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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.

Causation or correlation - The link between approaches to digital transformation and business success

Techaisle’s 2021 US SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation adoption trends research covering businesses from 1 to 4999 employees (collectively named mainstream businesses by Techaisle) shows a correlation between digital transformation and business growth. Unlike many IT market terms, which tie to specific technologies, digital transformation is most often used to indicate an amorphous state. A state in which firms can seamlessly deploy new digital capabilities that streamline current or next-step processes, eliminating the friction inherent in basing these capabilities on manual tasks and physical documents/inputs. SMBs and midmarket firms view digital transformation as a proxy for business process efficiency. For many years, it has been a management goal, embedded, usually without a consistent set of steps and defined outcomes, in the IT plans of a substantial majority of small businesses (1-99 employees) and more than 90% of midmarket (100-4999 employees) firms. The pandemic brought urgency to these plans. The speed reflected the management’s understanding that highly automated processes are essential in a business environment where physical interactions are awkward or forbidden, adding necessity to efficiency as compelling reasons to invest in digital transformation.

Digital transformation segments

To refine the current and planned digital transformation adoption status perspective, Techaisle segmented the market to one of four phrases to characterize organizations’ attitude or approach towards digitalization of existing processes –

  • Holistic: Digitalization is an essential aspect of overall business strategy
  • Inclusive: Digitalization is a meaningful but non-essential aspect of overall business strategy
  • Siloed: Digitalization strategies are underway in some departments, but there is no overall digitalization strategy for the business
  • In the shadows: Digitalization may be occurring in areas of the company, but it is neither a departmental nor overall business strategy
  • Nonexistent: Business has no digitalization activity or plan; firms have yet to begin digital transformation adoption.

Small business adoption of digital transformation is still at a primary stage. In 27% of small businesses (1-99), digital transformation is either “nonexistent, “in the shadows,” or “siloed.” However, this is vastly lower from 51% in 2020, indicating that small businesses drastically improved their approach to transformation within the last year. Midmarket firms, which have higher overall digital transformation adoption rates, are also much more advanced in their approaches. 90% of midmarket firms take either an “inclusive” or “holistic” approach to digital transformation today. Data shows that there has been an increase of 34% within midmarket firms (100-999) and a corresponding increase of 26% within upper midmarket firms (1000-4999) in their approach to holistic digital transformation from siloed or inclusive approaches.

Digital transformation and business growth

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Quickening pace of SMB and Midmarket digital transformation driving technology spend

Techaisle's latest SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation adoption trends research shows that 37% of small businesses (1-99 employees) and 46% of midmarket firms (100-4999 employees) expedited their digital transformation efforts due to pandemic. On the flip side, 27% of SMBs (1-999 employees) slowed down their digital transformation to prioritize their business's essential aspects, such as revenue generation. 27% of upper midmarket firms (1000-4999 employees) either changed their approach to transformation or kept the same pace as before the pandemic.

Investment in digital transformation has been underway for several years and was poised to be an essential factor in the IT and business market in the early 2020s. The pandemic lent urgency to digital transformation – but having arrived in a hurry, the changes wrought in response to the pandemic do not appear to be leaving as abruptly.

The accelerated pace of transformation will result in US$1,163B worldwide spend on IT (excluding telecom services) by SMB and upper-midmarket firms in 2021.

Unlike many IT market terms, which tie to specific technologies or technology capabilities, digital transformation is most often used to indicate an amorphous state in which an organization can seamlessly deploy new digital capabilities that streamline current or next-step processes, eliminating the business friction.

Organizational restructuring to hasten pace of transformation

Generally, firms consider digital transformation as a proxy for process efficiency. For many years, it has been a management goal, embedded without a consistent set of steps and defined outcomes in the IT plans of a substantial majority of SMBs. The pandemic brought urgency to these plans: there are numerous anecdotal reports of IT leaders being told, "you know that three-year digital transformation plan? Can you deliver it in three months instead?" For the most part, these requests tended to have a minimal additional budget attached to them, generally came without requisitions for new IT staff. These requests reflected management's understanding that highly-automated processes are essential in a business environment where physical interactions are awkward or forbidden, adding necessity to efficiency as compelling reasons to invest in digital transformation.

