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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.

Culture is the strongest foundation of Zoho and applications are its biggest strength

Five years ago, I flew in from Newark into Mineta San Jose International Airport. At the baggage claim carousel, I noticed a massive advertisement of Zoho with the tag line – operating system for the business. I was both intrigued and non-committal. It was my first introduction to the company. Before that day, I had either not paid attention or had not come across the name. When I reached home, I sent an email to my team with a question, does Zoho appear in any of the surveys as a cloud business application that SMBs and midmarket firms are using. Two hours later, nearly midnight, I was pinged by my overseas team with an answer. Zoho's penetration had been increasing since 2009. I still did not give Zoho the serious consideration that it deserved. In 2019, during my several visits to Dell Technologies' events, I began noticing the remarkably colorful Zoho banners at the Austin, TX airport. During the same timeframe, the number of inquiries from our SMB panel of respondents seeking our take on Zoho increased. I knew I had to call Zoho's analyst relations, and I did. It was a turning point. I contacted a company where customers come for the products and get enriched by Zoho's ethos.

I first met Sridhar Vembu, CEO, Zoho, in January 2020. Unassuming, unpretentious, and unassertive, he was standing in his "chappals" and "bush shirt." He poured out his passion for building a company that cares for the underserved communities, hires, educates, and develops talent from underprivileged families. He is committed to keeping Zoho private and debt-free, fiercely protect its customers' privacy and security, and spread its offices in the rural areas of India, the US, Europe, and Japan. I knew I had to learn more. Soon enough, I also got swept up into Zoho's product portfolio. A collection of 50+ apps running on single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack consisting of services, software infrastructure, network infrastructure, and hardware infrastructure deployed on Zoho's data centers to ensure performance availability, security, and privacy. It is not for small businesses only. Zoho's fastest-growing market segment is the midmarket. Salesforce, Microsoft, and SAP are the established brands within the midmarket; Zoho is the challenger, not by deliberate design but by a sheer and silent commitment to customer success. I have interacted with many Zoho senior executives, product evangelists, and customers in the last year. The pervasiveness of genuine fondness to learn, desire to challenge the status quo, develop themselves as great human beings and develop solutions that exceed customer expectations is palpable. Zoho has as many micro-cultures as there are apps, fifty.

Zoho has been 25 years in the making. With 9000+ employees, 60+ million users in 180+ countries, annualized 5-year revenue growth of 34%, and a 97% customer retention rate, Zoho seems to be just getting started. Using a hub and spoke model – major city and adjacent rural areas – Zoho has opened 15+ small offices in the past six months to support local economies and partnerships. Sridhar Vembu, the recipient of Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian honors, calls the model a cloud-enabled rural revival. He returned to India from the US in September 2019 and has settled in a small rural village, Tenkasi, where even the street lights are non-existent.

Sridhar is setting the tone for the next 25 years. He aims to continue enhancing a vertically integrated technology stack (from the data center to applications) and building horizontal integration where different groups, micro-cultures, and departments feel empowered and collaborate seamlessly. The deep-seated culture is evident in the enthusiasm of Zoho's empathy and responsiveness to the pandemic. It instituted a 6-month subscription waiver for small businesses. To meet remote workers' needs, it launched Remotely, a suite of 11 free productivity tools. To enable workplace re-opening, it has announced the BackToWork app, free for a year. For Zoho, free does not mean using customer data for monetization. Zoho does not run on public clouds, has removed all adjunct surveillance, and does not collect or store any customer data.

Zoho's latest versions of Zoho Projects and Zoho Analytics (with 1500 built-in dashboards) are comprehensive, customizable, secure, scalable, and intelligent. Zoho's universal NLP (Natural Language Processing) search – across all apps and data pillars - provides contextual answers, processes 16 million search requests a day, and performs 150 million indexing jobs a day. Zoho's offering is the Low-code platform to empower citizen developers with last-mile customizations. It incorporates many new functionalities, including Zia (Zoho's AI platform), assisted development, and sandboxing. Zoho's other recent notable offerings include the Employee experience platform and Marketing platform.

