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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.

Midmarket technology & business buyers: two peas, two pods

Business decision makers (BDMs) are an intrinsic force in most midmarket organizations and are the primary decision makers in some high-growth technology areas, including collaboration, social media 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 is critical for IT to 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 the increasingly varied needs of their business users and competitive environments. The growing divide between IT authority and responsibility, exacerbated by the fact that business perspectives on IT are shaped by information channels that are not part of the IT professional dialogue, has created 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..

In a unique survey, Techaisle posed the same question, “expectation of associating business success factors to IT solutions” to both BDMs and ITDMs and probed to identify what each expected from the other. Techaisle data shows that BDMs tend to have higher expectations of IT; while business decision makers and technology decision makers are reasonably well aligned in some areas, there is a wide expectation gap in others, which may explain (at least to some extent) the continued proliferation of non-sanctioned, “shadow” IT.

techaisle-midmarket-linking-it-with-business-success-resized

The figure above provides a simplified view of differences between BDMs and ITDMs across several different factors. Although there is a tacit agreement that both business and IT management should understand business related success imperatives and should be able to associate IT solutions to achieving those objectives, closer examination of the data shows some important differences between the two groups:

  • 53 percent of upper midmarket BDMs say that it is very critical for business success that ITDMs are able to identify and associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity & profitability. On the on the flip side, only 30% of IT executives in these upper midmarket businesses say that business executives should be able to associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity and profitability. Responsibility for delivery clearly rests with IT, and BDMs have very high expectations from ITDMs.
  • Data also clearly shows that BDMs again have high expectations for support in using technology to build customer connections. Over 40 percent of BDMs believe that it is critical that IT has a grasp of solutions that enable beneficial customer & supplier interactions. In contrast, only 1/4th of ITDMs say that BDMs should have a grasp of such solutions.
  • Employee productivity is an important aspect of business and in most cases businesses are expecting 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. However, automation is a dominant need within the 100-499 employee size segment; nearly 40 percent of BDMs in the segment say that it is critical that IT can identify requirements for automation and associate IT solutions with these needs.
  • Cross-organizational integration is recognized as being important by both BDMs and ITDMs in mid-size businesses: over 50 percent of both groups agree that it is critical for both business and IT to associate technology solutions with business demands. This is an area where both BDMs and ITDMs are fully aligned.

The trend towards increased BDM involvement in IT decisions is likely to accelerate further. BDMs are already active in shaping demand in core IT markets, and they are the dominant force in high-growth areas like collaboration, social media and business intelligence/analytics. ITDM and BDM divergence will continue and although there is cross-pollination they may as well 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 come to grasp with the reality of selling to two different constituencies which have different expectations.

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Addressing SMB and Midmarket buyers cloud & mobility journey

In the course of Techaisle’s SMB & Midmarket IT Decision Making Authority: IT vs LoB, BDMs (business decision maker) and ITDMs (technology decision maker) were asked to identify the “greatest benefits” and “key attributes” of both cloud and mobility solutions.

There is an interesting pattern apparent in the survey research findings. When adopting mobility solutions small business BDMs are focused on addressing near-term pain points: attracting new customers, improving accuracy, addressing work/life balance. The ITDMs appear to be taking a longer view, focused on applying automation to bring structure to business processes – improving the quality of interaction through application of mobility solutions, improving the quantity of those interactions, increasing process efficiency.

Midmarket BDMs are looking to mobility to help increase business process efficiency and customer interaction quality. Midmarket ITDMs, on the other hand are focused on increasing the quantity of customer interactions, which would logically impact other core areas (such as business user productivity and process efficiency) as well.

