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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.

SMB and Midmarket hybrid cloud adoption likely to explode exponentially

The explosion in cloud use has led to considerable increases in the extent of automation within SMBs. Techaisle SMB survey research data illustrates, SMBs are absorbing cloud systems at a very rapid rate: core infrastructure requirements (such as storage and productivity applications), systems of record (e.g., accounting), and systems of engagement (e.g., collaboration/conferencing) are increasingly cloud-based, and the cloud is paving the way for new automation in these areas, and in systems of insight (analytics) within SMBs.

As the adoption of cloud applications increase, there is a pressing demand for hybrid within SMBs. SMBs want to integrate multiple delivery sources into a single unified fabric. They also want to assign workloads to the best (rather than “best possible today”) location and connect data and critical services (notably, security) across platforms. Techaisle data shows that 34% of midmarket cloud workload is on hybrid cloud, 31% of midmarket firms are using advanced hybrid infrastructure with automated links between platforms. In 2021, the percentage is likely to increase by 45%. Techaisle expects hybrid momentum in the SMB market to grow in 2021 and beyond, with a 5X increase potential in the small business segment.

Comparing 2020 and 2021 data shows that although there was tremendous interest in expanding hybrid automation/orchestration in 2020, many SMBs put their plans on hold in favor of emergency responses to pandemic-related requirements. Still, though, the need for capable hybrid architecture and management is only becoming more acute over time.

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Cisco Meraki masterfully enabling digital workplaces for SMBs

New work patterns and acceleration of distributed workplaces are resulting in a range of productivity benefits for SMBs today. As such, businesses see increased workforce efficiencies and talent recruitment while minimizing cost by reducing intermediaries and integration of contract professionals – and even improved environmental performance through reduced commuting and building footprints.

In the quest to deploy a perfect hybrid workplace technology infrastructure, SMBs often overlook networking – wireless, routers, firewalls, and beyond. Similarly, as small business retailers and other small commercial offices struggle with re-opening uncertainties, they are also grappling with the daunting task of enabling secure and safe environments for their employees and customers. Digitization with minimum IT disruption and low manageability is on their minds.

Cash flow constraints, limited access to finances, competitive landscapes, need for innovation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more are drivers for achieving cost efficiencies within SMBs. Digital transformation is no longer the domain of only upper midmarket firms and enterprises. Techaisle's SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation survey research shows that 46% of SMBs are adopting digital transformation to reduce costs, and 38% are planning for innovation in customer engagement and services.

Helping SMBs thrive with robust IT solutions

Unbeknownst to many, the Cisco Meraki platform and the solutions that it powers is a critical foundational technology to fast-forward digital transformation for SMBs. Much of this comes from its ease of use, simplicity, and flexibility for lean IT to innovate by doing more with less.

Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012, around the same time (2013) when it divested Linksys to Belkin. Over the years, Cisco has continued to innovate on its highly successful Meraki platform. It is no secret that Cisco Meraki invented cloud-managed networking technology in 2006 and has continued to innovate and expand the networking portfolio to IoT solutions and cover any business need or use case. The Meraki platform consists of switching, security & SD-WAN, wireless access points, mobile device management, and now extending to IoT, including smart cameras and AI-equipped sensors to drive business intelligence.

When it comes to deep intelligence and analytics, Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allow SMBs to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from the Meraki dashboard or API and easily detect and fix potential issues in minutes. Techaisle's survey research shows that only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff. They spend 79% of their time on support, maintenance, and troubleshooting—creating not only an IT efficiency deficit but also negatively impacting organizational productivity. Meraki Health's objective is to make troubleshooting simple for the lean, almost non-existent, or over-burdened small business owner/manager. Ultimately, small businesses need to propel growth and enable new business initiatives freeing up time and resources.

