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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.

Techaisle data shows 41 percent of global SMBs unsure about the next decade

It was once thought that the cloud would reduce the technology deficit SMBs face relative to larger firms – but it is difficult to say that this has proved to be the case. Indeed, the cloud has lowered the barriers to adopting new systems, giving SMBs access to applications and infrastructure resources that would have been well beyond their means five years ago. However, Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket Cloud adoption trends research data show that cloud, and hybrid IT, has posed other challenges: difficulties in integrating systems with each other and with business processes, and in integrating data across applications (ensuring that data created by one application is input automatically into others); difficulty in securing systems that are based in multiple locations and managed by various organizations, each with their own set of operational rules; difficulty in applying appropriate levels of security and governance to an ever-expanding pool of data that moves at accelerating pace through an ever-more-complex constellation of systems, users and locations. Large organizations have IT teams dedicated to addressing specific issues within this shifting and complex set of requirements. SMBs rely on limited internal resources (often, small groups of generalists), supplemented by fractional headcount support from third-party channel members, to keep pace with the change that results from the constant advance of cloud and hybrid.

Despite these challenges, though, evidence suggests enormous scope for cloud growth in the global SMB segment. Data indicates an apparent leader/laggard dichotomy between midmarket and small businesses concerning IT-enabled innovation. Over 20% of midmarket firms have internal teams dedicated to “finding ‘what’s next?’ technology-driven innovations,” and 40% “have IT budgets specifically for technology-driven innovation;” 11% report that they have embedded IT professionals charged with finding innovations into business units. Small businesses are, on average, about half as likely to have taken these steps; instead, nearly half of firms with 1-99 employees state that their organizations do not expect IT to drive innovation actively.” Making the assumptions that a) midmarket firms will benefit from the express linkage of IT and innovation, and b) that the gap between large enterprises and midmarket firms is likely as significant as the delta between midmarket and small business. Additionally, large enterprises will, over time, capture IT-enabled business innovation benefits even more rapidly than midmarket competitors. Data illustrates the foundations of a cascade, where IT-enabled innovation drives business success and further cloud investments in larger firms, defining success patterns that small organizations then adopt.

The findings also expose the uncertainty that SMBs face as they structure their IT/business strategies. The most significant proportion of SMBs – 42% of small businesses and 32% of midmarket firms – state that they are unsure of what the next 10-15 years will look like for their industry. Other SMBs worry about their ability to cope with the pace of change: an average of about 25% of SMBs report that they “are struggling to keep up with the pace of change,” and nearly 20% state that they “do not know if they will be able to complete over the next decade.” Against this backdrop, a cadre of forward-looking organizations – 15% of small businesses, roughly a quarter of midmarket firms – “are battling barriers to become a digital business by 2030.” The successes that these firms realize over the next several years will increase their appetite for further cloud investments and encourage their peers to commit additional resources to cloud-based business initiatives. Techaisle expects that if and as these digital leaders realize tangible benefits from cloud and hybrid, the cloud will become an essential element of SMB business operations. As a result, SMBs will become a significant force in the cloud market. Moreover, suppliers to the SMB market and the SMBs themselves can align to bring about this positive change. Techaisle believes that mutual benefit will drive commitment and innovation on both the supply and demand side of the cloud equation.

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121 percent likely increase in adoption of vertical industry cloud solutions within US SMB and Midmarket segments

Industry-specific solutions that connect digital capabilities to real-world challenges are critical factors in transitioning from digitalized to digitally transformed organizations. In the past few years, globally, a clear trend has emerged of offering cloud solutions for vertical industries. Financial services, healthcare, and industrial equipment manufacturers have witnessed high adoption of such solutions. US SMB and Midmarket cloud adoption trends research by Techaisle shows that there is likely to be 121 percent increase in the adoption of vertical Line of business cloud solutions within the next year. Top adoption growth will be for ERP solutions.