Agility is essential to managing business uncertainties. It also translates into business process automation and rapid deployment, and enhancements to business applications. Specifically, the smaller a business is, the less likely it is to have dedicated staff developing custom applications to support unique processes. From pro-code to low code to no-code, Zoho Creator Platform can appeal to a broad swath of citizen and professional developers. For citizen developers, it reduces complex functions to one-click or drag-and-drop actions. For experienced developers, Zoho has added controls to build customized applications and services from the ground up. Like everything Zoho, the platform has been 15 years in development, rendering the learning from organizations of all sizes to better user experience and scalability. For specific vertical industries for whom governance is a vital issue, the platform is SOC2 Type II and GDPR compliant. It also provides authentication, encrypted data storage, and full lifecycle management. Zoho's low code platform, Zoho Creator Platform, currently has 13,000+ paying customers, which is up by approximately 30% during the pandemic year. A testament to how the platform empowered businesses to pivot with agility to respond to employee and customer needs.

Although Zoho is known for its focus on the small business segment, which continues to grow, it also gains traction within the enterprise segment. Zoho's largest customer is IIFL, with 28,000 employees using 45 of the 50 apps. Zoho is a genuine one-of-a-kind visionary firm. It is the complete CRM platform and has the most comprehensive toolsets for hybrid, co-modal work. Its flagship, Zoho One, has over 50 products designed for multiple business needs across productivity, finance, marketing, HR solutions, etc. I am glad I made the call to Zoho analyst relations. Zoho will continue to be within Techaisle's vendor research radar for a long time. It should be on the evaluation map for SMBs, mid-market firms, and enterprise customers.

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Top 5 technologies where small businesses are increasing investment

Techaisle worldwide survey of 2427 SMBs shows that collaboration, cloud, security, mobility and PCs are the top five areas where small businesses are increasing technology investments. Each of these address current business challenges and lay the foundation for the five pillars of small business digital transformation: 1/ achieve cost efficiencies, 2/ initiative innovation, 3/ enable operational efficiency, 4/ drive business growth, and 5/ empower organizational productivity.

techaisle top 5 technology areas small business

Collaboration: 66% of small businesses are increasing investments in collaboration solution as compared to 19% who are either decreasing or delaying investments. Collaboration is a critical solution priority. The enormous reliance on mobility, the trend towards flexible work within small businesses and the general trend of including customers within the framework of collaboration solutions have all contributed to much broader demand for collaboration solutions. Use of collaboration solutions within small businesses started as file-first but has quickly transitioned to person-first. The central requirement for a collaboration solution is the ability to share files from desktop or mobile devices, the second is to enable online interaction, and the third is to provide richer media and media escalation for person-to-person communications.

Cloud: 64% of small businesses are increasing investments in cloud. Cloud is no longer a trend that is discrete from mainstream IT. This shift in cloud’s positioning has brought 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. Small business buyers are needing help in moving past initial cloud pilots and applications to integrated cloud systems that provide support for mission-critical processes. Vendor suppliers need to adjust their messaging to address the needs of early mass market rather than early adopter customers.

Security: 61% of small businesses are increasing investments in security solutions. Although data shows that small businesses are more optimistic than they ought to be about their current security profiles, security is an important constraint on mobility within the small business segment. Vendor suppliers need to help small businesses to establish frameworks that protect against both external and employee threats to information security.

Mobility: 59% of small businesses are increasing investments in mobility solutions. If the “office” is defined by devices, so too is “workplace” defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices (and their users) are located. Small businesses are investing in mobility because it contributes to both cost savings and increased market reach, with “improved productivity” and related answers connected to establishing “better ways of working” viewed as the greatest benefit of mobility within SMBs. Techaisle’s data shows that there are inherent challenges in supporting the mobile workforce: struggle with the “on ramps” to mobility (such as finding appropriate suppliers and solutions) and concerned with security/data protection and mobile management.