To ease the digital transformation, Meraki provides many capabilities that protect SMBs of any size, including:

  • Preventing cyber-attacks: Meraki MX Security & SD-WAN appliances protect SMB business, users, and devices. Meraki security has the backing of Cisco Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams globally.
  • Deploying remote workers: Meraki Z3 teleworker gateways provide connectivity and secure and seamless in-office experiences. Meraki Insight delivers deep visibility into critical business applications and proactive troubleshooting for remote workers.
  • Ensuring safe occupancy: Meraki MV smart cameras lets SMBs maintain social distancing guidelines by remotely monitoring and tracking safe occupancy levels in physical environments through intelligent analytics, such as object detection and tracking.
  • Cost savings from simplicity: All Meraki products are deployed and controlled from a single pane of glass. Meraki Health is available for all devices, saving a lot of troubleshooting time by pinpointing specific problematic devices and clients via root cause analysis.

SMBs agree that Meraki solutions can be quickly deployed with zero-touch provisioning and configuration and remotely managed through a cloud-based GUI dashboard (single pane of glass), with all-inclusive licensing. Meraki provides 24/7 technical support (email or phone) and a lifetime warranty on devices (except cameras & outdoor APs) with advanced replacement.

Challenges in small business security

Techaisle's SMB security survey research data shows that security is a top IT priority and challenge for 76% of SMBs, and 65% are planning to increase IT security investments. Within the SMB segment, small businesses often lack the skills required to work with software-based security solutions and tend to be 25%-33% less likely than midmarket firms to work with managed service providers.
Most small businesses are not proactive in addressing security issues, but that may not be the whole problem, or perhaps even the greatest obstacle to small business adoption of security technology. Relative to midmarket firms, small businesses have limited to no internal IT security staff, are not generally working with a managed service provider capable of handling security needs, and are about 50% less likely to embrace external vendors' software-based security solutions.

While small businesses could theoretically pursue some strategies used by larger competitors, they lack the experience and skills needed to identify, deploy, and manage the products and relationships used to develop shields protecting valuable corporate data, applications, and human assets.

Meraki addresses these issues by providing a secure in-office experience to remote workers—giving access to applications while maintaining visibility and control from anywhere with a cloud-managed dashboard. It also encrypts data with Auto VPN, allowing employees to quickly, securely, and remotely connect to corporate locations.

Meraki smart cameras also address physical security, remote monitoring, and intelligence by including on-device storage and flexibility to access the data through the cloud. The cameras allow for a significant amount of playback features with machine learning and AI to compress the data and provide business intelligence instantly gleaned from long recordings. It is an ideal product for SMBs implementing social distancing guidelines, remotely monitoring physical spaces, reducing in-person exposure on-site, and ensuring comprehensive security.

How SMBs can adapt and digitize

As I said earlier, there is increasing importance for innovation and digitization (not referring strictly to the substitution of digital records for physical documents, but more broadly to the use of digital technologies to meet business goals) in SMB strategy. A combination of increased reliance on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a perfect storm for small businesses to adapt to their changing environments using specifically designed technology.

Over the last few months, we studied use cases and Meraki's usefulness within the SMB segment. Meraki addresses real and compelling issues, and I believe it will continue to expand within the SMB community. Verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services have been quick adopters of Meraki, specifically, for launching new business models, deploying remote workers, transitioning to hybrid workplaces, cybersecurity, location analysis, contact tracing, social distancing, personal safety, curbside pickup, and more.

SMB owners and executives are concerned with issues that extend beyond technology. Yet, today's business environments are increasingly dependent on IT support, products, and services that improve productivity and efficiency or expand market reach and potential.

IT initiatives that can be linked meaningfully to broader business objectives can attract SMB executive support – meaning that products and services that address key business priorities have the most significant growth potential. Meraki is well on its way.

The future of IT

Today's economy demands that technology support SMB activities. The future will be defined by them capitalizing on technology-enabled business options. If SMBs are thinking about the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity, they should include Meraki in their evaluations. Writing this analysis reminds me that I am working from home, and I should probably replace my mesh-routers with Meraki devices.