Corresponding Techaisle channel research finds quantitative, meaningful, and actionable differences between channel partners who successfully sell cloud and those that have not developed successful cloud practices. Industry expertise and the ability to offer vertical solutions is one key area that is creating a distance. Channel partners providing vertical solutions are 2.6 times more likely to be very successful than their less/not successful counterparts.

Techaisle's channel survey research data shows that 60% of successful cloud channel partners emphasize their industry expertise and industry knowledge during their interactions with their clients. Conversely, 60% of not-so-successful partners lead with their technical knowledge, and 43% lead with price. These channel partners lack the understanding of their customers' businesses needed to offer sophisticated cloud solutions. They claim that they can demonstrate an understanding of their customer's business needs, mainly at a technical level, but get constrained by a lack of vertical application availability and experience. Only 26% of very successful partners lead with price. They can demonstrate knowledge of the industry and are therefore able to create confidence within their clients. They are also the most likely to build and maintain long-term relationships with customers.

Most channel partners position themselves as "your one-stop solution provider." However, the approach is coming under pressure. More successful channel partners focus on understanding how technology can benefit business processes. Understanding the connection between vertical business processes and IT represents a kind of expertise that will support a long-term billable relationship between "trusted advisor" channel partners and clients. This kind of relationship will become more important than the capacity to deliver IT as a horizontal solution source.

Techaisle's channel research reveals that a channel partner serves an average of 8.0 verticals but lacks deep expertise in all verticals. Vertical applications stand out as the solution needed by SMBs, midmarket, and enterprise firms the most, but only a tiny percentage of channel partners offer them.

Almost all channel partners agree that manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and financial services segments are the fastest growing with high demand for cloud business applications. Customer-facing apps (50%) and apps that support internal processes/operations (48%) are the top two in-demand applications, followed by solutions that replace legacy apps (36%), apps that involve AI/ML (27%), and IoT (14%).
techaisle industry vertical cloud solutions

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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.

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Zoho business analytics platform is knocking on the doors of more established players

Techaisle SMB and Midmarket AI and Analytics adoption trend research shows tremendous analytics scope to deliver more forward-looking predictive or prescriptive perspectives. In addition, there is a need to support the development of evidence-based corporate cultures that value positions and decisions based on data. Still, there are a mix of technology, organizational and cultural issues that businesses need to address along the journey to this future point.

Zoho is on a quest to enable the future point. One of Zoho's primary goals has been to offer end-to-end business applications that allow businesses of all sizes to automate business workflows. But it is not enough to enable companies to automate the workflows or collect data. It is also vital to have a platform, which gives businesses the capability to understand the data, analyze it and drive insights. If analytics is the key to connecting data to executive objectives, the cloud is the platform on which analytics and data – and digitalization and many other impactful solutions – will reside. With 13,000 paying cloud customers, separate from 50,000 who are using Zoho bundles (Zoho one – a collection of 45 apps), the Zoho analytics platform is knocking on the doors of established players.

Zoho has built its analytics platform vision on four pillars providing an end-to-end solution:

1. Self-service data preparation and management:

Zoho DataPrep, an AI and machine-learning driven self-service application, enables users to retrieve data from a wide range of sources, smartly cleanse, transform, enrich and prepare the data for practical analysis. It includes auto modeling and ML-based enrichment. Because of its popularity and ease of use, Zoho also offers its DataPrep tool as a stand-alone service.

2. Visualization and analysis leading to data stories:

An integrated enterprise portal builder (Zoho Sites) and presentation software (Zoho Show) enables business users to analyze data through self-service interfaces like drag and drop interface or natural language processing as well as other automated analysis for developing insights.

3. Augmented analytics for insights and actions:

Augmented analytics component enables business users to get both prescriptive and predictive insights from data. What-if analysis and forecasting models are a core component of augmented analytics.

4. Marketplace apps:

Developers and partners can develop analytical apps and publish them on Zoho's marketplace. Applications such as Jira, ServiceNow, and Shopify have seen the highest uptake within Zoho Analytics customers.

