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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.

Prologue and Epilogue of Digitalization in SMB Market

Every year or two (or three), a new trend sweeps the IT industry, and breathless coverage asserts that the new phenomenon has arrived fully-shaped to transform technology and/or IT’s role in business strategy. This is, of course, very rarely true. Most trends play out over a long time, and change in technology tends to be incremental rather than revolutionary. For example – it is certainly true that digitalization (and digital transformation) are important issues today, and that they will have a transformative effect on IT and business strategy. But Techaisle research demonstrates, they are a recent highlight in a series of business issues and technology themes that stretch back at least 15 years, from 2003 to 2019.

Key SMB and Midmarket digitalization themes, 2003-2020

techaisle smb digitalization themes

techaisle wp prologue epilogue resized

As we enter the next decade, it seems that online capabilities and activities are entering a new era. There are still advances to be made in the ‘net’ realm: there is constant pressure to expand the speed of the Internet, enabling it to handle the voracious demands of unstructured content like video, and the rise of IoT and 5G portends a coming tsunami of data from billions of connected devices. However, the key focus of web-based business investment is now less about the ‘net’ and more about the ‘work’: the ways that an increasingly-connected world supports pursuit of previously-unattainable objectives. The most important IT-related development in 2020 will be this focus on connectedness – connected cloud, edge, applications, security, collaboration, workspaces and insights. Internet and the web are the navigation routes that we have been developing since the 1970s; the always-on, everywhere-connected Interwork© platform is the destination that we will be creating in 2020 and for years to come.

This eBook has been written to provide guidance to supply-side management responsible for digitalization strategies that affect sales and marketing of advanced IT solutions to SMBs and midmarket firms. The document is structured into six sections:

  1. What’s past is prologue – The Path to Digitalization
  2. Closing the gap between business priorities and IT challenges and the rise of digital
  3. Business Issues over the years – paving the route to digital transformation
  4. The rise of innovation – and digital – as a business focus
  5. IT challenges over the years – paving the route to digital transformation
  6. What’s future is epilogue: Connected Business

Download the free eBook here

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Customer-centricity challenging channel – customer-partners needed

For decades, channel partners have aspired to achieving ‘trusted advisor’ relationships with their customers. The concept is so ingrained that it is nearly impossible to separate the notion of ‘trusted advisor’ from the broader sense of being a partner.

But if the market is moving from value addition by the channel to value creation for the end-customer, isn’t it essential to move beyond ‘trusted partner’ status to becoming, in a meaningful sense, a partner of the customer, invested in the customer’s business success?

Techaisle’s WW channel partners study of 2445 channel partners and corresponding US channel partners study of 814 partners shows that 61% (66% in the US) are transforming their organizations to focus on delivering business outcomes to their end-customers, up from 42% three years ago. However, the figure is still below customer expectations which stands at 78%. There are several points of disconnect between the customer and the channel. One of the most important disconnects stems from the notion of trusted advisor relationship versus meaningful customer partnership. Only 51% of partners are building meaningful partnerships (55% in the US) and the balance 49% still believe in being trusted advisors. There is nothing wrong with it except that customers, especially SMB and midmarket firms are looking for a “super consultant” – a firm that can offer advice that is more complete than what is being obtained from most partners and which can move beyond strategy to deliver operational support that is tied to business outcomes.

These firms exhibit a clear preference for advisors who can move seamlessly from advice to architecture to procurement to deployment and finally to management. Nearly three quarters of SMB buyers would like their channel partners to be able to provide technology advice that is directly connected to business issues, and nearly two-thirds want a partner who is “invested in customer success.”

The nature of the sales relationship will be a critical determinant of channel success. 52% of channel partners globally and 58% in the US are still running their businesses on sales quota requirements rather than a book of business. When all channel partners call themselves “advisors” there is no differentiation left across partners. Channel partners need to focus on being a meaningful customer partner delivering customer success. And this falls into the realm of being a super consultant.

