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    2019 Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, IT Challenges
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    SMB Path to Digitalization - Prologue and Epilogue
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    SMB & Midmarket Analytics & Artificial Intelligence Adoption
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    Delivering Connected Business
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    US SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption
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    Technology adoption trends by IT sophistication
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    SMB & Midmarket Security Adoption Trends
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    SMB & Midmarket IoT Adoption Trends
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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.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon – a modern laptop that embraces tradition and defies description

I first used a ThinkPad in 1994 when I was with IDC in Hong Kong and had immediately taken a liking to the distinct red TrackPoint, color and feel of the laptop. I even had a docking station. It served me extremely well during my numerous overseas trips. In 1995, I switched to ThinkPad 701 with the butterfly keyboard. And when I accidentally placed my luggage on the laptop the shattered screen devasted me. I continued to use a ThinkPad till the time I joined Gartner which gave me a non-ThinkPad laptop. In my subsequent jobs I usually requested and received a ThinkPad from my workplaces.

Slightly more than a decade ago when I founded Techaisle I bought a Sony Vaio. It was a big mistake. Within a few months I switched to a ThinkPad Carbon. Why this obsession with ThinkPad? Quality, reliability, elegance.

Since early October I have been using Lenovo’s latest 7th Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The minute I unboxed and picked-up the ThinkPad I realized I was holding a classic yet modern design. Everything from the sharply defined etched grey-red X1 logo on the chassis cover to the rubbery plastic carbon fiber weave with a textured pattern defies description. It is incredibly light, at 2.4 pounds and combined with a thin design at 0.58 inches (14.95mm) with no visible taper gives my shoulder-back combo a much-needed respite. I have found myself frequently using the leather ThinkPad X1 Ultra Sleeve (which delivers a premium feel to the X1 Carbon experience) without the need to carry a backpack when I am within a conference venue. The keyboard travel, although reduced to 1.5mm (from 1.7mm in previous models), to accommodate redefined thinness still provides familiar comfort and feedback for which ThinkPads are known for. The switched placement of Ctrl and Fn keys, as compared to most other keyboards and laptops, does throw me off.

The model that I am using is fully-configured with 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Intel core i7-8665U CPU 1.90GHz and UHD Graphics 620 with 3840 X 2160 display HDR400 with 500 nits brightness. Lenovo promises 18 hours of battery life for a lower resolution screen but the 4K screen that I am using obviously drains battery fast. Fortunately, Lenovo’s RapidCharge technology charges the X1 Carbon up to 80% within an hour. Lenovo’s “eye care” mode reduces blue light on the screen. Lenovo also has a PrivacyGuard but is not available for 4K screens. The screen does hinge 180 degrees to sit flat on a desk but I have never really found the need to use the capability.

A key evaluation criterion for me is a laptop’s ability to contribute and enhance productivity. The screen resolution enhances the experience for sifting through huge spreadsheets of analytical information, scrolling through rows of survey data, creating data-rich PowerPoint slides, reviewing infographics and working on Power BI dashboards. When I connect the ThinkPad to an external display (Dell UltraSharp 27 Monitor - U2719D) through Lenovo Thunderbolt™ 3 Dock, the productivity and experience are amplified.

thinkpad x1 carbon

ThinkVision M14 (sold separately) is a mobile display for on-the-go productivity. I usually bring it along with me. It easily connects through USB-C, provides a tremendous utility when working on my data spreadsheets and PowerPoints on the road. The ThinkVision M14 is only 0.4mm think and weighs next to nothing and easily slides into already crammed backpack space. And yes, I have also used ThinkVision M14 with a Dell XPS 13 and Dell Latitude 7390 2in1. Even my son has used it for his work and games and brought it with him during his travels.

I may be one of the few who still use the TrackPoint. Right above the touchpad are three mouse buttons to be used in conjunction with the TrackPoint which allow me to fully rest my fingers on the laptop itself without having to repeatedly lift my palms. Although I must say I miss the touchscreen in my ThinkPad X1 Carbon configuration (4K does not have touchscreen).