To change the transformation pace, 17% of SMBs are restructuring their entire organizations, and 24% are creating new functions dedicated to digital transformation. The changes will be more pronounced in the midmarket and upper-midmarket firms, which are quickly putting together dedicated groups and departments to digitize, digitalize and transform their organizations. Nearly one-fifth of SMBs are relying on their employees to guide transformation initiatives.

Changing digital transformation drivers

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Cisco Meraki masterfully enabling digital workplaces for SMBs

New work patterns and acceleration of distributed workplaces are resulting in a range of productivity benefits for SMBs today. As such, businesses see increased workforce efficiencies and talent recruitment while minimizing cost by reducing intermediaries and integration of contract professionals – and even improved environmental performance through reduced commuting and building footprints.

In the quest to deploy a perfect hybrid workplace technology infrastructure, SMBs often overlook networking – wireless, routers, firewalls, and beyond. Similarly, as small business retailers and other small commercial offices struggle with re-opening uncertainties, they are also grappling with the daunting task of enabling secure and safe environments for their employees and customers. Digitization with minimum IT disruption and low manageability is on their minds.

Cash flow constraints, limited access to finances, competitive landscapes, need for innovation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more are drivers for achieving cost efficiencies within SMBs. Digital transformation is no longer the domain of only upper midmarket firms and enterprises. Techaisle's SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation survey research shows that 46% of SMBs are adopting digital transformation to reduce costs, and 38% are planning for innovation in customer engagement and services.

Helping SMBs thrive with robust IT solutions

Unbeknownst to many, the Cisco Meraki platform and the solutions that it powers is a critical foundational technology to fast-forward digital transformation for SMBs. Much of this comes from its ease of use, simplicity, and flexibility for lean IT to innovate by doing more with less.

Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012, around the same time (2013) when it divested Linksys to Belkin. Over the years, Cisco has continued to innovate on its highly successful Meraki platform. It is no secret that Cisco Meraki invented cloud-managed networking technology in 2006 and has continued to innovate and expand the networking portfolio to IoT solutions and cover any business need or use case. The Meraki platform consists of switching, security & SD-WAN, wireless access points, mobile device management, and now extending to IoT, including smart cameras and AI-equipped sensors to drive business intelligence.

When it comes to deep intelligence and analytics, Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allow SMBs to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from the Meraki dashboard or API and easily detect and fix potential issues in minutes. Techaisle's survey research shows that only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff. They spend 79% of their time on support, maintenance, and troubleshooting—creating not only an IT efficiency deficit but also negatively impacting organizational productivity. Meraki Health's objective is to make troubleshooting simple for the lean, almost non-existent, or over-burdened small business owner/manager. Ultimately, small businesses need to propel growth and enable new business initiatives freeing up time and resources.

To ease the digital transformation, Meraki provides many capabilities that protect SMBs of any size, including:

  • Preventing cyber-attacks: Meraki MX Security & SD-WAN appliances protect SMB business, users, and devices. Meraki security has the backing of Cisco Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams globally.
  • Deploying remote workers: Meraki Z3 teleworker gateways provide connectivity and secure and seamless in-office experiences. Meraki Insight delivers deep visibility into critical business applications and proactive troubleshooting for remote workers.
  • Ensuring safe occupancy: Meraki MV smart cameras lets SMBs maintain social distancing guidelines by remotely monitoring and tracking safe occupancy levels in physical environments through intelligent analytics, such as object detection and tracking.
  • Cost savings from simplicity: All Meraki products are deployed and controlled from a single pane of glass. Meraki Health is available for all devices, saving a lot of troubleshooting time by pinpointing specific problematic devices and clients via root cause analysis.

SMBs agree that Meraki solutions can be quickly deployed with zero-touch provisioning and configuration and remotely managed through a cloud-based GUI dashboard (single pane of glass), with all-inclusive licensing. Meraki provides 24/7 technical support (email or phone) and a lifetime warranty on devices (except cameras & outdoor APs) with advanced replacement.

