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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.

SMBs Make Cloud Calling and Collaboration a Priority – Webex Gets it

Historically, remote work solutions have been the domain of large enterprises equipped with processes and technology resources needed to support workers in the field. However, driven by short- and longer-term factors, flexible work options are now available to employees in businesses of all sizes. Moreover, as social distance health requirements forced the temporary closure of public office spaces, remote work became a matter of survival for many organizations. The pandemic has also crystalized recognition of the productivity benefits of technology-enabled remote work – measured in output rather than hours – which is sure to have a profound and durable impact on workplace behaviors. Today, working from anywhere is the new normal, enabled by powerful communication and collaboration tools, which draw together workers regardless of physical location and are becoming the catalyst for change in large and smaller businesses. What are the primary enablers of this flexible work trend? Data shows a growing commitment to leveraging the power of the cloud and adjacent technologies of mobility, cloud calling, and collaboration - technologies that allow workers and teams to connect, reflect, and share insights and output. Techaisle SMB and Midmarket Hybrid work and collaboration adoption survey, N=1810, shows that:

  • 93% of SMBs have prioritized remote and hybrid workplace technology solution adoption
  • 58% of employees in the SMB segment are likely to work remotely
  • 79% of SMBs are prioritizing cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions which show evolving recognition of the value of cloud calling and collaboration

The simultaneous commitment to cloud calling and collaboration solutions and future planning around a return to the office suggest that something deeper is at play in the SMB communications solution marketplace. Cloud calling and Collaboration are central components of virtually all SMB business activities. The need to communicate anywhere, anytime also means any type of communication and collaboration – synchronous/asynchronous, serendipitous/scheduled, on-the-go/fixed location, within a virtual workspace/within a specific app, with employees/partners/customers. As the lines of demarcation between tasks have been eroded by the increased pace and changing nature of business activities, SMBs have moved past linking discrete actions through linear, sequential processes. Instead, in today's business environment, SMBs interact at all points in the business cycle: in cross-functional planning and management, within a single co-created document, in the stages and connection points defined by their business processes, in delivering better customer experiences, and enabling improved employee productivity.

There is value in adopting unified cloud calling and collaboration. The use of traditional collaboration tools by SMBs is well-established. However, cloud calling solutions are rapidly gaining attention from SMBs. With nearly a hundred percent cloud priority, shifting from on-prem solutions (acquired through CAPEX budget) to cloud-based as-a-service offerings creates a sort of inflection point. As the name implies, cloud calling is cloud-based and available as a subscription. It supports remote work and mobility, provides cash flow predictability, easily integrates within the employees' workspace, and improves IT manageability and efficiency.

A significant collaboration technology shift is SMB's use of a cloud-based communications platform with integrated telephony (audio/video/web conferencing), IM/chat/presence, unified messaging, and mobility. Techaisle data shows that today, just under a third (27%) of SMBs are using integrated solutions, while over a third (35%) plan to adopt the platform in the coming year, a likely adoption growth of over 100%.

The Webex integrated collaboration platform

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Midmarket technology and business buyers – must sell to two different groups

Over the past six months, the need for advanced solutions and professionals supporting strategy, implementation, integration, and optimization has become much more acute. Business patterns changed by COVID-19 require businesses to accelerate digital transformation within their operations. Purchasing authority has shifted from IT to business management, requiring solution providers to position their offerings and services in terms that emphasize business metrics, such as time to market and measurable revenue and cost impact, rather than technical specifications and targets. This focus on business outcomes ripples through partner marketing and technical operations: marketing needs to emphasize time-to-benefit, the ability of individual solutions to contribute to overall business agility, and the direct application of IT features to pressing business needs; on the technology side, partners need to focus as much as possible on services centered around pre-built vertical solutions that can be deployed and integrated rapidly, with replicable processes and predictable outcomes, so that delivery matches the vision set by marketing and the requirements of the customer executives.

In a unique survey, Techaisle posed several and the same questions to both BDMs (business decision-makers) and ITDMs (IT decision-makers) and probed to identify what each expected from the other. Techaisle data shows that although BDMs have higher expectations of ITDMs, they align reasonably well in some areas, and there is a broad expectation gap in others.

  • 53% of midmarket BDMs say that it is very critical for business success that ITDMs can identify and associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity & profitability. On the flip side, only 30% of IT executives in these midmarket businesses say that business executives should be able to associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Responsibility for delivery rests with IT, and BDMs have very high expectations from ITDMs.
  • Data also shows that BDMs have high expectations for support in using technology to build customer experience. Over 40% of BDMs believe that IT must understand solutions that enable beneficial customer & supplier interactions. In contrast, less than 25% of ITDMs say that BDMs should understand such solutions.
  • Employee productivity is an essential aspect of a business, and in most cases, business management expects 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. Nearly 40% of BDMs say that it is critical for business success that IT can identify requirements for automation and associate IT solutions with these needs.
  • Cross-organizational integration is vital for both BDMs and ITDMs, and over 50% of both groups agree that the other should associate and adopt technology solutions with changing business demands.

Business decision-makers (BDMs) are an intrinsic force in most midmarket organizations. They are the primary decision-makers in some high-growth technology areas, including collaboration 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 must 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 their business users' increasingly varied needs and competitive environments. The divide increases because business perspectives on technology are shaped by information channels that are not part of the IT professional dialogue. The different information channels create 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.

