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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.

Why I liked Lenovo Flex 5G – work from anywhere and anytime

If devices define an office, the location of the user of the device determines the workplace. I wrote this entire review from my temporary workplace, Bryant Park, New York City, using M365 on a Lenovo Flex 5G notebook with Verizon Wireless 5G. The big deal is Windows 10 Pro running on Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 8cx processor and Qualcomm X55 modem, which delivers 5G - mmWave/Sub6 - connectivity from Verizon Wireless.

It was fortuitous that I was in New York City, where 5G is more widely available as opposed to being in San Jose, where Verizon 5G is almost non-existent. Lenovo Flex 5G provided me the flexibility and versatility to continue with my work, participate in video-conferences, and deliver webinars. The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor did not create any app compatibility issues for me. I use very few applications outside of productivity, collaboration, and communications – all of which worked without any hitch. Although startup was slower than Intel-based PCs, I was okay with sacrificing a few seconds for connectedness. Verizon 5G is spotty at best in New York. I downloaded the Verizon 5G coverage map and had to make efforts to look for 5G at street corners or some public spaces such as parks. The maximum download speed I ever got was 570 Mbps and the upload speed of 54 Mbps. I do like larger storage capacity and memory. With only 256GB SSD availability and 8GB RAM on Lenovo Flex 5G, I was always nervous about crashing massive data spreadsheets or running out of space.

Lenovo Flex 5G 2 in 1 notebook has an Iron Grey aluminum and magnesium chassis with an understated design. Yet, I found it imposing and business-like, weighs light at 2.9 lbs although slightly heavier than X1 Carbon, is thin enough to tuck under the arm comfortably, and has insane battery life. The interior is uncluttered with a hint of Lenovo and the Verizon 5G logo. The 360-degree hinge allows the Lenovo Flex 5G to be used in tent mode or fold it completely flat like a tablet. One evening, I used it to play some videos (in the tent mode) at the center of a table during a socially-distanced family get-together in Central Park. Even the Dolby Atmos sound through two speakers, on either side of the keyboard, was enough for us to enjoy. The Lenovo Flex 5G is a quiet PC as there is no requirement for a cooling fan since all processing happens silently as compared to Intel and AMD-powered notebooks.

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Lenovo Partner Hub – a great beginning of a long journey towards channel empowerment

What should vendors do to build strong relationships with partner channel partners? Where should vendors invest in the success of current relationships? Techaisle data shows that it is generally tricky to replace channel partners that exit from the vendor's orbit. In many ways, the core challenge in channel management is determining the optimal allocation of enablement (effort) and investment (funding) options. A program capturing the best options in all areas would be prohibitively costly. Channel program management needs to allocate attention and investment to the areas that align with their specific goals.

The new Lenovo Partner Hub is the beginning of a long journey. It is one of the most massive transformations within Lenovo. What I like about the Partner Hub is its focus on providing excellent partner experience through a simplified content presentation, persona-based dashboards, bid requests, quoting, and product ordering for both PCSD (PC and Smart Devices Group) and DCG (Data Center Business Group). Simplification is at the core of any partner program, and Lenovo has nailed the beginning.

Lenovo's global process owners from business units and key partners in all geographies across thirteen countries contributed to harmonizing the design and tools. The single objective was to give time back to the partners so they could focus on their growth plans and customer conversations.

Vendors tend to consider channel enablement and investment as costs associated with specific product sets – and as a result, these activities get tied to product sales performance. However, although well-intentioned, often, this approach ends with the channel partner positioned as a vendor sales agent, which connects with internal vendor accounting requirements but poorly aligned with the core value provided by the channel partner to its mainstream business customers. The channel's role – and its most significant opportunity – lies in focusing on buyer needs. Successful vendors are building programs and partner platforms that empower channel partners to maintain vendor presence in complex solution environments – not sales agents. Lenovo is one such leading vendor who is trying to enable empowerment approaches through Partner Hub that focus on business outcomes and partnerships.
Designed and developed internally at Lenovo, five different portals combined into one platform with an agile approach rolling out new changes every single day. Lenovo's advantage is that it does not have to rely on nor negotiate with third-party partner platforms for customizations, unnecessarily prolonging the partner empowerment approach.