When discussing the mobility solution attributes that BDMs and ITDMs consider important to delivering on mobility benefits BDM and ITDM buyers have similar and common perceptions across all business sizes. “The ability for the mobile solution to be integrated seamlessly with existing corporate systems” – ensuring consistency across devices – is ranked as the most important mobility solution attribute by small business BDMs, and the second-most important attribute by midmarket BDMs. The ability to create and sustain secure connections for remote workers and the ability to deliver seamlessly across the “three screens” of PCs, tablets and smartphones are also priorities for BDMs in both small and midmarket businesses. ITDMs also have some key common areas of focus: the ability to integrate multiple media types into outbound communications and the ability to read or write data from/to corporate systems are the two top-ranked attributes in both employee size categories.

It is clear that each IT and business professional’s perspective on the mobility journey is shaped by their context – by their business objectives, and by the requirements imposed by the size of their organization. In the figure below we have taken the results from the Techaisle survey and plotted them in three dimensions.

techaisle-itdm-bdm-smb-mobility-attributes-resized

A look at the findings from parallel questions on cloud also reveals differences between ITDMs and BDMs, but similarities between small and midmarket firms. Looking at cloud benefits, BDMs, especially in small businesses, view cloud as a means of introducing capabilities that would have been cost or time prohibitive, and of reducing business process costs. ITDMs, on the other hand, view cloud primarily as a means of reducing IT costs. ITDMs in both small and midmarket businesses recognize that cloud can enable their organizations to be more agile, which connects well with a theme expressed by BDMs.

When analyzing the key attributes leading to realization of the above cloud benefits, data shows some differences in emphasis between small and midmarket firms. The most important difference between BDMs and ITDMs is the BDMs’ emphasis on collaboration: BDMs in both small and midmarket businesses are more likely than their ITDM counterparts to view support for collaboration as a key cloud solution attribute. BDMs are also more likely than ITDMs to look to the cloud for detailed reporting and for support of features – disaster recovery, on-demand data access, and mobility support – that may be lacking in their current environments. ITDMs, on the other hand, are focused on technical attributes (scalability, integration, IT management capabilities) that are difficult and/or expensive to develop without third party support.

Understanding the requirements, preferences, success metrics and areas of focus of BDMs and ITDMs within both small and mid-sized businesses is critical to structuring an effective SMB sales and marketing strategy. The findings open the door to an important issue: the requirements in structuring and communicating messages to ITDMs and BDMs within small and midmarket businesses. To effectively engage with and manage the increasingly-diverse decision making unit, IT suppliers will need to structure messages that address the "care-abouts" of BDMs and ITDMs, and deploy those messages through the channels that are most effective at reaching each community.

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Salesforce.com for SMBs: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Until a few years ago a set of scary questions used to be debated in many business board rooms. “Fire the CEO, CFO or SAP?” Nobody dared to fire SAP. Fast forward today, are we reaching the same set of questions with a difference - replacing SAP with Salesforce.com? Recent Dreamforce 2014, Salesforce.com’s annual gala event firmly established the company’s foothold in the industry and its increasing grip on the enterprise and businesses of all sizes. This year, there was also an increased focus on SMBs, a “back-to-the-roots” story, the backbone on which Salesforce.com launched its “no software” business but somewhere along the way lost sight of SMBs. But then Salesforce.com is no longer a software company, it is a platform company. Is the “no software” logo still valid? Is the company still suitable for SMBs?

The Best

Over the last three years, Salesforce.com has successfully added solutions to its portfolio and has checked off an important spoke in the SMB Wheel of CRM Productivity with business intelligence, one of key elements in the overall CRM productivity suite. Many of the other issues are addressed by the rich Salesforce.com partner ecosystem that connects via Force.com. Combined, these applications provide a 360 degree view of the sales and marketing process. Experience shows that as a software category matures, suite providers eventually win out against point product players. And Salesforce.com is winning.

techaisle smb crm wheel blog salesforce resized

 As Salesforce began its foray into the enterprise world, it seemed that it neglected its SMB market, which grew almost in spite of Salesforce’s lack of attention. However, from 2015 onwards, SFDC promises change as it is committing to doubling its investments in SMB education and driving growth. In fact, this year’s Dreamforce had nearly twice as many sessions for SMBs as in 2013.