PCs: 56% of small businesses are increasing investments in PCs. PC is where work gets done. PC is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new PC is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance, manageability and security features and even price conscious small businesses benefit significantly from replacing older PCs with modern PCs.

There is a strong connection between cloud, mobility, collaboration. Mobility, cloud and collaboration are all important trends in today’s IT market, and Techaisle data indicates that they are tightly interconnected. Mobility is a key driver of collaboration demand, with worldwide total of 292 million small business mobile workers looking for framework technologies enabling them to connect with suppliers, customers and each other. At the same time, collaboration is seen as a key attribute of successful cloud solutions, with more than one-third of small businesses citing “the ability to provide or support collaboration” as a key success factor in cloud solutions.

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HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus focuses on SMB Digital Transformation

On 11th March 2020, HPE announced its latest Small Business Solutions, leading with its next-generation HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus featuring remote management and security capabilities, with a choice of Intel® Pentium or Intel Xeon E processors. Solutions tailored for small businesses includes Office in a Box, Scalable File and Backup as well as Edge to Cloud for simplified access to cloud services.

Tough economic times bring investment decisions into sharp focus. The result is typically lower investment levels. It also sharpens medium- and longer-term priorities. That leads to smart investments. But also, investments made at this time become longer term drivers of investment for adjacent areas. Techaisle believes that the recent economic implosion acts as a catalyst for such action and change among SMBs. In a digital economy, SMBs are able to expand reach and engagement with customers and prospects, while also locating and integrating with suppliers to improve scale-out options. 79% of SMBs are on the road to digital transformation. The roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound physical infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. Core infrastructure devices need to be kept in sync with the requirements of digital transformation initiatives; servers, storage, networking and security need to advance with the needs of the organization. The most advanced and transformative SMB firms are looking to improve IT sustainability – their ability to effectively manage IT delivery into the future – customer intimacy, operational excellence and IT’s speed and agility. And they are seeing better business outcomes than those which are not fully committed to the core physical infrastructure modernization.

HPE solutions lay the foundation for effective, agile and secure modernization.

First Impression

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus and companion offerings should be no-brainer for small businesses and channel partners. Techaisle data shows that 83% of SMBs consider technology contributing to business success but they also find technology to be kinetic, complex and risky. Regardless, 31% of small businesses want to modernize IT infrastructure and HPE offerings help in overcoming cost of implementation (34%) and security concern (32%) inhibitors of embarking on IT modernization initiative. Techaisle data also shows that a growing percent pf SMBs are using both on-prem and cloud servers, but hybrid is where they are headed. Workloads from public clouds are transitioning to hybrid clouds with 70% of small businesses are either implementing or planning to use basic hybrid cloud with workloads assigned to different cloud/on-prem environments. Techaisle segmentation data reveals that there is a higher demand for on-prem solutions within SMBs that are intermediate and mature cloud adopters as well as those who are in the basic and advanced IT maturity segments. HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus and Office in a box can also be easily adopted and deployed by the Pre-IT maturity segments and passive cloud followers.

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus

About the size of a typical hardcover book (4.6-inch x 9.65-inch x 9.65-inch) and as quiet as a library (36db) the server packs enough power and storage for a small business prompting HPE to call it “small and Mighty”. The form factor size is volumetrically 3X less than that of Dell PowerEdge R240. As-a-service server pricing starts from at less than US$20 per month. The list price varies from US$$709 to US$899, for Entry to Performance level configurations.

