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    2021 Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, IT Challenges
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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.

2021 Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Business Issues, IT Challenges, IT Priorities

One of Techaisle's SMB surveys' annual highlights is exploring top business challenges and IT priorities for small and midmarket organizations. They are here - Techaisle's annual SMB and Midmarket Top 10 IT Priorities, IT Challenges, and Business Issues infographics, 11th year of Techaisle tracking at a WW level, and is sought after by IT vendors, channels, and media. In all sectors, 2020 was a challenging year – and as a result, 2021 is challenging from a market planning perspective. The disconnect between 2020 and 2019 was so severe that it rendered forecasts effectively useless: IT suppliers reacted to shifting market trends in real-time. As we enter 2021, IT product and service suppliers look to create a context for understanding the range of outcomes that the new year may bring. Techaisle's "2021 in Focus" research series illuminates issues and requirements in the vast SMB market to support that effort.

Techaisle surveyed a total of 5720 SMBs, quota sampled to ensure adequate coverage of four small business (1-9, 10-19, 20-49, and 50-99 employees), three midmarket (100-249, 250-499, and 500-999 employees) and two upper midmarket (1000-2499, 2500-4999) segments. The data represents a robust and reliable sampling of the SMB market for IT products and services.

There is an ongoing trend – in both the buy-side and supplier communities – towards positioning IT initiatives and expenditures in a business context. By providing insight into the most pressing business issues, IT priorities, and IT challenges faced by small, midmarket, and upper midmarket businesses, Techaisle's research helps readers position their go-to-market strategies and offerings with core market drivers.

For 2021, Techaisle investigated 30 technology areas, each with several sub-technology categories, 30 IT challenges, and 30 business issues.

View and download Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges
View and download Top 10 Midmarket Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges
View and download Top 10 Upper Midmarket Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges

In 2021, data shows that hybrid/remote work enablement is either the 2nd or 3rd top IT priority depending upon the segment. Collaboration, which Techaisle researched as a discrete category, is the 2nd top priority within SMBs, 3rd in the midmarket, and 6th in the upper-midmarket segments. Collaboration is already an established framework in most midsized businesses, hence a lesser priority in the enterprise-level mid-sized firms. 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 midmarket firms' digital transformation. For these firms, VDI and analytics are a greater priority.

The 2021 business challenge findings depict a wide range of objectives: expansion of the customer base, improved top-line, and bottom-line results, cost control (within IT and across the organization), competitiveness, improvement of existing operations and processes, product and process quality, workforce and regulatory issues, and (perhaps as a nod to the pandemic) a need for enhanced ability to manage the unknown.

It is a diverse list. But what is remarkable is that analytics solutions can help address all of these issues – and that, indeed, SMBs are using analytics to manage each today, which gives marketers who sell analytics solutions an enormous advantage. They can position their products as addressing strategic business priorities.

By far, within the SMB segment, the highest adoption growth rates will likely be in 5G, SD-WAN, containers/Kubernetes, UCaaS, VR/AR, AI, HCI, Customer experience tools, and Open-source solutions.

View and download Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges
View and download Top 10 Midmarket Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges
View and download Top 10 Upper Midmarket Business Issues, IT Priorities, and IT Challenges

2021 top10 smb it priorities business issues techaisle infographic blog

2021 top10 midmarket it priorities business issues techaisle infographic blog

2021 top10 upper midmarket it priorities business issues techaisle infographic blog

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US SMB IT spending will grow by 7.6 percent in 2021

US SMB IT spend is forecast to grow by 7.6% in 2021 over 2020. In July 2020, we had written that resiliency, agility, and adaptability would accelerate recovery for SMBs. Techaisle's survey of 1720 US SMBs confirms the prognosis for the US market. Data shows that 45% of US SMBs will be in the high growth segment, with IT budget increases ranging between 7.5% to 15%. However, 12% of SMBs will experience budget decreases of more than 5%. The majority of the declining IT growth segment will be in the 1-49 employee sizes. Regardless, the small businesses will grow their IT spend. There is an apparent dichotomy appearing in how technology is likely to be acquired by SMBs. Nearly two-thirds of micro-businesses prefer acquisitions structured around leases, whereas one-fourth of midmarket firms plan to move to "as-a-service" approaches.

IT services spending will grow by 8.6%, driven by managed services, data/platform integration, cloud orchestration, and business process automation. As cloud applications increase, the demand for hybrid IT is becoming a pressing requirement for SMBs.

2021 will be the year of the midmarket segment, with IT spending forecast to grow by 8%. Data illustrates a fascinating picture showing IT budget increasing in direct proportion with size, from 100-249 to 500-999 employee firms. The upper midmarket (1000-4999 employee size segment) will have an average budget increase of 6.1%, slightly lower than the 500-999 size business.