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SMB and Midmarket adoption of Artificial Intelligence – key market facts

AI will arrive as a capability integrated within other solutions

When artificial intelligence (AI) comes up in a discussion that focuses on SMBs, the first question is likely to be “how many organizations are using it – and how?”. Results from Techaisle survey on US SMB and Midmarket Analytics and Artificial Intelligence adoption research indicate that AI penetration within the midmarket, driven primarily by firms with more than 250 employees, is reasonably robust. Both small and midmarket businesses are forecasting a substantial rise in use in 2021. In both cases, “use of AI” actually means “use of systems/tools/other products that embed AI.” This is an important distinction. As an earlier-stage technology that is typically embedded when it reaches the SMB market, AI is within the top 15 IT priority list for SMBs. AI is far more likely to arrive in SMBs as capabilities within other products than as a stand-alone offering.

The survey research data indicates that SMB adoption of AI capabilities is still at an early point. Small businesses have little to lose by treating 2021 as an evaluation year, understanding how AI is being used to create real advantage within peer organizations. The situation is different for midmarket organizations, where early adopters are already gaining experience (and potentially, benefits) from AI-based systems. Midmarket firms will not alter their 2021 plans, and AI capabilities will be on IT’s radar and maybe, on evaluation lists for new tools/solutions.

SMBs are not ready to adopt AI as a core platform capability. If one reads “planning to use” as meaning “we consider AI to be a selling feature or factor in the evaluation of new solutions,” however, the SMB market for AI starts to become interesting.

Techaisle asked a follow-on question about AI deployment to respondents who reported that their organizations were currently using or planning to use: is AI currently deployed/in production within their organizations, are they presently implementing AI solutions, are they in a trial/pilot phases, or have they not yet started implementation?

With the caution that the stats below represent only the organizations committed to an AI path, AI – especially in midmarket organizations (and particularly within those with 500-999 employees) – is becoming reasonably well established. Within small businesses, 11% of the organizations using or planning to use AI report that they have AI in production. Midmarket figures are more robust: 24% of firms using/planning to use AI report having at least one AI-inclusive solution in production.

SMB and IT supplier call-to-action

Real production use of AI is still rare, especially for small businesses. SMBs should stay on the lookout for potential breakthrough AI-based solutions but shouldn’t feel pressured to adopt systems that don’t offer compelling value propositions and ROIs. Given the early stage of AI, these findings are indicators of interest, rather than definitive statements on market readiness. Every firm is a prospect for systems with embedded AI; the current state data mostly shows how advanced they are in their consideration of these capabilities.

Areas where AI is/will be integral to business success

To understand where AI is most likely to impact SMB businesses, Techaisle inserted two questions into the survey instrument: one asking respondents to identify areas where AI will be integral to business success. A second asks which internal functions were most likely to benefit from AI-based systems.

Research data shows that small business and midmarket organizations have very different visions of business processes most likely to benefit from AI adoption. By a healthy margin, small business respondents are most focused on AI to impact the customer experience positively. Business intelligence and analytics, HR/recruiting are cited as potentially benefitting from AI. Several other functions – process automation, finance and operations, web/social media analytics, and marketing/advertising – are also viewed as opportunity areas.

Midmarket firms are keen to apply data to risk reduction: these respondents view fraud analytics as the most likely area to benefit from AI. Midmarket decision-makers believe that web/social media analytics, customer experience, and process automation are good targets for AI. They also see “automation of repetitive tasks” and IT automation and management as high-potential areas for AI-based solutions.

There are no doubt other variants of “AI” that will emerge as the technology and its use cases mature. AI-deployment is a potentially-fertile opportunity for SMB users and suppliers alike, but flexibility will be a critical success component.

Geo research:

Techaisle survey on Europe SMB and Midmarket Analytics and Artificial Intelligence adoption research
Techaisle survey on Asia/Pacific SMB and Midmarket Analytics and Artificial Intelligence adoption research
Techaisle survey on Latin America SMB and Midmarket Analytics and Artificial Intelligence adoption research

If you missed our 2021 Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions, here is the link

Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions for 2021

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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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