Techaisle’s SMB segmentation, based on cloud and mobility adoption, finds that there are six major SMB segments:

  1. Smart Investors
  2. Growth Aspirers
  3.  
  4. Dynamic IT
  5.  
  6. Productivity-centric,
  7.  
  8. Innovation-Driven, and
  9.  
  10. Passive Followers


Of these, Dynamic SMBs, followed by Smart Investor SMBs, are most likely to benefit from CRM suites. 

The Good

The new Wave analytics platform, announced and demoed with fanfare at Dreamforce 2014, is one of the most important products to have been introduced by Salesforce.com recently. It gives some credence to Salesforce’s newly christened Analytical Cloud. But is it really that impressive beyond the flashy demo at Dreamforce 2014? Is it really analytics or a series of reports cleverly put together?

Let us set the context first. Business analytics is fast becoming an integral technology investment for an SMB organization, directly contributing to its revenue growth and reduction in operating costs by enabling informed decision making. Techaisle’s survey of SMBs across numerous countries shows that number of SMBs using one or more type of business intelligence is nearly doubling each year. Business Intelligence tools have matured and become more widely available through cloud-based services.  As a result, enterprise-grade ETL, analytics, reporting, collaboration, dashboards and other functionalities are now within affordable reach of SMBs.

techaisle smb cloud bi salesforce blog resized

We are also in a transformative time for mobility and thereby mobile business Intelligence. The move to mobile BI has largely up until now been accomplished by migrating existing functionality to a mobile environment by using new technologies on top of the old.  Companies such as Oracle, IBM and SAP are doing this through acquisition of smaller companies and integrating them into existing products. On the other hand, in a classic build vs. buy fashion, smaller companies, not hampered by existing architectural constraints are offering SaaS BI services and building new offers from scratch. Smaller BI vendors in many cases have gained a timing advantage, using native technology to bring existing mobile functionality to BI. Instead of simply providing mobile links to server data, these new products offer the rich, interactive capabilities, with the ability to use rich interactive screen manipulation, i.e., pinch and squeeze or geo-location awareness, as part of the data exploration and visualization experience. True mobile business intelligence includes ability to interact with data objects on the screen, such as filters, check-boxes, search, drill-down and drill-through to the record level and other interactive functions. Of course, being able to then use built-in device communications capabilities is also of importance once the information has been identified – SMS, email and Internet forms for dissemination of the information, as well as secure access to collaborative destinations.

Techaisle survey data also shows that the right information for SMBs centers on intelligence that helps them make sound financial decisions. This is reflected in the top three analytics areas reported by SMB respondents:

  1. Financial analysis (47% of SMBs)
  2. Sales tracking (44% of SMBs)
  3. Business activity monitoring (43% of SMBs)

These findings show that SMBs are looking to analyze data that helps to manage DSO (Days Sales Outstanding, the core accounts receivable issue), maximize inventory turns, determine the return on marketing investment for a new route to market, and/or examine the potential lifetime value of a customer through various distribution channels. SMB business intelligence/analytics tools need to deliver across this set of expectations.


What Wave Analytics is not

Wave analytics is mobile business intelligence and not analytics. It can answer one question at a time, but can’t analyze a set of questions based on multi-dimensional data and queries allowing a small business executive to make informed decisions across multiple business factors. Wave analytics cloud offers some but not all of the above functionalities. And Wave’s capabilities are tied to Salesforce.com data unless an SMB is willing to invest in the customization needed to extend analysis across other data sets, thereby increasing TCO. And that is where the bad begins. As one SMB told Techaisle, “Business intelligence and analytics is big need for an SMB, but the platform must provide easy to build reports and dashboards capabilities. If you need to hire a developer for everything, we are back to square one”.