Lenovo Vantage, an app that keeps the device up and running and allows for custom settings, has grown in stature and capabilities substantially in the last one year. I have enabled WiFi security, Intelligent cooling with Quiet mode, battery charge threshold to prolong battery life and always-on USB to charge even when the computer is in sleep mode or off. To turn on WiFi security I had to enable location tracking, there seems to be no way around it. So far, it has worked well despite some occasional false notifications. The ThinkPad Carbon X1 is quiet and I rarely hear the fans spinning. I am the type of person when my iPhone battery drops to 70 percent, I look for an outlet to charge. Hence, enabling always-on USB has helped me keep my devices (iPhone, AirPods Pro, Bose headphones, Ultraportable Bluetooth speaker, backup power adapters and others) connected and charged. There are more than enough ports - 2 x USB-C, 2 x USB-A and 1 x HDMI - for my obsessive-compulsive need to keep all devices charged and connected.

Needless to say, collaboration is a key aspect of any work, especially in my job profile where most collaboration is video-enabled. Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, Hangouts and Go-to-meeting are most used. When I am not using headphones or portable Bluetooth speakers for conference calls, the 4 x 360-degree far-field microphones are useful. Nobody has complained to me so far about audio quality. The webcam has had no issues and the included camera shutter is a much-needed bonus as long as I remember to slide open or close.

I must confess that I have not setup Windows Hello - neither fingerprint nor facial recognition.

It is a mistake to compare ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 with a MacBook. Instead, it should be compared and contrasted with Dell Latitude 7400. But comparison is not the objective of my review. Both are well-positioned and have their defined target market segments. It is however important to note that PC is where work gets done. It is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new laptop is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance and features. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a modern business laptop that embraces tradition and after so many years still defies description.

 

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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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2019 Top 10 SMB and Midmarket business issues-challenges-priorities

Techaisle has released its annual research infographics on top 10 IT priorities, business issues and IT challenges of SMBs (1-999 employees), midmarket firms (100-999 employees) and small businesses (1-99 employees) for 2019. In its detailed SMB survey Techaisle investigated 21 different technology areas and several technology sub-categories, 23 different IT challenges and 21 different business issues. This is the 9th year of Techaisle’s annual survey research initiative that probes for top business issues, IT priorities and IT challenges. Tracking history provides a fascinating evolution in which new business goals drive new IT priorities and uncover challenges that must be addressed to enable progress on business objectives.

Primary research was conducted among senior IT and business decision makers from Techaisle network of 1.2M B2B IT professionals spread across 30+ countries.

There are some interesting differences in IT priorities as compared to 2018. IoT and VR/AR fell below top 10 (but still within top 15) and replaced by Voice/Digital assistants as well as Open source solutions. Across all regions (US, Europe, Asia/Pacific, Latin America) digital unified workspace and software-defined are becoming a priority for both SMBs and midmarket firms. Security many places within the top 10 IT challenges in different forms – cloud security, mobile device security, data protection/recovery/business continuity – with Cloud security as the top IT challenge.

Global SMB & Midmarket IT spend (excluding telecom services) in 2019 is projected to be US$665B and corresponding cloud spend is expected to be US$115B. Research also found that IT budget growths in 2019 will be the highest in Asia/Pacific (6.2%) and lowest in Latin America (1.8%). While IT budget constraint is not the top challenge within SMBs in the US and Asia/Pacific, it is the top concern in Latin America.

Managing data growth is continuing to pose challenge for SMBs and when probed further Techaisle research found that only 11% of SMBs and 29% of midmarket firms have evidence-driven culture with data-driven decision-making business processes in which data defines requirements or opportunities and management then determines the best option for moving forward. In the US, 17% of small business and 34% of midmarket firms consider themselves to be innovative.

2019 Top 10 SMB business issues, IT priorities, IT challenges

2019 top10 smb it priorities business issues techaisle infographics low res

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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.

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