data; the reality of many IT shops includes an inability to integrate data across different systems and to deliver it securely on an any place/any device/any application basis, and a mobility strategy that falls short of corporate requirements for security and data protection, auditability and disaster recovery.

The second issue, a risk-averse culture, extends beyond IT to executives who have not yet grasped the potential benefits associated with digital transformation – or, in the context of a fast-moving economy, the need for change. In some cases, this may simply reflect a desire to continue with ‘business as usual,’ while in others, it may stem from an inability to see how their firms can bridge the gap from their current reality to a brighter digital transformation future.

The top issue, lack of skills, is one that needs to be addressed by the channel. It will be years – possibly, decades – before digital transformation skills are so common that every midmarket firm has depth in both IT and in the workforce at large. Until that time, the channel needs to provide leadership to its midmarket clients: it needs to deliver the IT skills and guidance needed to evolve core technology to the point where it supports digital-transformation-ready connected solutions, and it needs to provide the advice that business leaders need, in order to understand and capitalize on the many business benefits that are gained from employee empowerment.

Bridging the gap
Laozi once said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. With respect, though, he was not correct: a long and complex journey begins with a vision, and a plan, and proceeds to the steps along the path. What does this mean to growth-focused channel members looking to help clients to ‘bridge the gap’ to employee empowerment?

  • From a business perspective, ‘bridging the gap’ means helping executive clients to see the productivity, profitability, agility and innovation potential of an empowered workforce – and perhaps, illustrating as well the possible threat associated with being late to the digital transformation party
  • From a technology perspective, ‘bridging the gap’ means delivering a roadmap that shows how current infrastructure can follow a logical path to support for social, self-service and connected, ubiquitous data while enhancing security, backup, audit and DR
  • From a skills perspective, midmarket firms need access to professionals who can define the path from basic IT potential to real business benefit – and will find that guidance in the channel, from firms that have themselves made the leap into the digital transformation (DX) future.

Employee empowerment begins with a vision – and a plan. Midmarket clients urgently need advisors who can deliver both – and the business benefits that are unlocked by DX-empowered employees.

Senior executives in midmarket organizations care about digital transformation – and as a result, channel members can leverage their understanding of key Digital transformation objectives and roadmaps into long-term, sustainable relationships with senior decision makers.

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Dell and Lenovo addressing SMB PCaaS purchase intent

Techaisle’s global survey of 3,996 SMBs shows that 9% of SMBs have adopted PC-as-a-Service (PCaaS) but another 32% who are aware of PCaaS are planning to adopt such. Acquisition of latest technology, potential to reduce IT support workload, and predictable costs are key reasons for using PCaaS. Awareness of PCaaS increases from a low of 21% (unweighted) among small businesses to a high of 64% within 500-999 employee size segments. Research also indicates that the dominant reasons for adopting PCaaS varies vastly by size of business. For example, the two most important reasons for small businesses to move to a PCaaS model are “move from CAPEX to OPEX to free up capital” and “allow PCs to be refreshed faster.” For the larger SMBs, typically upper to midmarket firms in the 500-999 employee size segment range, there are three important reasons to adopt PCaaS – “reduction in IT support and procurement workload,” “option to acquire latest technology faster,” and “reduction in cost of PC deployment.” Interestingly, “predictable costs” is one of the least important reasons for midmarket firms to move to PCaaS as compared to other SMBs.

Survey research also shows cloud SMBs are more likely to adopt PCaaS and refresh PCs than SMBs with an ad hoc cloud approach. Similarly, SMBs with an organization-wide mobility strategy are more open to PCaaS than those with siloed mobility initiatives.

PCaaS or DaaS is a service in which PC hardware, software and lifecycle services are offered on a price per seat per month basis for a fixed term. PCaaS usually includes configuration, deployment, support/maintenance, asset management and end-of-life decommissioning. It provides a predictable monthly pricing for the entire PC lifecycle. The service is an attractive option for the refresh of aging PCs when SMBs do not have sufficient capital for outright PC purchases, choose to use capital elsewhere, or when IT budget is diverted to other more urgent or more strategic projects.

