2018 Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, IT Challenges


    Global SMB and Channel Partner Market Research Organization


    US Midmarket Digital Transformation Trends


    US SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption Trends


    US technology adoption trends by SMB IT sophistication


    Understanding SMB & Midmarket Buyers Journey


    SMB & Midmarket Cloud Adoption Trends


    SMB & Midmarket Security Adoption Trends


    SMB & Midmarket Mobility Adoption Trends


    SMB & Midmarket IoT Adoption Trends


    SMB Data You Can Rely On | Analysis You Can Act Upon
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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.

SMB and midmarket Cloud adoption driving increased IT services outsourcing

Techaisle’s SMB cloud computing adoption survey shows that 90% of US SMBs and 77% of SMBs at worldwide level are either using or planning to engage with external professionals for cloud assessment and/or cloud implementation.

Both small and midmarket firms are using outsourcing, but they are doing so in different ways. In many small businesses (and most micro-businesses with fewer than 20 employees), outsourced IT services take the place of internal staff. In midmarket organizations, outsourcing provides specialized skills to augment in-house capabilities, and/or delivers additional bandwidth to address staff shortages.

Drilling down into the US market, data shows that in both small and midmarket businesses these outsourced resources are deployed across a wide range of areas and that cloud is prominent in this mix. There are several reasons why SMBs engage with external professionals and consultants. At least within midmarket businesses, 42% use external providers for cloud implementation whereas 31% of small businesses use consulting organizations for cloud readiness assessment and strategy development. Data further goes on to show that 35% of SMBs usually decide to use the supplier that helps them in formulating cloud strategy. Overall, data finds that 39% of SMBs are planning to outsource cloud migration services within the next one year. Looking at the same data from a regional geography lens, it is found that the trend of outsourcing cloud services is higher than the US in Asia/Pacific, similar in Europe and somewhat lower in Latin America.

There is an important learning in the survey data for channel partners and IT services organizations. Simply reselling cloud solutions (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) is not a long-term and sustainable strategy. They must be the trusted cloud advisor for the SMB end-customer. Fully 80% of midmarket firms planning new cloud initiatives are evaluating cloud options with only 7% focused on evaluating suppliers. Combining this data with the fact that 94% of SMBs are already using some form of cloud solution, one gets a picture of a midsized enterprise market that is in the process of assessing where and how the use of cloud should expand through the enterprise. Small businesses, on the other hand, have a roughly normal distribution across different stages of cloud expansion with 24% reporting that they are gathering information and 30% evaluating suppliers.

It is interesting to note the difference in scale between the two market segments. The midmarket results reflect a more strategic approach to outsourcing focused on the skills that are most important to meeting high-priority, emerging business requirements. This starts with cloud migration and SaaS services, and testing of these applications; advanced software systems like ERP and CRM come next and the other capabilities follow from there. The top three areas that midmarket businesses are planning to outsource are implementation of cloud packages such as ERP/CRM, cloud migration services, and mobility/mobile app development. Small businesses are giving equal importance to many different outsourcing initiatives, such as, cloud infrastructure rollout and support, cloud migration/SaaS services, mobility/mobile app development as well as custom software development.



SMB Channel Partners – Top 10 Business Issues, IT Offerings

Top 10 SMB Channel Partner Business Issues

Figure below from Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner Trends coverage lists top 10 business issues being addressed by SMB channel partners in the next one year - a question that parallels the one that Techaisle uses to develop perspective on SMB buy-side business issues.


There are many ways that SMB channel partners can attack these business issues; in some areas, cloud is part of the problem, while in others, it helps form some of the solution. For example, cloud creates a requirement for new products and processes, which opens opportunity for firms that are effective in rolling out new offerings, but cloud itself is a major source of channel business uncertainty.