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Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions for 2021

In all sectors, 2020 was a challenging year – and as a result, 2021 is challenging from a market planning perspective. The disconnect between 2020 and 2019 was so severe that it rendered spend forecasts virtually useless: IT suppliers reacted to shifting market trends in real-time. As we enter 2021, IT product and service suppliers look to create a context for understanding the range of outcomes that the new year may bring. Techaisle's 2021 report series illuminates issues and requirements in the vast SMB market to support that effort. To start 2021, here are our top 10 predictions.

1. Digital inequality will be more important than the digital divide
2. Quest for reinvention, innovation, resiliency will drive bursts of incremental transformation goals
3. The hybrid workplace will require HR focus and drive adoption of workspace, workflow solutions
4. Meaningful customer partners and not trusted advisors will determine supplier success
5. Pragmatism will overtake progressiveness in technology adoption for a future-ready organization
6. Requirements for automation and enhanced IT services will become time-critical
7. Security and risk mitigation will focus on a safe middle ground
8. Systems of insight will move into the analytics mainstream
9. AI will arrive as a capability integrated within other solutions
10. Open source adoption will become an indicator of cloud success

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Midmarket technology and business buyers – must sell to two different groups

Over the past six months, the need for advanced solutions and professionals supporting strategy, implementation, integration, and optimization has become much more acute. Business patterns changed by COVID-19 require businesses to accelerate digital transformation within their operations. Purchasing authority has shifted from IT to business management, requiring solution providers to position their offerings and services in terms that emphasize business metrics, such as time to market and measurable revenue and cost impact, rather than technical specifications and targets. This focus on business outcomes ripples through partner marketing and technical operations: marketing needs to emphasize time-to-benefit, the ability of individual solutions to contribute to overall business agility, and the direct application of IT features to pressing business needs; on the technology side, partners need to focus as much as possible on services centered around pre-built vertical solutions that can be deployed and integrated rapidly, with replicable processes and predictable outcomes, so that delivery matches the vision set by marketing and the requirements of the customer executives.

In a unique survey, Techaisle posed several and the same questions to both BDMs (business decision-makers) and ITDMs (IT decision-makers) and probed to identify what each expected from the other. Techaisle data shows that although BDMs have higher expectations of ITDMs, they align reasonably well in some areas, and there is a broad expectation gap in others.

  • 53% of midmarket BDMs say that it is very critical for business success that ITDMs can identify and associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity & profitability. On the flip side, only 30% of IT executives in these midmarket businesses say that business executives should be able to associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Responsibility for delivery rests with IT, and BDMs have very high expectations from ITDMs.
  • Data also shows that BDMs have high expectations for support in using technology to build customer experience. Over 40% of BDMs believe that IT must understand solutions that enable beneficial customer & supplier interactions. In contrast, less than 25% of ITDMs say that BDMs should understand such solutions.
  • Employee productivity is an essential aspect of a business, and in most cases, business management expects IT to understand and deploy core technology solutions to make employees more productive.
  • Business process automation is an area where there is better alignment between IT and business. Nearly 40% of BDMs say that it is critical for business success that IT can identify requirements for automation and associate IT solutions with these needs.
  • Cross-organizational integration is vital for both BDMs and ITDMs, and over 50% of both groups agree that the other should associate and adopt technology solutions with changing business demands.

Business decision-makers (BDMs) are an intrinsic force in most midmarket organizations. They are the primary decision-makers in some high-growth technology areas, including collaboration and analytics – meaning that increasingly, BDMs are 'the boss of IT.' These BDMs view IT as a component of business processes rather than as a stand-alone silo. Techaisle SMB & Midmarket Decision Authority data shows that twice as many BDMs as ITDMs (IT decision-makers) in midmarket businesses say that IT must understand how technology contributes to overall organizational success. These BDMs have specific objectives for technology usage, clear perspectives on adoption drivers and impediments, and tend to be influenced by information sources that are different from the inputs used by ITDMs.

This pressure from business managers leaves IT leaders scrambling to stretch limited budgets to meet seemingly limitless requirements, striving to deliver predictable, secure systems that respond to their business users' increasingly varied needs and competitive environments. The divide increases because business perspectives on technology are shaped by information channels that are not part of the IT professional dialogue. The different information channels create an environment where businesses are struggling to develop the cohesion needed to promote or embrace new IT capabilities to achieve business objectives within existing IT and business process structures.

ITDM and BDM divergence will continue, and although there is cross-pollination, they may continue to operate from different pods. Although it may be tempting to try to bring the various parties together, IT suppliers cannot successfully act as intra-corporate matchmakers: they have to grasp the reality of selling to two different constituencies with different expectations.

 

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