A grid-like dashboard has five distinct areas – Deal registration, Bid requests, Product Ordering, Asset Library, and myPitch. There are different dashboards with pre-defined quick links for PCSD, DCG, geographies as well as personas – Sales rep, Sales manager, Marketing and Admin. The quick links get updated with the use and memorization of frequently used tasks. There are also groupings for sales, product, and services, solutions, marketing, and training. An easy to use tool is available for contact and lead management.

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Lenovo Managed Services for SMBs - Designed to optimize employee time and improve IT efficiency

To meet the managed services needs of the SMB segment, Lenovo has introduced two unique offerings within the Lenovo Managed Services umbrella –

  1. CSP Managed Services - to help manage SMBs’ existing Microsoft-based cloud software and products.
  1. Endpoint Managed Services – to provide deeper levels of endpoint and security management along with Premier Support, or Premium Care, Accidental Damage Protection. It includes CSP Managed Services.

The two offerings cover three important components of an SMB’s managed services lifecycle.

  1. A bundled set of offerings providing full ground cover for employee productivity with M365, end-point management through MS Intune, backup using OneDrive, protection against phishing/malware with O365 Advanced Threat Protection and collaboration using Microsoft Teams.
  1. Right-sized and customizable onboarding solutions with white glove service for configuration using Windows Autopilot including imaging and asset tagging, deployment and file migration.
  1. Full suite of support and maintenance built on Lenovo’s Premier Support solution with end-to-end case management by a dedicated customer success manager thereby removing a significant burden from SMB IT teams freeing them to deliver business results.

Also included in the services are 24x7 Level 1 support via phone, email, and chat – Premier Support or Premium Care for both existing and new Lenovo devices and Enhanced Level 2 support to resolve email access, user authentication, calling or chat, and OneDrive / SharePoint data access issues.

lenovo smb managed services description

Techaisle Take

IT support dialogue is dominated by discussions about time – cost of downtime, importance of uptime, response time and mean time to resolve a technical problem. The SMB user community, from executives to clerical staff, divide time in two: “our time,” which is when technology is used to support their business activities and increase market momentum, and “lost time” – the time that IT spends setting up accounts, configuring devices, changing permissions, upgrading systems, adding different security protections, finding lost data and fixing problems that can range from a forgotten password to a flattened PC. Lost time is seen as an obstacle to productivity, sales and business success. Despite increasing reliance on technology, SMBs are unable to staff for peak support requirements. IT staff needs to ensure that scarce internal resources are able to deliver technology efficiently, supporting innovation and transformation while responding immediately and effectively to lost time requirements and crises.

A recent study by global SMB and midmarket IT research firm Techaisle found that maintenance and support consumes 77% of SMB IT staff time, leaving only 23% of time for transformation initiatives. Nearly half of maintenance and support cycles are dedicated to PCs, making it difficult for staff to respond to issues relating to smartphones and tablets, servers and networks, and software and security systems.

SMBs find themselves in a tight spot when it comes to their IT functions. Their businesses are complex enough to warrant dedicated IT groups, yet lack the resources to manage everything asked of them. Teams are stretched to cover PC fleets, servers, networks, software and security – all while being expected to contribute to business growth, reduce costs and improve employee productivity. More than a decade of Techaisle SMB survey research data shows that only 3% of small businesses have full-time internal IT staff. Even within midmarket firms, average number of support staff is 22 which is 1/20th of an enterprise business.

Regardless of having scarce internal IT staff, SMBs are increasingly dependent on information technology. A Techaisle survey found that 78% of small businesses and 97% of midmarket firms consider technology to be important to their business success, and 37% report that they have become more dependent on technology in the recent past. These SMBs are dealing with an ever-expanding portfolio of increasingly-complex applications and platform technologies. At the same time, these firms are struggling to rein in IT-related expenditures, including staff-related costs. This combination of increased reliance on technology as a key element of business success, burgeoning complexity and cost constraint has created a ‘perfect storm’ for use of managed services.

This is where Lenovo is stepping in.

Lenovo has a come a long way from being a PC manufacturer to an IT vendor to a trusted advisor for the SMB segment. Lenovo’s offering is built on a simple promise: to deliver managed services by making the most of highly adopted Microsoft tools by deploying real solutions for everyday challenges and technology needs. Supporting this promise are three core pillars of Lenovo Managed Services offering:

Improving employee and IT staff productivity. Techaisle’s recent data shows that each year, SMBs experience 545 hours of lost staff productivity due to IT outages with employees spending nearly 30 minutes a week troubleshooting PC issues. An average of 225 hours of productive time is lost due to PC outages reducing IT efficiency.