Improving productivity as well as improving quality of products and services are the top 2 business issues - they are ranked way higher than business growth and customer acquisition. It makes for a compelling attention that channel partners have realized the shift in technology and its acquisition and SMB channels are struggling to address these issues. Improved productivity is also often seen within the channel as a core attribution of managed services delivery – but growth in managed services portfolios will very likely encompass cloud-based systems. Cloud allows for new offerings to be brought to market quickly. And given the growth of cloud within the SMB market it could be fairly stated that cloud is central to both increasing business growth and keeping pace with competition. The impact of cloud on business activities expands beyond the SMB buy-side community into the channel itself. Cloud’s virtues are therefore apparent in several of the business issues that are of most concern to SMB channel businesses.

It is interesting to point out that "improving sales and marketing" is also among the business issues being addressed by SMB channel partners, but it not within the top 10 business issues.

Top 10 Current & Planned IT Offerings

Figure below lists the top 10 current and planned technology offerings, which can be treated as the starting point and the “next steps” in SMB channel migration. The findings illustrate the breadth of business opportunities available to the SMB channel – and also, the essential pervasiveness of the cloud as well as managed services.


Cloud is at the core of many of the IT solution offerings enumerated in both the “current” and “planned” lists, for example, managed services and of mobility management. It is intrinsic to social media, VDI, desktop as a service and IoT. It is the best, most cost-effective and most scalable approach to supporting collaboration and BI/Big Data. And cloud enablement and management is the key objective of deployments of server virtualization and converged infrastructure, and the key requirement for on premise/off-premise data integration.

Today, many of these IT solution offerings and their associated channel capabilities are largely commingled but within the next three years the depth requirements associated with these will force them to concentrate on some areas and de-emphasize others. Techaisle believes that channel organizations serving the SMB market will become increasingly defined by pursuit of one or two of four primary product/delivery areas.

There will also come points in the SMB Channel Partner migration where the connection between the starting point (for example, mobility) and the next application (for example, Big Data) will become tenuous. These cases will call for partner-to-partner collaboration structured around meeting evolving SMB customer needs. There is already evidence that firms adept in partner-to-partner collaboration are better positioned to build successful businesses in areas such as cloud than those that cling to a "go it alone" approach in all situations (Source: Techaisle’s Winning Strategies of Successful SMB Cloud Channel Partners). Partners and vendors who are effective in inculcating these relationships within their ecosystems will both achieve above-market growth rates. In the meanwhile IT vendors and distributors should really pay attention to the top business issues being faced by SMB channel partners. 


Dell’s desirability increases within SMBs and Channel Partners

Techaisle’s latest SMB and Channel partner research shows that Dell more than doubled its approval scores among channel partners since 2013, and improved 15% among SMB tech buyers compared to 2014. 52% of US SMBs say they like Dell, which is up from 45% in 2014 and 53% of SMB channel partners, up from 26% in 2013. Dell is still vying to acquire a seat at the enterprise CIO table but at least within SMBs and midmarket firms Dell’s impact is being felt.

Dell is in a good place. Bolstered by its decade of purposeful targeted acquisitions and thrust into the center as its competitors disintegrate and regroup. Perhaps, without the confluence of these fortuitous events Dell may have been the engine that could but did not. While it has some ways to go before it reaches its destination, Dell’s end-to-end solutions train is on the move, on the right track and making good progress. Faster, stronger, better infrastructure solutions that span from the center of IT to the edge of network can only fuel growth to a certain extent. In an industry which is vying for the mindshare of buyers, Dell has to rise above with expanded branding and general awareness initiatives, including thought leadership campaigns, and not rely exclusively on its massive sales strengths. There is some good work being done by Dr. Jai Menon, Chief Research Officer & Vice President on technology evolution such as SBDC (Software-based Data Centers), HVC (High Velocity Clouds), NVM (Non-Volatile Memory) and DLP (Data Loss Prevention). Dell is also doing a great job of leading conversations on the importance of entrepreneurship around the globe to help spur innovation, employment and economic growth. Dell acquired more patents in 2014 (20+% growth) than any year in Dell history. However, most SMB buyers are yet unaware about Dell’s full capabilities and investments in these areas and how they affect the future readiness of SMB and midmarket firms' own IT.