ITDM and BDM divergence will continue, and although there is cross-pollination, they may 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 grasp the reality of selling to two different constituencies with different expectations.

 

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IT purchase BDM vs ITDM influence within SMB-Midmarket buyer journey

It is clear from Techaisle SMB and Midmarket buyers journey research that both ITDMs (IT decision makers) and BDMs (Business decision makers) play important roles in the (formal and shadow) acquisition of IT products and services. However, Techaisle research has also found that the distinctions between these roles are not evenly applicable across all types of IT-enabled solutions: in some areas, the business will look to IT for leadership, and in others, it will take direction from BDMs.

The positioning of these solutions is important to technology vendor sales and marketing strategies. Solutions in the “IT led” category need to have strong IT-focused positioning, with detailed information on product attributes; this material should be supported with a second layer of collateral containing information on the business case for the solutions, and aimed at BDMs. Solutions in the “BDM led” category require very different positioning: here, vendors need to make a strong case for the business benefits and relevance of the solution and orient these messages towards BDMs, supporting this campaign with accompanying technical information designed to provide clear deployment and integration guidance to ITDMs. The “IT/BDM collaborative” category is the trickiest to address. It requires deep information on business benefits and the process steps required to capture those benefits targeted at BDMs, and deep information on how to assemble, deploy, integrate and support/optimize these solutions targeted at ITDMs – and an understanding of how to position and convey the messages to each audience.

Virtualization is IT-led
In micro businesses, BDMs are reported to provide virtualization solution adoption leadership – but in all other employee-size segments, ITDMs are seen as driving adoption. Within mid-sized business, ITDMs are 2.5 times more likely than BDMs to be leading virtualization adoption, and ITDMs are viewed as having complete responsibility for virtualization solutions in nearly one-third of companies with 100-999 employees.

Managed services is IT-led
Survey responses tell a remarkably consistent story about managed services: accounts in each of the employee-size segments ascribe a rating of 36-42 (out of 100) to ITDMs as of managed services initiatives. This is a natural connection; in general, SMBs adopt managed services to reduce IT labor costs, to free up scarce IT resources to take on other tasks, and/or to provide management of complex technologies, such as services. However, BDMs may also have an interest in managed services, as they often provide access to cloud-based capabilities matched with human IT resources.

IaaS is ITDM/BDM collaborative-led
IaaS is deployed in two very different ways: as a cost-effective means of supporting IT infrastructure, generally sourced by IT, and as a means of supporting the specific (and sometimes, short-term) requirements of a business-led project, often paid for by the business team. The data suggests that the IT use case is more prevalent, and indeed, anecdotal evidence (such as the fact that market leader AWS has a very strong presence within the IT developer community) would tend to support this view. However, there is clearly supplier opportunity in the ‘BDM IaaS’ category as well.

SaaS is ITDM/BDM collaborative-led
SaaS is another category that can affect ITDMs and BDMs, as part of a collaborative initiative or individually. SaaS applications themselves can be seen as belonging to many different categories, including SaaS applications that support IT management functions (such as software development, migration/version management, and IT asset management applications) and applications CRM, ERP, HR/talent management, customer service applications, social marketing, etc.) that are designed to be used by specific non-IT users and departments. Use of multiple SaaS applications adds additional complexity, with the need to integrate and secure multiple data streams; this is likely one reason why IT’s influence over SaaS is greater within mid-market firms (which have a greater variety of users and applications) than within small businesses. Data illustrates, these issues eventually define a category in which BDMs are generally seen as having the primary influence over adoption, but where relatively few accounts (no more than 24% in any employee-size segment, and generally 9%-16%) report that BDMs have sole authority over SaaS initiatives.

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Survey shows SMB and Midmarket BDMs control cloud business applications purchase

Techaisle's SMB & midmarket decision making & buyers journey report confirms that business decision makers (BDMs) – who tend to inhabit the ‘carpeted’ realms of their businesses – are more engaged by discussions about business benefits and objectives than by ‘feeds and speeds’. Cloud business application sales reps will need to develop ‘deep carpet’ language and skills. Techaisle survey data shows that:

  • Determining the need for new cloud business applications is the prerogative of business management. The balance of authority within SMBs is nearly 7:1 in favor of business management except in the case of midmarket businesses where it is nearly 2:1
  • Neither business nor IT have a clear authority within 29 percent of small businesses and 22 percent of midmarket businesses to purchase new business applications, yet, cloud applications do get adopted driven by need, experimentation, and rogue adoption
  • At 32 percent, ad-hoc purchases are more popular within upper midmarket businesses than any other employee size business
  • Business management also has authority over determining the needs for enhancements to cloud business applications. The balance of authority within small businesses is 5:1 in favor of business management and 1.2:1 for mid-market businesses
  • Neither business nor IT have a clear authority within 17 percent of Small Businesses and 21 percent of midmarket businesses to enhance already deployed business applications, yet, these applications do go through significant modifications and upgrades to better serve the needs of business management
  • SMB Business management controls the budget and purchase authority by 8:1 as compared to IT management. However, within the midmarket businesses, the control ratio drops to 2:1 indicating that it is easier to sell cloud technology to small businesses than midmarket businesses since the decision-making units are dissimilar
  • In 15 percent of SMBs budget for new business application is usually created at the time of ad hoc decisions for purchase to meet business needs
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