Three key features of HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus worth calling out are:

  1. HPE-exclusive silicon root of trust that provides 360-degree protection, detection and recovery from malicious cyberattacks. Techaisle SMB security adoption survey data shows that for 53% of SMBs cyberattack security is either the most critical or among the top three critical issues facing their organizations but 78% are not confident that they can recover from a cybersecurity incident. With HPE silicon root of trust they may have one less issue to worry about.
  2. HPE ILO 5 that delivers server health and operations insights with secure remote monitoring and management. With an average of 3.8 IT staff within upper-small businesses, SMBs need help in remote monitoring of IT infrastructure. Manageability is an important solution selection criterion for SMBs which typically have relatively small IT workforce but expansive IT/digital transformation goals. In this environment, it is essential that solutions work seamlessly and without a great deal of hands-on management.
  3. HPE InfoSight for Server that predicts and prevents IT disruptions before business operations are impacted. In the context of growth, cloud is seen as a means of facilitating expanded reach. And SMB cloud adopters are looking for capabilities that contribute to growth: 79% report that cloud enables them to be more agile in their business operations. Cloud built on a strong core technology is not only an essential IT infrastructure but it is also an imperative business infrastructure.

Pre-configured small business solutions on HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus

Office in a box: is a pre-configured solution that includes HPE ProLiant MicroSever Gen10 Plus with built-in security, Aruba Instant On (wireless access point), and HPE RDX removable disk system which can be scaled when required. It is ideal for very small businesses, small offices, small workgroups for up to 10 users. Office in a box also comes with Windows ROK (Reseller Option Kit) and storage controller. Pricing starts at US$125 per month. As per Techaisle’s SMB buyers’ journey and technology research data, nearly 2/3rd of small businesses use existing IT budgets and about 1/5th use CAPEX dollars for IT purchases. For these small businesses, HPE has a list prices for Office in a box. For example, a configuration consisting of MicroServer Gen10+, 4 1TB drives, iLO enablement, Next Business Day support, one Aruba WAP (wireless access point), the list price is approximately US$3,500 before discounts. Only 3% of small businesses have full-time IT staff (Source: Techaisle SMB and Midmarket research) and very small businesses manage workloads with a much smaller staff, typically comprised of IT generalists, and have limited infrastructure resources available for exploration. There is a very short line between acquisition and deployment of new technology and they have fewer chips to place on the table, and need to quickly reap return from their investments. Office in a Box is suitable for both segments of small business – with internally-managed-IT and un-managed-IT.

Scalable file and backup: is a pre-configured solution for centralized access to files for easy and secure collaboration. Scalable up to 16TB the solution enables secure onsite backup and recovery. Businesses are heavily invested in IT, with IT-dependent processes throughout their operations. This ubiquitous dependence on technology means that any 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 backup/DRS, security processes, technologies and management strategies are the only ways 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. Techaisle’s SMB and midmarket security adoption trends research shows that 53% of small business and 48% of midmarket firms prefer less than 1 hour of backup recovery time. Not all SMBs have a backup/DRS strategy because they find it either too expensive or worry about security in the cloud or even find a solution too complex. HPE’s pre-configured solution addresses the needs and objections.

Edge to Cloud: is a pre-configured solution for remote office, branch office (ROBO) deployments. The solution includes optional cloud services for connectivity to the core data center.

Techaisle Take

Techaisle believes that the 34% of SMBs that are prioritizing growth are much more likely to thrive in today’s unpredictable economy than those that focus primarily on cost reduction or other ‘business as usual’ objectives. In the digital world, growth is more than simply increasing the top line. Today, growth is important to both expansion and to maintaining viability. Techaisle’s SMB research has found that the need to be more efficient in operations is the single most compelling reason for SMBs to embrace digital transformation. But there have to be points in the system where the capabilities of core infrastructure connect to the promised benefits of digital transformation solutions. The days of using lengthy, detailed cost analyses to justify new IT systems are disappearing in favor of a more agile approach in which businesses are encouraged to try new approaches and to rapidly wind down these initiatives if they do not deliver anticipated benefits. This may sound like a recipe for an out-of-control spending, but there are options that can protect the cost line. HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus is one such options which is mind-blowing and should be a no-brainer.

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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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