Both Lenovo (WW top PC OEM by unit shipment) and Dell (WW top 3rd PC OEM with 25 quarters of PC unit shipment market share growth) have taken the lead on the PCaaS offering. Lenovo’s service, called Device-as-a-Service (DaaS), has been available for SMBs for over a year; whereas Dell’s service, named as PCaaS for Business, a purpose-built SMB offering, was announced in August of 2018.

techaisle dell lenovo smb pcaas snapshot

The market for PCaaS is currently at an early stage – but there is a market. The total proportion of PCs provisioned/delivered via PCaaS is still relatively small, but this is not a pure development market – an adoption beachhead has been established. Both Dell and Lenovo are creating differentiating factors.

Dell and Lenovo PCaaS differences

With great market awareness, especially in the Asia/Pacific region and globally within enterprise customers, Lenovo offers DaaS from “the pocket to the data center,” that is, from smartphones (Lenovo owns Motorola) to servers, including PCs. One of the key Lenovo differentiators is flex-pause which is specifically suited for SMBs that are subject to seasonal cycles. These SMBs can shut off their PCs, put them on the shelf for a three-month period and not be billed for when the PCs are not in use. Flex Pause is typically offered to larger SMBs who require more complex solutions and not typically available through the SMB pro store or channel. However, Flex down and Flex up is available through the channel. A second and very important differentiation is that SMBs can start with Lenovo DaaS with only one PC as compared to Dell’s minimum requirement of 20 PCs.

Another differentiation between Lenovo and Dell is Lenovo’s offering for SMBs to purchase DaaS via SMB pro store on Lenovo.com by selecting any of six pre-defined bundles that best suit SMBs’ needs. Lenovo’s bundles are very different from HP’s three - good, better, best - bundles. If an SMB’s requirements do not fit specifically into one of the three HP bundles, SMBs end up paying for more than what they would use, or they are forced to choose a “lesser” bundle thereby missing some services they really would like to have. Dell does not have any pre-configured bundles and allows SMBs to select from its full catalog of commercial PCs.

Self-purchase through Lenovo’s eCommerce SMB pro store is ideal for SMBs in the PCaaS market for 1 to 100 PC units. For SMBs considering more than 100 units Lenovo Financial Services has established a platform with its larger channel partners that allows SMB customers to purchase directly from the channel. This empowers channel partners to either resell services that Lenovo provides or add their own deployment and recovery services thereby giving the channel an opportunity to layer on their high-margin services and still receive benefits from LFS (which is able to convert the entire solution into a subscription service). Dell provides its channel partners with two options – resell PCaaS or Co-Deliver. In the resell option, partners sell but Dell delivers services that includes deployment, support and asset recovery; where as in the co-delivery option, partners must have a Service Delivery Competency before they can deliver ProDeploy Plus and ProDeploy as part of the PCaaS solution.

Both Dell and Lenovo are taking leadership positions in the PCaaS solution offering for SMBs. Lenovo has a flexible offering with many different routes to purchase but has been relatively quiet in its SMB marketing efforts. Dell has a structured yet adaptive offering with two specific routes to purchase and has begun a purposeful push into the SMB market segment.

PCaaS is quite new and both Dell and Lenovo have focused on the enterprise segment that requires deeply complex and bespoke solutions which has resulted in a relatively slower than forecast adoption by many research firms. All major PC OEMs – Dell, Lenovo and HP have gotten ahead of their skis on a slick slope. True market opportunity lies within the SMB segment, yet it is not the easiest business sector to navigate, with or without skis. “Land and expand” is an overused term in today’s IT market, but it is an appropriate description of the PCaaS opportunity. PC OEMs that can establish initial relationships with leading-edge IT mature SMB buyers can both expand within these accounts and benefit from longer-term adoption intent from less IT mature SMBs who will come to see the benefits enjoyed by their peers/competitors.

PCaaS - an answer to PC refresh deficit

With the move towards multiple screens – smartphones and/or tablets in addition to PCs – businesses have a more complex and expensive device portfolio. One effect of the increased number of devices has been that PC refresh cycles have become longer, or have faded away altogether, as SMBs react to demands for acquisition and upgrade of other devices.

The consequence of this ‘refresh deficit’ is an aging PC population. Techaisle global survey data shows that between 70% to 85% of SMBs, depending upon mature or emerging market country, have 4+ years’ old PCs and 32% to 35% of PCs are 4+ years’ old. Although between 64% to 85% of SMBs may replace older PCs, only 18% to 24% of older PCs may get replaced. The magnitude of the “older PC problem” is most pronounced in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, UK, Germany, Indonesia and Brazil. Many of these countries, including the US, are ready for increasing PCaaS awareness and adoption. Increased experience and comfort with multiple types of cloud services and ability to off-load PC deployment and support workloads will enable SMBs to be more proactive in seeking PCaaS solutions by capitalizing on their understanding of cost benefits.