The Bad

To quote Marc Benioff’s tweet, “What skills do you need to find a job today? #5 Salesforce”, quoting an article in Infoworld. Is it SAP redux - was there not a complete industry that had popped up and thrived for SAP developers? In many cases, the level of complexity and cost of deploying Wave solutions, beyond parametric reporting, may be out of reach for many SMBs and may instead be more attractive in the enterprise segment.

Dashboards with ad hoc exploration and structured reports are becoming the ‘new normal’, empowering the SMBs to look at information within the right context depending upon the demands of the business. Right context is not just about driving new user experience, something that Salesforce.com has focused on; it is about driving new business models as well by increasing the value of business intelligence tool to the point where it informs and supports the creation of new SMB revenue models. There are some excellent examples of embedded analysis capabilities that allow very flexible use of KPIs by SMBs across all areas of their business, including creating and analyzing the impact of new KPIs on the fly. Out-of-the-box Wave analytics cloud falls short and does not adequately address SMB BI/analytics needs.

At the outset, the Wave analytics cloud looks like it is targeted towards dashboard-saturated executives who have not been exposed to new technologies. It looks great because it is on Salesforce.com platform and it is mobile. For a CEO, running a company means determining what he/she must track and what he/she can safely de-emphasize. For this, a CEO typically requires multiple dashboards delivering “what-if” analysis capabilities; these CEOs need the ability to generate KPIs quickly and easily, measure them and refine them with time. Keeping true to “no software” rule, there should be either no or very little customization required. It’s clear that Wave needs more IT involvement – and the Wave platform partners announced at Dreamforce were all ‘big names’ such as Accenture and Deloitte, which are not the typical developers for SMBs. The expectation that an SMB has programmers sitting around eager to extract, integrate, and develop dashboards to provide one view of the business is clearly mistaken – and it certainly stretches the limits of “no software” rule.

The Ugly – Have we seen this movie before?

Mark Twain said history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme. The evolution of Salesforce.com represents a remake of a movie and we are not sure it ends well for SMBs. SFDC, which was the SMB champion ten years ago, is starting to look like Napoleon from Orwell’s Animal Farm novel.

Marc Benioff’s Dreamforce keynotes always showcase large enterprise customers, and no SMBs. However, on the 2nd day, in an SMB keynote by Tony Rodoni and Brian Millham there were three case studies of SMBs. However, all three were “born in the cloud” SMBs, not representative of over 90 percent of small businesses. Even Tony Rodoni, SVP of Small Business, Salesforce.com referred to high-growth, scalable small businesses (read startups) in Silicon Valley – again not representative of most of the world. Where have the real-world examples gone? One VP of information technology for an SMB aptly observed that, “SMB for them (SFDC) is always the next Facebook”.

In a Techaisle survey of 2155 SMBs (US, Canada, Germany) to understand cloud adoption, 42 percent mentioned that they are afraid of losing control of their data and another 31 percent said that they are fearful of vendor lock-in. These businesses worry about vendor control of data as they have neither the technical expertise nor the purchasing power to extricate themselves from supplier relationships if they experience difficulties. This concern extends to Salesforce: as the CIO of a financial services SMB said, “SFDC does not play nice when you have to import data from non-cloud solutions, and it is a challenge even with cloud applications.”

With Salesforce.com an SMB could experience both the fear factors – lock-in, loss of control on data - the concerns that are common to enterprise software suites. When software becomes a platform it develops a tendency to move over to the ‘dark side’: It unconsciously forces a lock-in, reduces the pace of innovation, limits price protection and restricts future proofing. SFDC SMB customers are already experiencing this; as one said, “They (SFDC) list per-month prices, but the contracts are executed in years’ terms”. Taken as a whole it flies in the face of everything that is cloud. Is it time for SMBs to find a new champion? And can they, or is the Salesforce grip already too tight? As a platform, Salesforce.com is like a runaway train, very difficult to stop by numerous point solution players. 

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