Let us break down some key areas of SMB IT investment and Dell’s relevance.


Mobility is a top IT priority for 76% of global SMBs and in US alone SMBs spent US$50B on mobility in 2014 (Source: Techaisle 2015 global SMB and Midmarket Mobility Adoption Study). There is no doubt that Dell has a strong presence in the mobile device segment with its laptops (especially XPS13), and Venue tablets. Dell has chosen not to participate in the Smartphone segment and rightfully so. But question remains: How does Dell stay relevant in emerging economies such as India which have moved overwhelmingly to the mobile phone and are moving rapidly to the smartphone, where Dell is not a significant player? The answer may lie in Dell’s focus on commercial PC segment where the market is both under-penetrated and has low PC to employee density.

SMB mobility is usually defined not by devices but by the workplace where those devices and their users are. Accordingly, SMBs are not only planning to adopt mobility applications, but are also seeking mobility solutions that enable their mobile workforce - specifically solutions that provide management, security and infrastructure needed to connect mobile devices and applications into corporate IT environment. Mobility solution is Dell’s strongest suite of offerings built from various components such as Dell KACE, Dell SonicWALL, Dell Cloud Client Computing (Wyse thin clients), Dell Data Protection software and Dell Mobile as well as Desktop Workspace (Wyse vWorkspace).

However, Dell is not the first mobility solution supplier that comes to mind. A category that is in high growth mode today, which responds to a rapidly-growing SMB market need and drives high spending levels within SMB accounts is clearly attractive to a wide range of potential suppliers. Ordinarily, one would expect to find that large horizontal IT vendors like Dell with its portfolio of mobility security and mobile management offerings have staked out the high ground in a market of this type, and that channel members are acting as guides to their SMB clients. However, data from Techaisle’s SMB Mobility Adoption survey shows that SMB buyers are predominantly turning to specialized firms for mobility solutions.

Recognizing the need to be front and center Dell is investing in training its channel partners on mobility solution offerings but to be really successful Dell must define its offerings in more commonly understood categories - Mobile device management, Enterprise mobile management, Windows-as-a-service, thin clients and mobile app security.


Cloud is no longer a trend that is discrete from mainstream IT. Techaisle’s global SMB and Midmarket Cloud Adoption trends survey data shows that cloud computing is viewed as an IT priority by 96% of US SMBs and a similar percent globally. Within the US alone, SMBs spent US$30B on cloud in 2014. Cloud is established as essential IT infrastructure for SMBs and Techaisle expects cloud momentum to continue as cloud addresses some of the key IT issues faced by SMBs.

Data shows that the larger SMB cloud trend is towards deeper use of SaaS. There is still scope for additional use of cloud infrastructure to replace and/or supplement physical back-office gear, but there is a limit to how much infrastructure is required by an SMB. Dell is a cloud infrastructure supplier with a formidable set of offerings and services which includes its converged infrastructure solutions, cloud client computing capabilities, and infrastructure management and integration solutions for cloud environments. But again, despite its investments, Dell is not the most widely recognized suppliers of converged infrastructure by SMB end-users and SMB channel partners (Sources: Techaisle SMB Converged Infrastructure Adoption Study & SMB Channel Partner Trends study). Nor is it mentioned among the top 5 IT suppliers for cloud infrastructure solutions by SMBs as per Techaisle’s recent survey.

But for those SMBs and midmarket firms that are moving rapidly to private or hybrid cloud deployments Dell combines the scale and efficiencies of its PowerEdge FX portfolio with solutions like Active Systems Manager and Dell Cloud Manager to deliver the infrastructure building blocks and management capabilities needed for private or hybrid environments. Furthermore, Dell works closely with partners, such as VMware (for EVO: RAIL) and Microsoft (for Azure) in delivering tightly integrated and engineered cloud solutions. There is tremendous merit in what Dell is doing and specific SMB segments are paying attention. As per Techaisle’s SMB attitudinal segmentation, Dell is becoming a go-to supplier of on-premise cloud infrastructure for “growth-aspiring” and “innovation-driven” SMBs and Midmarket firms.

