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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.

2020 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 2020. In its detailed SMB survey Techaisle investigated 27 different technology areas and several technology sub-categories, 25 different IT challenges and 24 different business issues. This is the 10th 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 1.8M B2B IT professionals spread across 30+ countries.

WW SMBs are expected to spend US$1 trillion on IT in 2028, growing at a faster rate than the enterprise segment. Innovation is increasingly becoming a line-item of IT budgets. 40% of midmarket firms and 15% of small businesses are carving out budgets specifically for technology-driven innovation. But there is a flip-side as well. Within 47% of small businesses and 22% of midmarket firms, IT is not expected to actively drive innovation. As data suggest, nearly half of the SMBs assert that either they do not have the right IT skills or not enough IT staff. However, data does show that move to pay-as-you-use/consumption-based financing is likely to reach an irreversible trend with 14% of SMBs either currently using or planning for it. But a mass-move to only OPEX-based technology acquisitions is still in distant future with 30% of SMBs still preferring a mix of CAPEX and OPEX.

2020 top10 smb it priorities business issues techaisle infographics blog

Download 2020 SMB infographic here

For 2020, data shows that for the first-time customer experience has appeared within the top 5 challenges being faced by IT within SMBs which has a direct correlation to the top business issue of attracting and retaining customers. A direct result of the new challenge and focus is in the increase in plans for adopting integrated CRM and customer service solutions (in some cases replacing one brand of CRM with another), acceleration in use of artificial intelligence and analytics. A small business CEO of a manufacturing firm told Techaisle, “we are planning to purchase more cloud-based applications to save time and effort. See being a start-up, currently we do not use many cloud applications and we know that there are requests from our sales and HR department to purchase additional cloud applications. Right now, we are not using any cloud application for customer service and for evaluating our progress, growth and tackle pain point of our business, we need to be more connected to our consumers. So, we are trying to purchase a cloud application like Salesforce or Zoho that can enable us connect with our consumers for feedback and registering customer support / complaints”.

For small businesses, upgrading to digital marketing and utilizing social media is among the top 10 IT challenges. These small businesses are not only experimenting themselves but seeking external assistance in how best to use major digital platforms like Google and LinkedIn to make their customers aware of the services and products that they have to offer. They are also hoping that such initiatives may help them get valuable feedback from their customers.

Security is not only the biggest IT challenge but it is also a key top priority in every region and across all employee size segments. As one SMB CIO told Techaisle, “security has been our biggest concern. The more we try to deploy latest technologies and software hackers always find new ways to breach. So, we are hiring more experts in our cyber security team and we are evaluating more vendors to have the best software and tools for security”. In fact, US survey data shows that 3% of small businesses and 94% of midmarket firms have employed IT security specialists within their organizations. If data from 1-19 employee size segment is excluded, then the percent of small businesses with full-time cybersecurity staff increases to 25% within 20-49 segment and 57% with 50-99 employee segment. The data is no different in Europe and Asia/Pacific, in fact, the percentages are higher in Europe. A small business IT director in Germany told Techaisle “as our company grows and evolves, security concerns are increasing. There are increasing number of cyber risks and we have plans to implement new security solutions, amending policies and hiring additional security professionals for protecting our organization from any cyber breaches or threats”.

Controlling IT costs, although number nine on the top 10 list is a challenge for SMBs. IT is known to be kinetic, complex and risky and costs can spiral out of control rapidly or SMBs are unable to realize the ROI of the investment in the shortest time. Most SMBs find controlling cost to be a major challenged because there have been situations where their spend was higher than budget allocation resulted in losses. Therefore, SMBs are becoming better on their budget forecasts and moving towards cloud eliminating Capex.

Accelerating cloud adoption is a given but there is a new initiative to consolidate IT workloads. A Vice President of IT in Asia/Pacific elaborated on this topic, “we have a lot of IT workloads that is spread over public and private cloud. It is very important for us to have our data consolidated at a single place that would be a private cloud so that only our internal team has access to it and no one else could access the data without our permission. We have plans to work on private cloud provided by Microsoft Azure and AWS”. There are many other SMBs and midmarket firms who have tasked their IT departments to research and add new cloud technologies based on business requirements.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) has moved up in its list of IT priorities driven by the promise of agility, reduced costs, scalability and centralized management. SMBs and midmarket firms are showing their preference for VMware, Cisco and Nutanix HCI offerings.

Cloud-managed SD-WAN service is a new top 10 IT priority for midmarket firms because of faster deployment, optimization of WAN bandwidth and improved operational efficiency due to automation and self-provisioning.

