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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.

Coming wave of midmarket collaboration adoption drivers

Techaisle’s SMB & Midmarket Collaboration adoption survey research shows that collaboration is already entrenched within many midmarket businesses. While the creation of a central information repository was the most important business driver for collaboration solutions adoption to the “first wave” of midmarket users, it is not so for the new buyers. Leadership’s desire to move forward with collaboration initiatives was the second most important driver for first wave of adopters, the need to meet leadership expectations is widespread within future adopters as well but this issue has been surpassed by the need to enable faster innovation within the new adopter group.

Key business drivers for collaboration are changing within SMBs and midmarket businesses. Specifically, within midmarket businesses, future collaboration adoption efforts will be driven by demands for decision agility, speed of innovation, customer intimacy and faster time to market.

Early midmarket collaboration solution users tell Techaisle that they were frequently investing in these solutions because a lack of teamwork was impacting productivity. New adopters are saying that they are having difficulty coordinating meetings (as a consequence of increased employee mobility, dispersed team members, ad hoc scheduling), and that they need to address slow decision-making within their organizations. In the Techaisle survey midmarket businesses also rated “need for faster innovation” as the third most prevalent driver for collaboration solutions.

The figure below shows the changes in adoption drivers from early adopters to the new wave of adopters for whom collaboration is one of the top IT priorities for business success.

techaisle-midmarket-collaboration-adoption-drivers

The first wave of users focused on asynchronous file-sharing cloud services. Looked at as a whole, there are several distinct generations of collaboration solution drivers within midmarket businesses. The first wave, reflected in the early users within the midmarket business segment was reacting to a requirement to create a central repository of information, to leadership mandates and to the need to coordinate geographically-dispersed teams. The next generation of midmarket business collaboration solution adopters will emphasize collaborative responses to specific pain points – slow decision making, difficulty in coordinating meetings, faster innovation – more than their predecessors.

A deeper review of the midmarket data in the Techaisle study provides additional context for the discussion of collaboration solution benefit metrics. Speed of customer/prospect response is very firmly positioned as a key determinant of solution success, and the importance of meeting deliverable timelines and decision accuracy are also underscored. Data also shows that businesses with 100-249 employees view a reduction in the cost of collaboration as a key success metrics.

The type of collaboration solution adoption data shows that the next stage in the collaboration platform/framework is the ability to enable richer online interaction by allowing simultaneous sharing and editing of files from PCs and mobile devices, to enable multiple simultaneous communication modes, mobile video collaboration and to integrate social networks thereby extending collaboration initiatives from file sharing to more interactive solutions.

Mobility is a key driver and a key support requirement for collaboration. There is a sound basis for believing that mobility has extended demand for collaboration solutions and collaboration investment priorities emphasize inclusion of mobile devices. It is expected that mobile video will drive the highest proportion of new technology needs. Data also shows that enabling teamwork and dealing with new mobility/geographic challenges will be a key investment driver and that individual employees will have a greater voice in shaping solution demand. For the IT staff deploying support for multiple simultaneous communications modes (text, chat, voice, and video) will be a key technology requirement.

Techaisle believes that this reflects a couple of broad trends: the initial centricity of file sharing to a more interactive communications in collaboration strategies, a recognition that there are now many different ways to connect midmarket employees beyond email and a move away from collaboration solutions as a stand-alone platform (like email) and towards collaboration solutions as a framework for integrating multiple capabilities.

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SMB and midmarket server virtualization adoption drivers changing

Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket virtualization adoption research shows that some adoption drivers that were less important in 2013 have assumed increased prominence today, some have dropped off while top two have remain constant and consistent. The figure below shows that some of the top issues, including a need to reduce operating costs, to establish effective backup and recovery strategies, and to provide better security for corporate data and infrastructure, were important to SMB buyers two years ago and are still important today.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-reasons-for-using-server-virtualization-resized 

Two of the 2013 issues have disappeared altogether because they no longer had the same degree of urgency: “move towards cloud computing” is not a driver when the market has already embraced this move, and “reduce energy costs” is less important when power-constrained operations can move processing to the cloud.

“Deliver services on demand” was the ninth-ranked driver of virtualization adoption just two years ago, but today, when “on demand” has become the default mode of delivery, it is the fourth-highest rated adoption driver. Regulatory compliance is another issue that is more important today (ranked fifth) than it was in 2013 (when it was ranked 11th of 13 issues). Scalability, which was added to the 2015 survey in response to increased market interest, debuts as the sixth most compelling reason for server virtualization adoption, while anywhere/any device application access, which is also new to the 2015 survey, is cited as an important adoption issue. On the other side of the balance, the comparison of 2013 and 2015 research indicates that SMB firms are now putting less emphasis on server virtualization as a means of reducing IT support costs and improving utilization of existing hardware. It appears that the issues that are increasing in importance speak to the ability of server virtualization to support key business objectives, while those framed entirely as means of enabling specific types of IT cost control are declining in relative importance.

techaisle-smb-channel-different-virtualization-adoption-perspectives-resized

Interestingly, the IT channel – which is the primary source of IT supply and advisory services to mid-market businesses – has a more advanced take on server virtualization adoption drivers than the customer community that it supports. Above figure compares the channel’s perception of why SMBs are embracing server virtualization with the actual user motivations. We see that the channel is more focused on support for advanced business objectives – delivery of on-demand services, scalability, and anywhere/any device application access – than is the user community itself. This suggests that channel members (two-thirds of which reports that they sell/support server virtualization) are attuned to evolving needs, which speaks well of the channel’s ability to continue to promote server virtualization within the SMB market.

