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Collaboration is 2nd top IT priority for SMBs and the top IT challenge for upper midmarket firms

Collaboration is pervasive and critical to SMBs. Techaisle's most recent Small business (1-99), midmarket (100-999), and upper midmarket (1000-5000) survey looked at collaboration as a discrete category and found that it is the second-most prominent solution area and IT priority, behind the cloud. Collaboration is a top IT priority for 96% of SMBs. In 24% of small businesses, 40% of midmarket firms, and 62% of upper midmarket firms, IT is being challenged to implement modern collaboration software solutions and hardware devices. There is a wide-ranging trend towards seeing collaboration as part of the fabric of business activity, rather than merely a means of enabling connections between discrete tasks. It is a core component for digital transformation, and innovative businesses embed it in their organizational DNA.

What is innovation? Innovation relates to SMB's ability to unlock business value through the effective use of digitally transformed infrastructure. Techaisle's SMB survey research data shows that high-growth, highly innovative SMBs differ significantly from low-growth and less innovative firms in their use of collaboration technologies. They are using collaboration solutions enterprise-wide, not in silos. Collaboration is a central component of virtually all of their business processes. They know that innovation happens best in collaboration and not in isolation.

Collaboration solution adoption business drivers are changing

The collaboration adoption drivers are changing. There is a 100% increase in speed of innovation and a 200% increase in support for hybrid work as collaboration adoption drivers. In recent years, the need to build synergy across dispersed team members and respond to customer conversations has become vital business drivers for collaboration solution adoption. Still focused on creating central information repositories, new SMB buyers also emphasize speed of innovation and the need to speed decision making and improve teamwork. Collaboration is necessary for decision agility, business agility, and innovation agility. Our data shows that 72% of SMBs consider collaboration contributes to topline revenue growth which is an outcome of business agility.

The future of work has become very complex. Collaboration is more important in complex, interconnected digital transformation work environments. For example, 58% of SMB employees expect to continue to work from home post-pandemic. As a result, mobility, cloud, and collaboration are important trends in today's market, and they are tightly interconnected. This interconnection empowers collaboration. Collaboration is most powerful when connected, intuitive and pervasive, so deeply ingrained in the employee's infrastructure fabric that its use is a natural extension of their work environment.

Collaboration solutions have been in broad use

The initial centricity of file sharing is giving way to rich in-person interactive communications in SMB collaboration strategies. Dedicated desktop video conferencing devices, dedicated room-based video-conferencing devices, AR/VR, and collaboration workspaces will see the highest adoption growth rates in 2021. The last six years of data show that collaboration adoption within the SMB segment has been on a steady growth path and reached an inflection point last year because of a focus on enabling human-to-human connections to support hybrid work. Initial SMB users considered collaboration around files – such as that offered by Dropbox or Box or One Drive or Google Drive – to be the most crucial aspect of a collaboration solution. They still do. But in today's market, collaboration is a three-step process. The central requirement for a collaboration solution is to share files from desktop or mobile devices. The second is to enable online interaction. The third is to provide richer media escalation for person-to-person communications. Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, BlueJeans, Zoho Meeting and proprietary solutions from UCaaS suppliers are becoming popular within the SMb segment.

Collaboration is a framework and not a single solution

SMBs are beginning to see collaboration as an organizational capability and not merely a solution. Collaboration, by its nature, connects multiple people in the performance of a shared task. Collaboration is not a discrete category. It is a technology framework that connects employees and customers and suppliers. Holistically, there are three layers to the collaboration framework. The inner layer is the platform layer, the software solution enabler from chat to voice to video. It includes including asynchronous functions like file annotation and sharing and synchronous activities like simultaneous document editing. Collaboration is also native to business applications – CRM, ERP, learning, vertical cloud applications. The second layer is the range of devices that have come into prominence in the last year. The outer-most is the evolution layer depicting the enhancements to make collaboration intelligent, adaptive, and flexible. Using stand-alone collaboration platforms is a good start, but the real benefit comes from integrating multiple capabilities.

The trend is towards deeper, diverse use of collaboration

Hybrid work is everywhere. Anywhere, anytime also means any collaboration. SMB businesses look for shared virtual workspaces that allow employees to enter the workspace from any entry point to collaborate and interact. The capacity to enable collaboration has become an intrinsic and essential component of many different systems, ranging from standard productivity tools to entirely new application categories. Simultaneously, we are seeing SMBs demand the ability to connect discrete systems into broader collaboration frameworks: they want their cloud-based CRM systems to enable collaboration around an individual customer account or territory, but also want that system to integrate with telephony, email, messaging, conferencing and other systems, so that the modes of collaboration can adjust to specific contextual requirements. In most SMBs, definitions, and directions for collaborative solutions are shaped by business leaders rather than IT staff.

Collaboration is the essential component for future-ready SMB – 5 truths that every SMB should know

1. Collaboration is an agility platform. It should be spread and used organization-wide. There is no merit and in wait and see approach.
2. Collaboration needs must change and adapt to changing business environments. One should not require a pandemic to create an inflection point.
3. Collaboration can transform organizations. The collaboration solutions allowed SMBs to pivot quickly and are not an extension of business as usual.
4. The most critical factor in building a framework for collaboration is to ensure that the discussion begins with business objectives and considers technology in the context of its ability to support those objectives. Once you develop the organizational mindset, the results are magical.
5. It is every employee's work ally that empowers organizational productivity, drives agility, fosters innovation.

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