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WW Midmarket Hybrid Cloud penetration has reached 37 percent and 17 percent workload

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket Cloud adoption survey of 3200 midmarket firms and 3000 small businesses globally shows that hybrid cloud has been gaining momentum in small businesses, and is already entrenched in the mid-market firms. Hybrid accounts for 37 percent of cloud using mid-market businesses today, up 28% from 2018, and is expected to capture a lot higher proportion of new spending in the next one year. Midmarket firms are moving from public clouds to hybrid deployments with current hybrid workload at 17%, up from 12% in 2018. The current penetration is the highest in the US but planned usage is highest in Europe and Asia/Pacific.

There is no clear trend on the types of workloads on hybrid environments which shows that most deployments are very specific to a customer’s needs and application delivery partner’s expertise. Typical hybrid workloads include ERP, HR, CRM, finance, operations, IoT, analytics, AI, Machine Learning, SAP 4/HANA deployments, disaster recovery, critical event management, mass storage, cloud security and cloud database. Both Azure and AWS are being used by over 90% of US midmarket firms. Red Hat OpenStack is the preferred private cloud platform for 74% of US firms and Red Hat Cloudforms is the most used cloud management solution by 80% of US midmarket firms followed by VMware vRealize. Hypergrid, Morpheus, platform9 and Scalr are in low single digits. Ansible is being used by most channel partners for orchestration and automation.

Corresponding Techaisle survey with partners delivering cloud solutions to SMBs and midmarket customers reveals that Azure Stack is the most popular platform because of Microsoft’s proactive engagement, powerful and extensive Microsoft ecosystem as well as deep product portfolio. Google Anthos and AWS Outposts are picking up pace. Interesting trend is being seen from AWS partners who are beginning to use Google Anthos instead of AWS Outposts. These partners are not only working with AWS native solutions, but offering cloud solutions which are based around other cloud platforms like GCP, Oracle or Microsoft. Some of these partners prefer to use Anthos because they find it to be more of an open technology and AWS Outposts and can be easily implemented across other environments. It gives them a wider approach in terms of compatibility. They have to pay a fixed amount when using using Anthos which is variable with Outposts. None of the application delivery partners are using tools and technology from only a single vendor. The use of Open Source is dominant.

Another view of the data collected in the survey provides fascinating insight into the extent that midmarket cloud users are willing to align different delivery methods with internal requirements. Detailed analysis and segmentation of data reveals that there are pockets of demand (and overlap in these pockets) that exist for public, private and hybrid models in each segment.

Mid-market businesses
Looking at the mid-market segmentation, we see that larger firms are likely to employ multiple cloud delivery strategies. Overall, 51 percent rely on a single delivery approach for cloud, for example, 31 percent use only private. 29 percent of mid-market businesses use two different delivery approaches, with the most common being a combination of private and public models (but not in a hybrid setting). Firms in these overlap areas are not, on average, larger than those using a single delivery method, but they do face added complexity in that they tend to have more locations.

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Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions for 2020

1. Connected business will be everyone’s problem.

The key focus of business investment will be more about the “work”: the ways that an increasingly-connected business can support pursuit of previously-unattainable objectives. The most important SMB & Midmarket technology-related adoption in 2020 will be this focus on connectedness – cloud, platforms, edge, devices, applications, security, collaboration, workspaces and insights. With the connective fabric rapidly becoming ubiquitous, businesses of all types and sizes will move beyond just the network access, and concentrate instead on using technologies to drive progress across the four pillars of digital transformation: operational effi-ciency, customer intimacy, employee empowerment and product innovation.

2. Momentum building for consumption-based IT acquisition.

Increasingly within SMBs and midmarket firms discrete sales of individual products or integrated systems will be replaced by agreements to provide IT capacity and business functionality “as-a-Service”. In 2020, the trend will be more midmarket driven than small businesses. 20% of midmarket firms will move towards OPEX-based agreements where these firms will look for flexibility and will prefer to acquire technology based on usage – namely IT consumption model – driven primarily because of current IT asset under-utilization.

3. Customer intimacy will take a whole new meaning.

Every SMBs’ survival is dependent upon customers and 2020 will see a ground-breaking year when customer intimacy (acquisition, retention, experience & satisfaction) will drive IT adoption and business process evolution. By the end of 2020, for 45% of SMBs, need for customer intimacy will drive IT adoption and 76% of new SaaS adoption will be customer focused. As a result, 15% of small businesses and 24% of midmarket firms will have “Top Notch” customer facing digital presence.

4. Need for Embedded Collaboration will be clear and present.

Anywhere, anytime also means any type of collaboration. Collaboration solutions cannot be deployed on stand-alone platforms – they need to be viewed as a framework for integrating multiple capabilities, native to multiple applications. By the end of 2020, 80% of SMBs will benefit from embedded collaboration and for high-growth, innovative businesses, effective, e¬fficient collaboration will be in their organizational DNA to deliver decision agility, business agility and innovation agility.