Digging deeper into Techaisle’s SMB data on time spent on PC lifecycle management, research finds that 57% of time is allocated to deployment and repairs, with an additional 15% allocated to software-related management issues and 9% to OS migrations. Taken together, these statistics indicate that there is very little opportunity for IT to contribute to their time priorities.

Providing IT security. For 53% of SMBs cybersecurity is a pressing concern; 64% of SMBs experienced a security breach in the last one year and 37% suffered a cyberattack. Through its managed services offering, not only does Lenovo plan to provide a ramped-up level of service and support for various devices but also include automatic enrollment of devices into endpoint management, threat protection, information protection, remote wipe and restoration of devices, as well as OS and application patch management. In addition, Lenovo can help manage licenses, add and remove users, and assign user accounts to available licenses.

Enabling connected collaboration. Collaboration is a priority for 75% of SMBs, 58% of SMBs expect MS Office setup, 56% need data/file migration support, 55% want email and Teams configuration. SMB customers will receive Microsoft Cloud Migration support, where Lenovo teams can help configure online exchange and migrate customer mailbox, Teams application for chat and calling features. Lenovo’s services can also help in migrating files and folders to OneDrive or SharePoint.

Lenovo’s thoughtfully designed SMB-focused managed services solutions aim to deliver real value by helping SMBs increase their productivity by supporting time consuming tasks like Microsoft tenant onboarding, Microsoft Cloud migration, and supporting Microsoft software-based issue resolution, provide security against business-critical threats through real-time threat protection, resolution, and information and data loss prevention, saving SMBs from valuable downtime, and providing peace of mind.

Customer Success Manager & Endpoint Dashboard

Techaisle managed services research data shows that 74% of SMBs expect a single point of contact from their managed services provider. To that extent, one of the most important aspect of Lenovo’s Endpoint Managed Service is the feature that SMBs will be assigned a Customer Success Manager, who works as the customer’s advocate within Lenovo, working to create a truly great customer experience. The Customer Success Manager owns a monthly business review with the customer, discuss device fleet health checks, suggest productivity and security improvements to enhance the SMB’s business operation, and work with technical experts to manage issues escalation.

Lenovo has partnered with Microsoft to develop Endpoint 360° dashboard which provides near real-time visibility of SMB’s device fleet and IT ticket status.

Channel Partner participation

Channel partners are essential in managing an SMB customer’s IT infrastructure. Lenovo’s CSP Managed Services and Endpoint Managed Services are available to Lenovo partners selling Microsoft SaaS products via Lenovo. Partners have a choice:

  • Delivery of services by Lenovo: Channel partner sells and Lenovo provides all levels of service
  • Partner and Lenovo co-delivery of services: Lenovo provides day-to-day endpoint productivity and security management but channel partner acts as the customer success manager and owns monthly business reviews, issue escalations on behalf of the SMB customer. Partner gets access to Lenovo’s Endpoint 360° dashboard Customer Success Manager role, and
  • Partner can deliver all levels of service: Channel partner will get access to additional roles in Lenovo’s Endpoint 360° dashboard providing the partner with information that helps take proactive actions to prevent productivity and security impacts to SMB customer’s device fleet. Lenovo will provide Level 3 technical engineering support for Endpoint 360° dashboard, billing & ITSM platform issue support, and Microsoft platform issue escalation and resolution.
  • Lenovo Cloud Marketplace: Lenovo has partnered with AppXite to deploy an ITSM platform which will allow partners to sell Microsoft 365 offers and Lenovo Managed Service packages, customize look and feel of the platform to meet their own design choices, create their own product bundles that include their own offers with Lenovo offers, manage customer subscriptions and recurring billing, get visibility to customer issues and their real-time status.

