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    SMB Path to Digitalization - Prologue and Epilogue
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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.

Workforce enablement - driving IT benefit throughout the organization

IT provides the tools to support greater efficiency and market engagement. What are the best ways to help the workforce to capture these benefits, and be more productive? The workspace isn’t defined by windows and walls and common area couches. For millions of SMB and midmarket employees, the “workspace” isn’t a physical location – it’s a virtual space defined by access from multiple screens which are used from multiple locations. This is especially true of mobile workers, a category which is increasingly indistinguishable from “workers.” Techaisle data shows that 72% of SMB employees are mobile, 87% of SMB employees use mobile devices to access corporate information.

Workforce enablement

Techaisle global survey found that improving workforce productivity is the second most important midmarket business objective for 2019 and among the top five objectives of small businesses. Data shows that for 42% of SMBs’ improving employee productivity is a priority and 43% of SMBs are using digitalization initiatives for employee empowerment.

There are many factors involved in driving productivity, including management approaches, processes and practices, and collaboration/synergy across activities and functions. But technology is a key contributor to productivity – directly, and through its ability to positively affect processes and internal coordination.

Techaisle research shows that these benefits don’t accrue to all SMBs equally: SMBs that are advanced in their approach to IT (“Enterprise IT”) are about twice as likely to achieve the productivity-enabled benefits than lowest-performing firms, and 30% more likely to realize productivity benefits than the average SMB.

The statistics quoted above show that IT is seen as a source of productivity-enhancing capabilities – meaning, in some way, that IT has ‘permission’ from the business to help drive higher levels of workforce performance. However, improved performance requires a strategy, and in technology matters, this strategy should be driven by IT management. It is important that the IT function be responsive to business requirements, deploying requested technology and delivering user training. There is another role, though, that IT management can and should play: focusing on technologies that are proven to contribute to workforce enablement, deploying these technologies within the organization and working with business staff to ensure that the benefits inherent in the technologies are recognized and captured. This advances the IT function from simply responding to requests to providing leadership in enabling the SMB and midmarket workforce.

Techaisle’s research has identified a number of solutions that are seen as driving productivity within SMBs and midmarket firms – approaches that IT managers can and should explore as they seek ways to connect the potential of IT to demonstrable increases in productivity. Three of these solutions - unified workspace, collaboration, and mobility, are especially important in a technology-dependent economy, and each contributes meaningfully to enabling the workforce.

Unified workspace

‘Distributed,’ ‘remote,’ ‘mobile’ – these are the realities of today’s workforce. In many economies, roughly half of workers are remote for at least some part of the work week.

Increasingly, SMBs and midmarket firms are using technology to provide cohesion within the workforce. Unified workspace solutions, which (in Techaisle’s definition) “provides secure anytime, anywhere, any device access from any web browser with single sign-on and password management for all public and private applications, services and file sources used to run the business” help SMBs to organize workers into connected groups. Techaisle research has found that over 75% of firms deploy unified workspace to support the needs of multilocation and full-time remote or travelling workers. These systems also help IT to deliver on key goals of data protection and mobility enablement. Businesses that have adopted unified workspace technology believe strongly that it contributes to productivity by providing a single workspace from which employees can accomplish majority of their daily work, delivering better access to applications and resources.

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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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SMB IT is challenged and its role in supporting governance-risk-compliance

Managing governance, risk and compliance is an IT challenge for over 1/4th of midmarket firms and slightly more than 1/10th of small businesses in each geo – US, Europe, Asia/Pacific, Latin America. See chart below. In an SMB context, “governance” is at least somewhat analogous to “taste” in home décor, or “sustainability” in supply chain practices: easy to acknowledge as important, but difficult to define. What is easy to delineate is the notion that governance has important linkages to issues that are of vital importance to SMB management:

  • risk mitigation,
  • regulatory compliance, and
  • protection of the corporate reputation.

Governance is a way of describing the objectives of senior executives, or of the company as a whole; it is the approach that determines how the SMB interacts with its customers, its suppliers, and its community. Oftentimes, the term ‘governance’ is coopted by IT professionals, who talk about issues like “IT governance,” “cloud governance,” or “data governance.” These are important concepts, but they really refer to policies and controls.

techaisle smb compliance challenge globally 2

Policy is the ‘glue’ that connects governance and security: SMBs benefit from thinking about management issues first, and then developing positions that guide security decisions. This works as a starting point for an SMB security strategy. However, there are challenges that arise from specific IT usage patterns or events that impact an SMB’s risk profile.

Consider the issues cited in the chart below - examples of usage patterns that affect an organization’s security stance: use of cloud, and ‘shadow IT,’ or user-managed applications and/or storage that may not align with corporate security policies. It’s possible to simply state that any use of cloud or user-managed IT services needs to adhere to these policies, but the reality is that they may not: for example, a cloud supplier’s SLAs may not include corporately-approved escalation processes, and users may lack understanding of (or concern for) corporate IT guidance. This doesn’t mean that use of cloud and shadow IT should be banned – cloud is an important IT service delivery option, and to some extent, shadow IT reflects innovation within the business.

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Techaisle data reveals SMBs regressing in their cloud security adoption

Techaisle’s 2019 US SMB and Midmarket Security solutions adoption trends survey research indicates that 55 percent of US SMBs suffered a security incident in the last one year. 20 percent of SMBs reported but as high as 70 percent did not formally report yet experienced PC security & data theft breaches in the last one year. In many ways data suggests that SMBs are regressing in their adoption of security solutions to protect their corporate and mobile environments. For example, in the 2019 study, 32 percent of SMBs believe that their IT security budgets are sufficient to meet their needs, which is substantially down from 43 percent in 2017 and 22 percent assert that they are better prepared than others when it comes to IT security, considerably lower than 32 percent in 2017. Even the presence of formal security protocols in case of a breach and/or security incident has gone down from being present in 34 percent of SMBs in 2017 to 26 percent in 2019. However, the belief that cloud usage/services puts them at a higher risk of a data breach has remained virtually unchanged from 40 percent in 2017 to 38 percent in 2019. To make a fair trend comparison Techaisle surveyed same number of SMBs in 2017 and 2019 with exactly same quota sampling.

It is not that SMBs are not concerned about security risks. Cloud security is the top IT challenge in 34 percent of small businesses and 42 percent of midmarket firms. 41 percent of SMBs feel vulnerable in the cloud and 34 percent worry about cyber-attacks and 39 percent consider password compromise to be a security risk to their business.

A review of cloud security threats to SMBs illustrates the fact that while cloud brings unique challenges. Data highlights many different points of security exposure that arise when applications, data and access extend outside the corporate facility. 38 percent of SMB survey respondents are concerned with data exposure during transfers to remote locations, 37 percent are concerned with the potential for cloud-based accounts to be hijacked. Similarly, other concerns are unauthorized access to or breaches of data repositories in the cloud, insecure interfaces used to access cloud-based systems, the potential for insiders within a cloud service provider to exfiltrate information, and denial of service (DDoS) attacks – all of which represent cloud-specific threats.

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