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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.

Technology sprawl driving SMB and Midmarket IT Staff increases

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket Managed Services Adoption Trends research shows that contrary to popular belief IT Staffing within SMBs is growing and the percent of businesses with full-time IT staff has increased for 50-999 employee size businesses and even the average no. of IT staff has tripled for midmarket businesses in 2015 from 2010.

Today’s SMBs are heavily invested in an ever-widening portfolio of technology initiatives. For example, on average, US SMBs have current active initiatives in 5.1 technology areas, and midmarket businesses are working in an average of 10.3 different areas – each of which (like cloud or mobility) involve multiple discrete activities.

Techaisle’s SMB survey trend illustrates the IT staffing impact of this expanding IT solution activity. Figure below presents statistics on full-time IT staff from 2010 and 2015. It demonstrates that small and midmarket businesses have sharply different approaches to coping with IT solution sprawl. In businesses with 50 or more employees staffing levels are increasing dramatically. In this segment, not only percent of businesses with full-time internal IT staff has increased in the last five years but the average number IT staff has tripled.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-it-staffing-levels-resized

In microbusinesses with 1-19 employees, the trend is exactly the reverse: these firms are unable to keep pace with IT expansion through internal IT staff, and have moved to other approaches to cope with sprawl and complexity. Data indicates that only 4% of microbusinesses have full-time internal IT staff. In the next tier of small businesses (20-99 employees), 28% of firms have outsourced IT, vs. just 23% relying on full-time internal IT staff; the balance report that they depend on part-time internal IT staff (18%), internal non-IT staff (14%), or that “nobody manages IT” (17%). It is easy to say that this last group is courting disaster in an increasingly IT-centric world, and there is certainly truth to that assertion – but the findings are reflective of the cost and complexity associated with delivering a corporate service that is proving to be very cost- and labor-intensive.

The trend towards increased IT staffing levels also reflects the growing importance of technology within SMB operations. As Figure below illustrates, nearly 75% of businesses with 1-9 employees, and nearly 100% of those with 500-999 employees, consider technology to be “somewhat” or “very important” to their business success, and this importance is rising. 26%-47% of SMB respondents believe that their companies are more dependent on technology today than they were a year ago.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-technology-dependency-resized

IT is trying to move away from implementations to more strategic roles. But for that SMBs require expertise, skill-sets, time to research and identify appropriate technology. When IT vendors mention simplifying IT for SMBs they couch it as a means of helping SMBs because they lack IT staff (which data demonstrates is far from actual reality). The growing number and penetration of SMB IT staff themselves are asking for simplification of technology due to inherent sprawl and complexity of technology.

The phrase “sprawl and complexity” describes two linked problems for SMBs. Sprawl is apparent in the wide range of technologies included within current solution portfolios. The compounding issue, though, is that SMBs are not just dealing with more technology, but with more complex technology. This in turn is driving SMBs to hire more IT staff.

Consider the figure below, which reflects the attitudes of IT-responsible managers (ITDMs) within SMBs. Asked to describe their opinions regarding IT complexity, the most common response is “IT vendors should simplify technology.” Frighteningly (or embarrassingly) for suppliers, the second most common response is “we are ignoring” potentially-useful technologies, followed by observations that technology-related pain points are increasing, and current technology is more difficult to understand than previous-generation solutions.

techaisle-smb-perceptions-it-complexity-resized

There is a clear set of messages for suppliers in this data.

  • There is no status quo of "lack of IT staff"
  • IT staffing within SMBs has undergone a change. “We have simplified technology because SMBs do not have IT staff” is the wrong messaging
  • Simplification is required to ensure that SMBs actually embrace new products and their growing IT staff is freed-up to focus on strategic business issues
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SMB & Midmarket IT challenges in supporting mobile workforce

If the “office” is defined by devices then “workplace” is defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices (and their users) are located. In this vein, “work” typically includes a requirement to access corporate data with mobile devices.

Data from the Techaisle 2015 SMB Mobility Adoption and Trends survey finds that more than 80% of small business employees and 55% of workers in midmarket firms require mobile access to company data. Providing this access and the applications, devices and solutions represents an enormous investment for SMBs that are typically very conservative in their IT budget allocations.

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By more than a 2:1 ratio, SMB respondents believe that mobility is a means of driving growth in the business. But mobility does not deliver business benefits painlessly. The introduction of mobility solutions has created new issues for IT management, and suppliers who can help to address these issues will gain favor in this community.

Addressing the needs of the “dual mode” user is a non-trivial issue. In the Techaisle survey, both small and midmarket firms report that users access a combination of business and personal resources via their business-connected (both corporate-owned and BYOD) mobile devices. This reinforces the importance of some of the solutions being currently used or planning to be used by SMBs. These are solutions that help manage mobile devices that deliver access to corporate information without downloading data and applications themselves (such as thin clients and Windows-as-a-Service) and methods of securing data when it is exchanged between mobile devices and external users and where users themselves move seamlessly between corporate and personal usage modes on devices that are connected to corporate networks.

Mobile devices are an essential component of mobility but mobility itself extends beyond hardware to applications, solutions and work habits. Techaisle’s 2015 SMB Mobility Adoption Trends research shows that the “dual mode” SMB user represents a specific problem for SMB IT staff and the challenges of supporting a mobile workforce go well beyond the device.

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Small and midsized businesses have different challenges in supporting the mobile workforce

Looking first at the small businesses, we see that managing TCO – which includes, in addition to typical IT expenses, service charges that are unique to mobile devices – is rated as the most significant challenge by small business respondents. These firms also struggle with the “on ramps” to mobility: finding appropriate suppliers and solutions and integrating multiple screens are also ranked in the top five challenges encountered by 1-99 employee firms in support of the mobile workforce.