As per Techaisle channel partner survey research, 47% prefer delivering all levels of services and 40% believe in co-delivery or support and services provided by the vendor. A majority of smaller channel partners want vendor to provide all levels of service. Smaller MSPs profitability lies in their ability to scale and if are only focused on growth, MSPs lose their ability to develop a consultative practice enabling digital transformation within their SMB customers. Lenovo is bringing pre-configured, pre-packaged solutions that MSPs can offer, and directly provide the service. MSPs can also sell the offers and let Lenovo provide services on a platform with a single pane of glass dashboard, along with a customer success manager. This becomes extremely useful, which will allow the MSP to focus attention on delivering new business outcomes for their SMB customers.

Final Techaisle Take

Lenovo Managed Services checks all boxes for a vast majority of SMBs. Techaisle’s research highlights a list of priority outcomes that SMBs use to plot the best path in deploying managed services within their organizations.

  • Minimize downtime and workforce productivity interruptions
  • Reduce time spent on case management
  • Focus on highest-value initiatives

These illustrate the ways that SMBs can use Lenovo Managed Services to drive better productivity within the IT department and across the entire organization. Remedial support, system failures and security incidents are major sources of ‘lost time’ incidents that can impede SMB business success. However, SMBs can reduce time lost to outages, and focus on ‘our time’ objectives – increased productivity and better collaboration on transformative projects – that deliver accelerated business success.

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Lenovo ThinkBook Plus for SMBs makes a superlative statement

I first saw and fiddled with Thinkbook Plus in November 2019. The notebook gripped my attention because of its “Think” pedigree, focus on the SMB segment and unexpected E-Ink screen on the lid. It was an intriguing pre-production prototype. Fast forward six months to June 2020. Since the last one week I have been using a fully-configured (512 GB SSD, Intel Comet Lake i5-10210U processor, 16GB memory, 13.3-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 internal screen, 10.8-inch E-Ink monochrome display on the chassis cover, finger print scanner on power button) production model. It is whimsical yet practical notebook that exudes quiet confidence of imaginative applied design. When I powered-on the notebook my synapses fired on all cylinders, E-Ink came to life which I quickly personalized. I was thrilled to see the Techaisle wallpaper and icons to browse folders, clone desktop, view emails, calendar and weather.

IT markets tend to be complex and fast-moving – but even by IT industry standards, the endpoint device market is extremely complex, and subject to significant and abrupt changes. The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ appeal of the notebook – which doubled as both a mobility device and as a content creation platform – waned, for a while and then rebounded. Tablets, not notebooks, were seen as the key productivity tool. The proliferation of operating systems and underlying architectures created opportunity for a wide range of suppliers – and confusion for a large number of IT managers who needed to integrate, support and secure these devices. The acceptance of multiple screens, coupled with the availability of new platform technologies, created a market where “endpoint devices” spanned a wide range of categories: desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, thin clients, All-in-Ones, 2-in-1s and other device types. These form factors are differentiated by more than size and input technology; they move through different channels at different price points; they appeal to different kinds of buyers who use different means to learn about and source them. Buyer openness to new screen types emboldened suppliers to redefine categories, or to create entirely new device classes. ThinkBook Plus is one such example which delivers new experiences for the “worklife” SMB employee. The DNA of ThinkBook is described as “Worklife device for the modern workforce” fashioning a balance of work and life PC for small businesses.

thinkbook plus image article

ThinkBook Plus spans the needs of both small businesses which expect affordability in an appealing design and midsized firms which are demanding distinctive devices that enhance security, provide superior support but at a reasonable price.

At 17.9mm, with front edge at 12mm, ThinkBook Plus is thin and slim enough to not feel bulky despite the presence of E-Ink and weighs 3.1 lbs. It is thicker and heavier than ThinkPad X1 Carbon but then the ThinkPad is a higher premium product. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 14.95mm thick and weighs 2.4 lbs. In comparison, Dell XPS 13 weighs 2.7 lbs. and is 12.7mm thick whereas a 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 lbs. and is 15.2 mm thick. But, a ThinkBook, with most of the business specifications, is more affordable than other brands. ThinkBook is clearly positioned between Lenovo or its competitors’ consumer devices and Lenovo ThinkPad X1/X/T/L/E devices.

Lenovo has not cut any corners on battery life nor compromised on performance to incorporate an E-Ink display. The keyboard is solid and the trackpad is smooth and responsive. The signature red TrackPoint of ThinkPad is missing but a new distinctive stamped logo on the top lid implies a modern, unfussy statement. Blurring the line between business and consumer notebooks, it has its fingerprint reader in the power button and dTPM 2.0 for additional security.