Despite the buzz around cloud, most SMB workloads are still hosted and managed on site, and SMBs have a clear need to reduce costs and improve efficiency of back-end infrastructure and to establish better control over mobile resources. Virtualization helps accomplish both of these goals, and converged infrastructure provides a platform that sophisticated SMB users are already finding compelling. Techaisle believes that virtualization and converged infrastructure are poised for strong growth in the SMB market because they address specific high-priority IT and business issues. It’s important to remember, though, that different virtualization technologies are aligned with different requirements. Server virtualization addresses corporate need for controlling cost and uncertainty, while VDI and DaaS provide control options for mobility solutions. Although they stand to benefit from user comfort engendered by server virtualization, VDI and DaaS should not be seen simply as “next steps in virtualization” – they play a different role in business and IT strategy, and as a result, will respond to their own logic.

Use of server virtualization is reasonably widespread in the small business market, and nearly universal within midmarket enterprises. Suppliers targeting high-potential server virtualization accounts in the 1-99 employee segment are urged to use Techaisle’s IT sophistication segmentation to identify “Advanced IT” organizations, which are far more likely to be using server virtualization than their “Pre-IT” or “Basic IT” peers. Suppliers are also urged to cultivate relationships with firms that host servers for SMBs, as the growth of virtualization in hosted environments is far higher than growth in on-premise use of virtualized servers. 

 

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90 percent of US SMBs expanding cloud usage

SMB cloud is ubiquitous today and becoming even more so, central to the technology and management needs of both smaller and larger SMBs. Cloud is no longer a trend that is discrete from mainstream IT. Techaisle data shows that cloud is viewed as an IT priority by 96% of US SMBs and 90% of current cloud using SMBs are increasing their cloud usage within the next one year. Cloud is not a future issue, it is an essential component of SMB IT.

While cloud growth has been extraordinary, it is reasonable to expect continued high-trajectory growth resulting from three key factors:

  1. Cloud is established as essential IT infrastructure
  2. Cloud addresses real business needs
  3. Suppliers will work with buyers to overcome current SMB cloud adoption challenges

Where are these SMB firms who are planning an expanded cloud presence in the evaluation process? Techaisle asked SMB respondents to identify whether they would refer to themselves as “gathering information,” “identifying potential solutions” or “evaluating suppliers”.

As cloud adoption continues to expand within SMB organizations, Techaisle SMB & midmarket cloud adoption survey data demonstrates that 38% of SMBs are gathering information on cloud technology, solution options and appropriate cloud adoption steps. 32% have moved beyond to the stage of evaluating solutions and the balance are in the process of evaluating suppliers. However, Techaisle believes that these percentages are a moving target as SMBs continue to increase spending on cloud.

Among the midmarket businesses, fully 80% of those planning new cloud initiatives are at this stage, with only 7% focused on evaluating suppliers. Highest percent is within the 100-249 employee size businesses establishing a clear fact that as businesses transition from a small to a larger organization they increasingly gravitate towards cloud to solve their growing pains, establishing processes and supporting a dispersed workforce.

Combining the above information with the data that 94% of midmarket firms are already using some form of cloud solution, we get a picture of a midmarket enterprise market that is in the process of assessing where and how the use of cloud should expand through the enterprise. Small businesses, on the other hand, have a roughly normal distribution across these categories: 24% report that they are gathering information, 46% have moved on to identifying potential solutions, and 30% are evaluating suppliers.

techaisle smb midmarket dichotomous cloud adoption resized

Techaisle believes that the differences between the small and market organization findings reflect different stages of cloud adoption. The small business findings are consistent with a community that moves from point to point, working first on one discrete solution, and then on the next. The midmarket findings are consistent with a community that has already deployed point solutions, and is now trying to build a longer-term strategy for an integrated, flexible approach to incremental cloud expansion. This dichotomous approach is a real challenge for suppliers: they need to differentiate discrete solutions for the small business market, and demonstrate that their offerings are essential components of broader strategies for mid-market firms, while attracting attention to their companies and products and building brand preference in both segments.

This perspective is reinforced by data showing the current uses of cloud within SMBs. Generally, SMB IT departments have used cloud to supplement IT infrastructure resources – for example, by procuring cloud-based storage to offload data from on-premise drives, or by using cloud for backup. Cloud has also made its way into SMBs as a means of supporting non-core applications and related processes; for example, cloud might be used to automate previously manual tasks in HR or customer support that aren’t linked to financial and production systems. But data from the Techaisle SMB survey finds that use of cloud is expanding even into these business-critical applications.

When SMBs are asked to indicate the areas of their operations where cloud has been or will be applied, nearly half report that they are using/planning to use cloud for IT infrastructure, and 37% state that cloud will be deployed to support non-core processes and applications. However, nearly 30% state that they are using or are implementing cloud to run at least some of their core applications. Given that these core applications are not changed or re-platformed very often, 29% is a surprisingly high figure. Cloud is expanding beyond IT-specific uses and niche applications, and is increasingly seen as a viable platform for even business-critical process support.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-core-cloud-adoption-resized 

The shift in cloud’s positioning and dichotomous approach brings with it a shift in the kinds of insights needed to help connect suppliers and buyers to address common interests in deployment, integration and expansion strategies. SMB buyers need help in moving past initial cloud pilots and applications to integrated cloud systems that provide support for mission-critical processes. Cloud sellers need to adjust their messaging to address the needs of early mass market rather than early adopter customers.

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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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