AI and ML seamlessly embed into all the components of the analytics platform. A crucial part of analytics initiatives in any business is preparing the data for insights. Marc Fishman, Director of Sales and Marketing, Call Center Sales Pro, could not contain his excitement when speaking with Techaisle about Zoho's DataPrep tool. He said, "the recent release of DataPrep honestly blew us away, causing us to explore that potential sharing of call center data. Depending largely on the toolset available to us after successful import, we have many options to consider — both internally and potentially externally for our customer base. It's beyond exciting!"

Many lenses can assess the importance of analytics and AI in the SMB and midmarket segments. One that illustrates the pace of these segments is the often-cited 'hype cycle,' which begins with a "technology trigger," soars to a "peak of inflated expectations," crashes down to the "trough of disillusionment," and then rises through a "slope of enlightenment" to a "plateau of productivity." Analytics and AI provide excellent examples of how this process plays out in the IT-centric world. As a concept, AI has lived at the peak of inflated expectations for many years, borne aloft by an amorphous vision of systems that will automatically know what's needed next. This is because, based on some elixir that combines a large quantity of data with fuzzy algorithms, supported by computational capacity delivered by Moore's Law, the rising quantum, or some combination of future breakthroughs. Meanwhile, analytics has followed a more gradual path, showing both real current benefit and the promise of additional value in the future – at which point, naturally, it will become a sidekick to AI.

Unfortunately, this is not an entirely apt description of the evolution of analytics and AI in the real world, especially in the midmarket segment. Despite bold claims to the contrary, businesses have primarily deployed analytics applications to consolidate data from diverse sources into an intelligible whole. Analytics as a discipline has been mainly concerned with using that data to create dashboards that illustrate current status and immediate or potential problem points. That is, as a descriptive or diagnostic tool. Techaisle research shows that 53% of US midmarket firms use analytics to provide a diagnostic view of the business, and 39% use analytics to recommend actions, in other words, prescriptive.

Zoho's unified business analytics platform may well change the adoption from diagnostic to prescriptive. Zoho's simple, cost-effective BI tool enables collaborative analytics and quickly provides 360-degree views of customers or the entire organization.

So what do SMBs and midmarket firms require of an analytics solution, and does Zoho meet those needs? Techaisle's survey respondents provided a definitive perspective that surprisingly reinforces the pillars of Zoho's analytics vision. "Solutions that enable self-service for non-technical users" is at the top of the requirements list for both small and midmarket organizations. It is a wise point of emphasis, given that research has found that utilization rates, satisfaction, and ROI increase if users can access analytics systems without IT support. As a result, Zoho has developed its platform for non-technical users. The following most frequently cited attribute, "platform technologies that integrate analytics and presentation," is ranked second by small businesses and midmarket firms. This focus reflects frustration in trying to integrate different tools to meet parts of the overall analytics requirement. For example, the Zoho Show platform integrates with Zoho analytics to create a slide deck and seamlessly embed reports and dashboards to make an interactive and immersive presentation. The third-ranked component in the midmarket findings, "big data designed and enabled database," reflects an immediate need. Similarly, "well-defined security and privacy implementation" reflects a segment-specific need for supplier assistance in ensuring that security is applied to the system of insight, ensuring that data analysis doesn't lead to data leakage. Of course, we all know that Zoho zealously protects user privacy.

Zoho is hitting on all the requirements of midmarket firms, and businesses are noticing. As Marc Fishman, Director of Sales and Marketing, Call Center Sales Pro, said, "We selected Zoho because of the ease of data sharing and integrated Desk, CRM, and connectivity applications. No other suite compared — both in price and breadth — that offered us so many tools we could immediately use."

Zoho analytics platform is built for non-technical, non-analytic users but has the depth and capabilities for technical staff and data analysts. Its best feature is data preparation, which alone is enough to justify using Zoho analytics platform. The platform delivers rapid time to value.

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