While the E-Ink panel is matte glass, ThinkBook Plus is made from Iron Grey anodized aluminum.  The rounded barrel 180-degree hinges allow the notebook to lay completely flat. Unlike many modern consumer laptops, ThinkBook Plus has several ports - one USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A Gen ports and one HDMI 1.4b port. I would have liked to see two USB-C ports – one each on either side. Battery life is rated at 10 hours and I was able to get up to 8 hours with continuous pounding on the keyboard and using Lenovo Active Pen (stylus) for E-Ink. The pen is shipped with ThinkBook. Since there is no place to holster the pen, I wish Lenovo also shipped a pen holder along with the notebook. However, the Pen magnetically attaches to either side of the notebook screen.

Straddling the line between consumer and business, work and life, ThinkBook boasts Dolby Vision for lifelike images, Harman Kardon audio for superior sound and skype hot keys for communication and collaboration. Borderless slim bezels provide great screen real estate for users like me to work on couple of documents side-by-side. The display, set at 300 nits, could have been brighter for my liking. Unfortunately, I could not connect my ThinkVision M14 as a second display due to only one USB-C port on ThinkBook Plus.

Work from home does not give too many opportunities to try and experiment with mobility-on-the-go features. Hence, during the day I worked on the ThinkBook connected to an external display through ThinkPad USB-C Dock. In the evening, I took it for spin in various rooms in my house including the backyard. I used E-Ink to jot down new ideas, musings on future technology trends as well as create and manage task lists including grocery shopping to-do-list in OneNote. The fact that ThinkBook Plus integrates with Microsoft OneNote is awesome. All my notes on the exterior E-Ink display syncs with OneNote. I became confident in my rapid note taking abilities once I got used to the amount of pressure to use on the stylus. I sometimes use the E-ink during my conference calls. The E-Ink display can be used even when the notebook is in sleep mode. Unlike the Kindle Paperwhite, the E-Ink screen is not frontlit. I hope that a future iteration of E-Ink display will also have this feature to allow for work in darker environments. Regardless, one of the best functional features is the ability to clone the desktop on E-Ink display (without opening the notebook lid). With the touch of an icon I could launch browser, open PowerPoint files, annotate, read Word documents, scroll through file folders and many other tasks. This is currently available as a trial version (which I have been using) and users can look forward to this functionality in future software updates.

There is arguably more opportunity to define net-new PC offerings today (foldables is a much-anticipated trend) than there has been for decades. There is an additional requirement on PC OEMs to segment accurately, to be in tune with the needs and preferences of target segments, and to move quickly to address new demand drivers – but there is also new opportunity to translate this acumen and agility into substantial marketing-driven success. As PCs become more capable, SMB buyers – especially the business decision makers (BDMs) who wield increasing power in IT decisions – are moving past the device itself, to a need for solutions that capitalize on the capabilities of the new units.  To date, PC OEMs have focused on building and selling screens, not the solutions that connect the screens. OEMs who understand how to connect their products to business-relevant solutions have an opportunity to differentiate those products, attracting new SMB customers and channel partners. And this is what Lenovo has set out to achieve.

In recent years, emphasis across many different PC functions have changed. Communications and information access increased in importance, and eventually became the dominant use mode for personal technology. As a result, both user requirements for devices and the market for these devices became more fragmented. Many users opt for a multi-screen approach to personal technology: they use smartphones to communicate and to consume content, PCs to collaborate and to create content, and tablets for all of these activities in varying degrees. Lenovo ThinkBook is not an attempt to replace either the smartphone or the tablet. On the contrary, BYOD (once a euphoric trend which Techaisle had rightly predicted would vanish quickly against all pundits’ prognosis) has been replaced by CYOD. Lenovo is on a path to ensure that SMB employees have access to the productivity tools that suit them best. By giving a choice to SMB IT buyers, Lenovo is simply narrowing the usage continuum: desktop PCs primarily for creation, smartphones primarily for consumption, tablets as both consumption and light content creation, notebooks for creating content and as a mobile consumption port.

ThinkBook is not an ordinary notebook. Presence of E-Ink is debatable. It is built for the SMB customer. In its first iteration it splendidly succeeds in making a superlative statement and reimagining a new modern way to multitask on notebooks.   

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