5. Regardless of the question, analytics will provide an answer.

In 2020, SMBs will see a new attitude and culture that will value and use data as a meaningful way to gauge overall performance and specific areas of interest at a glance will become prevalent. SMBs will demand Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as a standard part of application architectures as well as a meta-directory of KPIs that all applications can access. It may finally become possible for SMBs and Midmarket firms measure and optimize for elusive objectives like Return on Marketing Investment, Optimal Pricing, Cost of Acquisition and Lifetime Customer Value. By the end of 2020, 15% of SMBs will be highly data driven and 30% will be using cloud-based prescriptive analytics and 50% of midmarket firms will demand AI-driven analytical platforms to proactively prescribe actions that will mitigate risk / increase opportunity within the predicted future.

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Cybersecurity - SMBs are maneuvering around the edges of flame

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket security solutions adoption research shows that although security is a top IT priority for 85% of SMBs, cybersecurity is still not the most pressing security issue for 80% of SMBs. These SMB firms maybe maneuvering around the edges of cybersecurity flame as 19% of small businesses and 28% of midmarket firms believe that they have established best practices to control cyber-attacks. 31% of SMBs report that they are very confident of recovering from a cybersecurity incident and another 20% say the recovery is dependent upon the type of incidence. Is it really the case that the security-confident SMBs have taken all necessary steps to safeguard data, user and environment? Answer lies in the next set of data points. Only 8% of small businesses and 24% of midmarket firms have tested their responses to breaches or security incidents to ensure that their protocols will be effective in a crisis situation. Less than 10% of SMBs are covered by cyber-insurance and only 5% are considering cyber-insurance.

 techaisle smb midmarket cyber attack priority

SMBs that build effective, responsive security frameworks will be positioned to capitalize on new technologies and on the new efficiencies that they enable. There is no denying that the threats that IT security frameworks address are becoming both more pernicious and a greater threat to the success of IT-dependent businesses – which is to say, nearly all businesses.

In the Techaisle survey, respondents were asked “– what would be the impact on your organization if there was a security/data breach of corporate information?” Responses indicate that the damage would be widespread and substantial. As the chart below demonstrates, the most severe consequence of a breach would be damage to customer privacy and trust, but there would also be damage to corporate reputations and profitability, difficulty in meeting regulatory requirements, and personal reputation damage for both business and IT professionals within the firm.

techaisle smb midmarket impact security breach

The NIST framework does a good job of describing a business’s approach to cyber security, but it doesn’t actually address the approaches used by ‘bad actors’ to attack data and users. To understand how attackers work (and might be stopped), IT security professionals often turn to the cyber (or intrusion) kill chain. This seven-stage view of an attacker’s process, developed by Lockheed Martin in 2011, helps technical leads to align security technology and processes against an attacker’s progressive objectives.

techaisle smb midmarket cyber attacker process
There are many variants on the diagram. Some include responses to the intrusion kill chain, urging businesses to “detect, deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive and destroy” attackers and their malware. Others highlight the key technologies and technology processes used to support these responses: for example, security professionals combating intruders at the reconnaissance stage might use web analytics to detect an intruder’s activities, and then firewall technology to deny access to corporate systems. The specific details vary from scenario to scenario, and evolve over time. What is constant, though, is the need for technically-adept security professionals to invest in capable technologies, to integrate these systems with each other, to develop processes that connect effectively with threats and technology-based ‘shields’, and to align these systems and processes with management’s corporate objectives.

It isn’t an exaggeration to state that in today’s business world, IT infrastructure is business critical infrastructure. SMBs are heavily invested in IT, with IT-dependent processes throughout their operations. This ubiquitous dependence on technology means that systems failure will reverberate throughout all of a company’s daily operations. There is no way to disaster-proof against IT failure with insurance; appropriate investment in IT security processes, technologies and management strategies is the only way to capitalize on the productivity benefits of IT without creating exposure to organizational paralysis in the event of a malware invasion, a hacker attack or an employee’s negligence or malfeasance.

The lack of understanding of a threat associated with a widely-used cloud platform on one hand (and likely, additional confusion with respect to security issues associated with other technologies), and the lack of IT staff resources available to address security concerns on the other, produces a clear conclusion: SMBs need suppliers to step up to delivery of secure IT environments and prevent cyber-attacks.

In many cases, these suppliers will be the mainstream channel partners who supply the SMB’s technology, who act as the IT management presence within the SMB’s business. In other cases, including in many midmarket environments, the source of security products and services will be specialized managed security providers who focus tightly on operating SOCs and protecting client environments. In some scenarios, firms will ‘land’ by entering a client account from one of these positions, and then ‘expand’ to serve a wider range of IT supply needs – crowding out competitors who can’t address the risk and compliance issues that are central to the CEO’s mandate.

Related research

US SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Europe SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Asia/Pacific SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Latin America SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

 

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