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Practical guidance for navigating digital transformation with customers

Digital transformation success requires that channel partners respond to a diverse set of challenges: the channel organization needs to be able to balance extensive consulting and executive customer management with product transactions, ongoing management services and tangible contribution to customer business success. Those that are able to align their capabilities with digital transformation requirements will be positioned for long-term success in IT’s highest-growth market. Techaisle’s digital transformation (DX) framework highlights six ways that channel partners can profitably connect with customers in their initial stages of the DX journey. At the beginning of the DX journey, channel partners should plan to deliver billable services in foundational technology areas:

  1. Deployment of discrete foundation technologies needed to enable pursuit of DX business objectives: The requirement for these technologies should be clearly associated with capabilities needed within the DX roadmap; the systems themselves should be prioritized in accordance with the benefits that they deliver.
  2. Provision of management/support for technology tied to the DX roadmap: In this step it is essential for channel partners to increase customer communication so that they understand the value associated with ongoing support and integration that maintains the currency of the DX platform by managing its discrete IT components.
  3. Development and delivery of incremental feature/function objectives: Some of the technologies deployed within the DX framework may provide all needed functionality ‘out of the box,’ while others may benefit from ongoing enhancements. In these latter cases, both channel partners and their customers will benefit from the addition of features that provide incremental benefit to users/organizations that have absorbed current capability and who are ready for, and have need for, additional functionality.

Interwork technologies

Once the foundational level is in place and immediate benefits of the technology have been identified and communicated as ‘success stories’ within the customer organization, the channel partner should help the customer move on to the next DX level: establishment of connected ‘Interwork’ systems. Here, channel partner opportunities expand to include higher-value activities:

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IoT delivering unexpected business outcomes to SMBs and Midmarket firms

Techaisle research, US SMB and Midmarket IoT adoption trends, analysis of 1,135 unique SMB survey responses, leveraging its network of over 1.5 million b2b respondents globally, shows that for US SMBs and midmarket firms that have production-level deployments IoT has helped improve controls within their businesses through better operations monitoring, increased business agility by improving processes, enabled them to develop new products and delivered reduced costs by increasing productivity and automation. 34% of SMBs began their IoT deployment with the hope of improving customer experience, 32% were expecting better cost efficiencies and 29% were targeting increased revenues. However, these SMBs experienced unexpected business outcomes with 43% reporting improved controls within business through better operations monitoring, 42% achieved increased business agility by improving processes and 41% were able to develop new products and services. These business outcomes’ percentages are almost identical demonstrating the fact that two out of five SMBs using IoT are deriving multiple positive business outcomes from their IoT deployments.

IoT is still an early stage technology. Survey data shows that IoT solutions are deployed in just 8% of small businesses and 28% of midmarket businesses. But these figures overstate the number of IoT production systems deployed by SMBs; many of the reported projects are exploratory. However, planned adoption trends show that the IoT usage and penetration may exceed 60% in midmarket and reach 35% within small businesses in the next 2 years. Generally, early IoT adopters are focused on one or more of security/surveillance, proactive alerts, reducing inventory levels and asset tracking.

Comparing 2018 survey with 2019, data shows that small businesses seem to have either tempered their ambitions to deploy IoT solutions or they tried and abandoned their efforts. Except for the 100-249 employee size firms, most mid-market firms, on the other hand, have increased their IoT adoption efforts. As a result, IoT adoption within the SMB market is still at an early stage, hindered by limited budget, costs and lack of skills. In fact, more than 50% of current IoT systems are at early stages of maturity: 19% incorporate minimal sensor deployment feeding isolated systems or feature devices that support remote monitoring / service / control. Only 10% of firms that have deployed IoT can be categorized as advanced users, having real-time information feeding enterprise-wide data intelligence solutions or connected devices creating competitive advantage.

It is important to note that while 23% of small businesses were conducting ad hoc pilots in 2018, only 13% are conducting such pilots in 2019. This however does not mean that all small businesses have migrated their ad hoc pilots to production – some have abandoned the project and some others have set loftier objectives. The biggest changes from 2018 to 2019 are in their objectives for creating new revenue opportunities, new levels of collaboration between suppliers, partners and customers as well as supporting predictive maintenance.

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