Challenges in small business security

Techaisle's SMB security survey research data shows that security is a top IT priority and challenge for 76% of SMBs, and 65% are planning to increase IT security investments. Within the SMB segment, small businesses often lack the skills required to work with software-based security solutions and tend to be 25%-33% less likely than midmarket firms to work with managed service providers.
Most small businesses are not proactive in addressing security issues, but that may not be the whole problem, or perhaps even the greatest obstacle to small business adoption of security technology. Relative to midmarket firms, small businesses have limited to no internal IT security staff, are not generally working with a managed service provider capable of handling security needs, and are about 50% less likely to embrace external vendors' software-based security solutions.

While small businesses could theoretically pursue some strategies used by larger competitors, they lack the experience and skills needed to identify, deploy, and manage the products and relationships used to develop shields protecting valuable corporate data, applications, and human assets.

Meraki addresses these issues by providing a secure in-office experience to remote workers—giving access to applications while maintaining visibility and control from anywhere with a cloud-managed dashboard. It also encrypts data with Auto VPN, allowing employees to quickly, securely, and remotely connect to corporate locations.

Meraki smart cameras also address physical security, remote monitoring, and intelligence by including on-device storage and flexibility to access the data through the cloud. The cameras allow for a significant amount of playback features with machine learning and AI to compress the data and provide business intelligence instantly gleaned from long recordings. It is an ideal product for SMBs implementing social distancing guidelines, remotely monitoring physical spaces, reducing in-person exposure on-site, and ensuring comprehensive security.

How SMBs can adapt and digitize

As I said earlier, there is increasing importance for innovation and digitization (not referring strictly to the substitution of digital records for physical documents, but more broadly to the use of digital technologies to meet business goals) in SMB strategy. A combination of increased reliance on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a perfect storm for small businesses to adapt to their changing environments using specifically designed technology.

Over the last few months, we studied use cases and Meraki's usefulness within the SMB segment. Meraki addresses real and compelling issues, and I believe it will continue to expand within the SMB community. Verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services have been quick adopters of Meraki, specifically, for launching new business models, deploying remote workers, transitioning to hybrid workplaces, cybersecurity, location analysis, contact tracing, social distancing, personal safety, curbside pickup, and more.

SMB owners and executives are concerned with issues that extend beyond technology. Yet, today's business environments are increasingly dependent on IT support, products, and services that improve productivity and efficiency or expand market reach and potential.

IT initiatives that can be linked meaningfully to broader business objectives can attract SMB executive support – meaning that products and services that address key business priorities have the most significant growth potential. Meraki is well on its way.

The future of IT

Today's economy demands that technology support SMB activities. The future will be defined by them capitalizing on technology-enabled business options. If SMBs are thinking about the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity, they should include Meraki in their evaluations. Writing this analysis reminds me that I am working from home, and I should probably replace my mesh-routers with Meraki devices.

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Delivering digital transformation benefits to SMB and mid-market customers

79% of US SMBs are either in the planning stage for digital transformation or have a formal strategy but only 19% are actively following through. Small businesses are behind midmarket firms. 29% of small businesses have no ongoing digital transformation strategy as compared to 9% of midmarket firms. As a result, there is a growing digital divide in the SMB segment and most SMBs need guidance in building a vision that involves separating digital transformation components into two nested and complementary ladders, one focused on technology, and second, focused on business outcomes.

The figure below presents a single-image depiction of these twin ladders of digital transformation. The bottom set of steps is labeled “the technology ladder,” and stretches from the deployment of modern, flexible infrastructure to advanced IT-enabled capabilities. The building blocks that are needed to establish an infrastructure that is capable of supporting digital transformation include mobility, virtualization, hyper-converged infrastructure, and other technologies essential to provisioning advanced IT services. These building block technologies are an essential foundation for digital transformation but deliver modest discrete value. The point automation solutions positioned at the base of the business outcomes ladder provide rapid but limited benefit through substitution and augmentation.

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