Big Data

Techaisle’s study on SMB and Midmarket Big Data Adoption and Trends shows that 7 percent of small businesses and 20 percent of midmarket businesses are currently using Big Data solutions and that another 17 percent & 38 percent respectively is planning to adopt within the next 1-2 years. The promise of superior data-driven decision making is motivating SMBs to invest in Big Data technology. This represents a sizable opportunity considering that the segment is relatively new, it requires a certain level of IT sophistication and a history in linear investment in IT enablers to be successful. In 2014 US SMBs spent slightly over US$3B on big data. Specifically, midmarket attitude towards Big Data has transitioned from “over-hype” to must-have technology with the increase in employee size.

Dell has certainly dipped its toes into big data analytics with its acquisition of StatSoft and its Statistica advanced analytics solution. Its other two big data products Dell Kitenga and Dell Toad Data Point are incidental yet complementary to Dell’s big data solution stack. It is not out of place to mention that both Kitenga and Toad Data Point came from acquisitions. But the overarching anchors of Dell’s big data strategy are its partnerships with Cloudera & Intel (integration of Dell’s in-memory appliance with Cloudera Enterprise) and Dell’s professional services. Statistica may have one leg up on SAS due to its visualization capability and another leg up on Tableau with its statistical functionality. But it will be interesting to see where and how much of resources will Dell commit to drive its big data solution stack adoption beyond the healthcare vertical (where it has tremendous strength due to acquisition of Perot Systems). For now, most SMBs and midmarket firms are turning to Dell for their big data infrastructure platform. In a most recent set of depth interviews conducted with midmarket firms, Techaisle found that almost 9 out of 10 big data implementations were on Dell platform. Techaisle’s expectations are that, in true Dell fashion, Dell may be best positioned to commoditize big data solution and bring it out from the farmers’ market to the freezer aisle for SMBs to accelerate adoption.

Supplemental to big data, IoT is another relevant area for SMBs. Techaisle’s most recent global SMB technology adoption study shows that 52% of US midmarket firms and 18% of small businesses are either currently investing or planning to invest in IoT predominantly for security, fleet management, asset tracking and supply-chain visibility. Dell has a new IoT division and its first product is a US$500 gateway (re-purposed Wyse Thin Client) which supports Ubuntu, Wind River and Thinkworks PTC. Although one may argue that Dell is going back to its product DNA and building commoditized IoT solution but Dell may well have an advantage. By combining security from SecureWorks, analytical engine of Statistica and wrapping with Dell professional services, it may be well ahead with an end-to-end IoT solution. At least, Dell’s IoT offering is easy to understand and deploy for small and midmarket businesses.

Security and Virtualization are two other areas of importance for an SMB organization. Dell is present in both these areas. In security Dell has its own IP whereas for virtualization Dell is platform agnostic and has designed a set of blueprints that works with VMware, Citrix and Nutanix. However when the security market is growing at double digits, Dell’s software security growth in the area has been 7% (Dell does not disclose its entire security revenue details). Dell may well be suffering from a 1 vs. 1 selling as opposed to wider knowledge of Dell’s security offerings.

Final Techaisle Take

Dell has successfully put together a full set of flexible and scalable technology solution building blocks. Its sales organization is learning how to use these “blocks” successfully to build robust and future ready IT solutions for its SMB customers. Dell’s channel organization has also been focusing on equipping its channel partners with the same level of understanding. Dell has also set up cross-functional teams as Centers of Excellence that are empowered to educate and guide channel partners. These blocks may look very easy to assemble but articulation of their capabilities is very tough unless a complete picture of the end outcome is shown beforehand. And Dell has its homework assigned – demonstrate business outcomes through use cases and show thought leadership by expounding forward thinking because within the eyes of many SMBs and SMB channel partners, Dell still lags other IT suppliers on innovative and cutting edge technology front (Source: Techaisle 2015 SMB survey). That said, Dell Blueprints, for integrating piece parts into whole solutions, may just be the answer that SMBs and channel partners are looking for.


