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SMBs innovating at the Edge to address business challenges

From the perspective of the technology world, 2021 and several years following will witness the benefits of the interconnection of all types of resources: platforms/environments, information, devices, and applications. With the connective fabric rapidly becoming ubiquitous, SMBs of all types and sizes will move beyond a focus on network access and concentrate instead on using edge technologies to drive progress across business processes and enable innovation.

Connectedness is an intrinsic component of the edge. It applies in two directions: client devices ranging from PCs to smartphones to sensors connect to more gateways and other powerful edge systems, which process time-critical responses and then communicate data safely back to clouds at the core of the infrastructure fabric.

Consider these data points from Techaisle's latest SMB technology adoption research study covering 2410 SMBs:

  • 30% of SMBs have a "very innovative" mindset and are investing in edge technologies that drive innovation; 51% are in the "somewhat innovative" segment with a focus on transitioning to being very innovative and are evaluating edge solutions
  • 38% of SMBs are investing in digital transformation to initiate innovation in products, services, and business processes
  • 9.9 is the number of technology categories that very innovative SMBs use, which is 1.8X non-innovative SMBs. Cloud, security, virtualization, mobility, AI, analytics, IoT, SD-WAN, AR/VR, HCI are the leading technology areas where very innovative SMBs are increasing investment and deploying edge solutions

Innovation at the Edge

Cloud is not only the IT business infrastructure; it is also the essential business infrastructure for SMBs. While the cloud replaces conventional data centers at the core of the network, an entirely new technology tier – "edge" – is emerging as a complementary IT infrastructure source. Edge supports many innovative technologies that promise to extend technology's use and impact into entirely new domains.

Edge opens many new opportunities and avenues for SMBs. For example, an environment-friendly cooking products manufacturing firm could reduce costs, increase transparency and drive innovation after installing remote temperature monitors. The sensors connected to the cloud provide real-time actional information on the frequency and duration of daily use cookstoves.

Another example is a firm providing edge solutions to detect early signs of patient deterioration in any acute care setting. Its innovative system comprehensively monitors all key patient status indicators, enabling doctors to connect remotely and track patients. In addition, free patient movement is made possible by the platform's wearable sensors to collect and monitor information.

The edge is broad in scope and deployment. It moves with the user of a device or an appliance or a transport. It morphs when a sensor or a beacon is triggered, and it can expand or change when natural or augmented environments interact. The edge includes the devices and networks that deliver mobility to users – and it also describes the infrastructure needed to support leading-edge solutions like IoT, autonomous and connected vehicles, and field-ready AR/VR systems – solutions in which devices are connected and configured to support remote monitoring/service/control, or harvesting data from one or more connected systems and applying contextual analytics to support more intelligent decision making, or delivering inputs needed to provide better insight into current and future business opportunity

Edge responds to business issues

SMBs are committed to improvements in many areas of their operations: expanding their market reach, improving productivity, reducing costs, managing uncertainty, and increasing control over their operations. Simultaneously, SMB executives understand the real-world constraints of limited resources, exacerbated by limits on physical business as usual processes and interactions. Moreover, the 'next normal' economy's challenges are driving SMBs to find ways of accelerating their digital evolution and innovation.

The business outcomes that Edge enables apply to all SMBs. Research findings show that Edge addresses critical SMB business challenges. For example, improved controls help SMB executives to manage uncertainty. Increased agility supplies the means of responding to requirements and opportunities, and contributions to new product development, cost reduction, and improved productivity and revenue growth connect edge innovation with coveted business results. One of the essential characteristics of Edge, though, is that it provides two different sources of business benefit: it empowers distributed work, and it enables various kinds of organizations to use technology in ways that align with specific business needs, opportunities and characteristics.
Research shows that SMBs believe that edge computing delivers significant business benefits: improved customer experience, cost efficiencies, revenue growth, better productivity, and streamlined internal business processes. Spurred by these goals, SMBs are beginning to use edge solutions to facilitate collaboration between employees, partners, suppliers, and customers; for supply chain visibility, asset tracking, cost efficiencies, and objectives as diverse as patient tracking and location-based marketing.

Edge provides fundamental advantages in every context where workers and suppliers/customers benefit from distributed, collaborative environments – and as the world learned with the pandemic, every business has a requirement to enable distributed work and collaboration.

Edge addresses IT challenges

In addition to addressing business challenges, effective edge architectures and planning also address some of the most pressing IT challenges faced by SMBs. For example, edge deployments enhance customer experience by ensuring that employees support them, irrespective of employee location. And that corporate systems, updated through central file management and accessed through high-capacity networks, deliver consistent, correct information when needed. Well-designed edge solutions manage security, protecting users, customers, and corporate data. And edge systems' future-proof' the IT foundations supporting SMB businesses, modernizing resources used in turn to support new distributed work capabilities.

Data illustrates the current SMB deployment of the "Internet of Things" (IoT), an edge solution. It shows that SMBs use automated edge systems in security or surveillance applications and provide proactive alerts to help operators identify issues requiring immediate attention. SMBs are also using edge IoT systems to reduce inventory levels, track assets, and other types of tracking applications, including customer, partner, or supplier transactions. Most of these examples center on M2P, or "machine to person," communications and narrowly target industrial or physical-goods environments. In the future, SMB IoT implementations will increasingly focus on M2M (machine to machine) communications and applications, and the uses of IoT will continue to expand. At the same time, Edge itself extends well beyond the bounds of IoT to support remote workers and integrated multi-location collaboration – and it, too, will extend business reach into new areas.

SMBs that innovate today do not just gain advantages in terms of current-year growth – they are also creating future-ready environments that will sustain their businesses through changing economic tides.

Taking the Edge plunge

Edge adoption isn't without its challenges. SMBs determined to reap the benefits of edge need to be prepared to address skills, security, and complexity issues. There is no one size fits all approach to successfully developing and deploying edge solutions. However, some essential edge system elements need to be in place, regardless of whether the edge solution controls remote medical or monitoring devices, secure unmonitored facilities, or support a remote workforce. SMBs should look for: a supplier with a deep understanding of SMB needs; a technology innovator with products that include 'scaled for SMB' servers, storage, and networking products, as well as the end-user devices needed to extend the workplace to the edge; and an ecosystem leader with a strong partner community that can offer tailored support small or mid-sized business.

HPE is one such IT supplier. Understanding how to maximize edge infrastructure is one thing, but finding the right solutions for a small to mid-size business is another. With solutions ranging from networking products to backup and predictive analytics, HPE helps SMBs be at the forefront of the data explosion and real-time insights. For example, its Aruba Instant-On network solution provides 360 degrees of analytics-driven cyber protection to protect the changing network perimeter, the edge environment. With machine learning, HPE InfoSight offers real-time insights into the health and performance of infrastructure. HPE Pointnext Services helps develop and operate application workloads as SMBs build out their edge environment with a hybrid cloud.

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