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Midmarket firms also count TCO as their most significant challenge. Rather than struggling with mobility on ramps, though, midmarket firms are more concerned with security/data protection and mobile management. Network security, protecting corporate data on mobile devices and managing these devices are all top-five mobility challenges for midmarket IT – and further evidence of why mobility solutions addressing these issues are essential to this community.

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Manageability drives SMB mobility solution supplier evaluation, especially in Midmarket

Techaisle’s 2015 SMB and Midmarket Mobility Adoption study shows that to emerge as leaders in the mobility solution market, suppliers will need to tailor their offerings and strategies to specific clusters within the SMB market. Successful suppliers will need to be cognizant of, and visible in addressing, key SMB selection criteria.

Figure below presents an analysis of SMB mobility solution evaluation criteria, tied to the attitudinal groups used for SMB segmentation analysis. This segmentation and perspective highlights how increased sophistication changes the requirements that SMB users have of suppliers.

techaisle-smb-mobility-solution-evaluation-criteria-image 

Small Business Segments
Within the small businesses, the Pre-IT segment is looking first and foremost for a trusted brand. These small business buyers opt for horizontal suppliers for their first step into mobility solutions. Data from other segments suggests that increasing sophistication leads to more exacting expectations.

Basic IT buyers are looking for help with managing BYOD and for effective customer support, while Advanced IT buyers look for assurances of information security, for manageability, and for suppliers’ credible brands.

Midmarket segments
“Manageability” is the most essential attribute for suppliers targeting midmarket firms. The basic IT segment is looking for assistance in supporting a large number of mobile platforms as a means of dealing with the BYOD needs of a larger (relative to small business) workforce, and/or as a means of supporting customer access to public systems.

The midmarket Advanced IT group, like its small business peers, requires a combination of manageability and information security, and adds customer support and the requirement for multi-device/platform support.

The enterprise IT group –the largest spenders represented in this chart – have a few unique requirements. This group demands interoperability and customizability as it seeks to integrate mobility solutions within the broader IT infrastructure, and looks as well for ease of use as it rolls out mobility solutions to a (relatively) large and diverse workforce. Techaisle expects that over time, an increasing number of SMBs will pursue these capabilities as they, too, tie mobility into their overall IT/business architectures.

 

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SMB big data adoption - from over-hype to must-have

Techaisle’s quantitative study (survey of nearly 900 SMBs) on SMB & Midmarket Big Data Adoption and Trends shows that 7 percent of small businesses and 20 percent of midmarket businesses are currently using Big Data solutions and that another 17 percent & 38 percent respectively are planning to adopt within the 1-2 years. These businesses are looking at a big data solution from 3 perspectives:

First, what are the organizational needs, second, what could be served as a solution and, third, what could be the best combination of the tools and technologies available today which will provide value add. Based on all one should decide on a solution because the Big Data space is very enormous and could be applied for any domain,” aptly quoted by CIO of a midmarket firm who has successfully implemented big data solutions in his organization.

Common findings that run through corresponding depth interviews (over 60 interviews conducted globally) conducted by Techaisle, Insights from the Trenches of SMB Big Data Implementers, are:

  • PoC – more is better, timing is of essence
  • Cost efficiencies of Hadoop, especially Cloudera
  • Plethora of tools deployment – emergence of Spark and Flume
  • On-premise only – now and the future
  • Must conduct skills training and gap analysis
  • Lessons learned – not to underestimate complexity but uniform voice – go for it

The promise of superior data-driven decision making is motivating 24 percent of US small businesses (1-99 employees) and 58 percent of midmarket businesses (100-999 employees) to invest in Big Data technology.

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In addition, the possibility of analyzing a variety of data producing action-driven business insights is too big to ignore for midmarket businesses. This represents a sizable opportunity considering that the segment is relatively new, it requires a certain level of IT sophistication and a history in linear investment in information technology enablers to be successful.

smb-current-planned-bigdata-by-techaisle-it-sophistication-segments

Specifically, midmarket attitude towards big data has transitioned from “over-hype” to “must-have” technology with the increase in employee size. Only 11 percent of midmarket businesses consider big data to be an over hype suggesting that it has crossed the tipping point faster than similar sentiments for cloud adoption at its introduction. However, nearly one-fourth of lower mid-market businesses still consider it to be over-hyped yet 29 percent think that it will be an important part of their business decision making process.

Nevertheless, SMBs face many challenges in implementing big data solutions.

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There are many different tactical objectives for deploying big data projects and SMBs are expecting some clear cut benefits from big data analytics such as increased sales, more efficient operations, and improved customer service.

CRM solutions had first established the analytics for analyzing customer data but the data was mostly two-way transactional data. This changed when customers began visiting business websites to explore, browse and perhaps make purchases thus leaving behind a trail of information. IT vendors and mid-market businesses figured out the need to analyze the data and combine it with transactional information.

However, everything changed with the onset of social media, blogs, forums and opinion platforms where the identification of false positives and negatives became difficult and knowledge about the customer and resulting segmentation became an inaccurate undertaking. Big data analytics presents the possibilities of connecting together a variety of data sets from disconnected sources to produce business insights whether for generating sales, improving products or detecting fraud. It is therefore not surprising that globally SMBs and midmarket businesses are turning towards big data analytics to analyze social media data, web data, customer and sales data along with click-stream machine generated data and even communications data in the form of emails, chat, voicemails.

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