Technology sprawl driving SMB and Midmarket IT Staff increases

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket Managed Services Adoption Trends research shows that contrary to popular belief IT Staffing within SMBs is growing and the percent of businesses with full-time IT staff has increased for 50-999 employee size businesses and even the average no. of IT staff has tripled for midmarket businesses in 2015 from 2010.

Today’s SMBs are heavily invested in an ever-widening portfolio of technology initiatives. For example, on average, US SMBs have current active initiatives in 5.1 technology areas, and midmarket businesses are working in an average of 10.3 different areas – each of which (like cloud or mobility) involve multiple discrete activities.

Techaisle’s SMB survey trend illustrates the IT staffing impact of this expanding IT solution activity. Figure below presents statistics on full-time IT staff from 2010 and 2015. It demonstrates that small and midmarket businesses have sharply different approaches to coping with IT solution sprawl. In businesses with 50 or more employees staffing levels are increasing dramatically. In this segment, not only percent of businesses with full-time internal IT staff has increased in the last five years but the average number IT staff has tripled.


In microbusinesses with 1-19 employees, the trend is exactly the reverse: these firms are unable to keep pace with IT expansion through internal IT staff, and have moved to other approaches to cope with sprawl and complexity. Data indicates that only 4% of microbusinesses have full-time internal IT staff. In the next tier of small businesses (20-99 employees), 28% of firms have outsourced IT, vs. just 23% relying on full-time internal IT staff; the balance report that they depend on part-time internal IT staff (18%), internal non-IT staff (14%), or that “nobody manages IT” (17%). It is easy to say that this last group is courting disaster in an increasingly IT-centric world, and there is certainly truth to that assertion – but the findings are reflective of the cost and complexity associated with delivering a corporate service that is proving to be very cost- and labor-intensive.

The trend towards increased IT staffing levels also reflects the growing importance of technology within SMB operations. As Figure below illustrates, nearly 75% of businesses with 1-9 employees, and nearly 100% of those with 500-999 employees, consider technology to be “somewhat” or “very important” to their business success, and this importance is rising. 26%-47% of SMB respondents believe that their companies are more dependent on technology today than they were a year ago.


IT is trying to move away from implementations to more strategic roles. But for that SMBs require expertise, skill-sets, time to research and identify appropriate technology. When IT vendors mention simplifying IT for SMBs they couch it as a means of helping SMBs because they lack IT staff (which data demonstrates is far from actual reality). The growing number and penetration of SMB IT staff themselves are asking for simplification of technology due to inherent sprawl and complexity of technology.

The phrase “sprawl and complexity” describes two linked problems for SMBs. Sprawl is apparent in the wide range of technologies included within current solution portfolios. The compounding issue, though, is that SMBs are not just dealing with more technology, but with more complex technology. This in turn is driving SMBs to hire more IT staff.

Consider the figure below, which reflects the attitudes of IT-responsible managers (ITDMs) within SMBs. Asked to describe their opinions regarding IT complexity, the most common response is “IT vendors should simplify technology.” Frighteningly (or embarrassingly) for suppliers, the second most common response is “we are ignoring” potentially-useful technologies, followed by observations that technology-related pain points are increasing, and current technology is more difficult to understand than previous-generation solutions.


There is a clear set of messages for suppliers in this data.

  • There is no status quo of "lack of IT staff"
  • IT staffing within SMBs has undergone a change. “We have simplified technology because SMBs do not have IT staff” is the wrong messaging
  • Simplification is required to ensure that SMBs actually embrace new products and their growing IT staff is freed-up to focus on strategic business issues

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