Digital transformation and operational efficiency for the modern midmarket

Senior executives in midmarket organizations care about digital transformation – and as a result, channel members can leverage their understanding of key DX objectives and roadmaps into long-term, sustainable relationships with senior decision makers.A Techaisle survey of nearly 900 midmarket firms in the US found that 59% believe that digital transformation is a key to operational efficiency, streamlining processes within the business. In fact, operational efficiency is the most important issue driving digital transformation for most advanced, mainstream and least advanced midmarket firms.

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Looking at the figure above, there is a clear progression as firms move from ‘siloed’ to ‘holistic’ DX strategies. The focus of innovation moves from containing IT costs to establishing IT sustainability – the ability to effectively manage IT delivery into the future. And primary business objectives also evolve, moving from a need to control operational cost to focus on profitability and product/process quality. IT advisors who can ‘connect the dots’ from tactical to strategic DX outcomes earn the opportunity to work with executive sponsors on long-term transformation roadmaps.

It is important that the channel step up to helping clients to build DX strategies – because midmarket firms are wrestling with a wide range of obstacles to digital transformation adoption. The ‘top 10’ list of midmarket DX inhibitors includes a lack of skills (the #1 impediment, cited by 31% of midmarket firms), reluctance to change current practices and corporate risk aversion, inadequate installed technology and a lack of investment capital for new systems, and an inability to build a compelling business case; lack of an executive sponsor and of technical leadership to support adoption of DX are also significant constraints.

Trusted channel members can help executive clients to address at least half of the top DX impediments. By working with executives to plot a DX path to operational excellence, the channel can provide the business case that underpins executive sponsorship for DX initiatives. And by investing in the technology skills needed to facilitate digital transformation – by delivering technical leadership – the channel can bridge the gap between the capabilities needed to achieve the DX vision and the constraints imposed by legacy systems and change-wary staff and management.

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It’s said that Henry Ford once claimed that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But that’s not really true. Ford knew that people wanted to move faster and farther – they wanted to see and do things that they could not previously achieve. He was responding to the underlying, driving desire, and moving beyond the current constraints.

The midmarket is clearly looking for its own innovative suppliers – firms that are able to deliver the operational excellence associated with digital transformation by finding ways to move beyond current constraints. In collaboration with suppliers who are capable of supporting the whole journey from legacy to DX, channel leaders will establish the technical and operational roadmaps that their clients need to make the leap into the ‘next stage’ of competition – helping the clients who depend on them to build capabilities that are attuned to the needs of the digital business world.

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Power of Dell for the SMB and Midmarket IT Stack

The question of whether an SMB IT buyer benefits most from a strategy of working with a single or primary supplier responsible for integration and management of all resources, or whether it is better to procure individual components, systems and services from a larger group of ‘best of breed’ suppliers, is nearly as old as IT itself. The question is especially important to SMBs, which generally have limited internal resources, and would benefit from third party integration and streamlined procurement processes. Techaisle has observed a trend towards a more holistic procurement strategy as small businesses encounter increasing requirements for cross-product integration supporting digital business practices and develop greater appreciation for the value of a trusted technology advisor.

Preference for a single supplier

Over time, Techaisle’s SMB research has consistently found that a large proportion of SMB buyers would be comfortable dealing with a single primary vendor if that firm was able to supply all of the technology required to deliver on the full scope of IT/business requirements. Taken as a whole, the commentary from those in favor of a single supplier strategy highlight three imperatives:

  1. Breadth of product portfolio matters
  2. Services matter
  3. Economics matter

The SMB IT solution stack

Figure below illustrates the Techaisle SMB & Midmarket IT solution stack. It is comprised of four main sections. At its core, the stack defines an SMB’s core systems (compute infrastructure) requirements. The software stack is positioned at the top of the systems components. The left-hand side of the figure highlights major categories included in the services stack. The right-hand side of the figure contains many of the major categories that comprise the security stack. A clearly-defined IT stack matters to a definition of what the ‘art of the possible’ looks like in the SMB IT world.

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