The World is Flat (© Thomas L. Friedman) and so has become IT, especially for SMBs. With a Flat world, rises an opportunity for SMBs to employ workers who are globally distributed, travel and telecommute. With a Flat world comes Flat IT. And the IT vendors are missing the dialogue with their SMB customers- some vendors more than others. They are also missing a new understanding of SMB IT adoption cycle.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us first understand the world of Flat IT.
Waves have Evaporated to Form Clouds
Analyst firms typically use words such as IT waves or eras in describing SMB IT adoption - client/server wave, networking wave, Internet wave, etc. There is nothing wrong with this wave theory except now that there are no more waves left, all water is evaporating to form clouds. But some analysts still continue with that philosophy and call the coming wave as mobility wave. These do not do any good to either a vendor or the end-customer. Mobility started with notebooks & Wi-Fi. An SMB does not buy IT considering the wave, it does not even think whether the wave is waxing or waning. A typical SMB buys IT because it needs IT and the SMB with the help of channel partners becomes smart enough to understand what IT to buy to make itself more efficient, productive and profitable.
Waves were relevant more than a decade ago when technology products were evolving in piecemeal basis. Today all technologies are available at the same time and its adoption among SMBs is dependent upon the business plan.
Building Block IT
Enter the building blocks. SMBs started off their journey into IT by unknowingly using simple building block concepts. Their first purchase was always a PC which served as the foundational block. When they added employees and file sharing became important, they built a network and added a server – the next block stacked up on the foundational block. When they reached a certain size they added more servers, the third and subsequent blocks became applications such as CRM, ERP and Line of business. All of these blocks could not be added without the existence of the previous block. Very soon when an SMB reached a mid-market level of operation, the blocks were neatly stacked one on top of another. And when the blocks became vertically unstable, they brought in external experts such as consulting organizations to help manage these blocks and possibly break them into small chunks that could be easily maintained. SMBs looked for Enablement.
IT vendors thrived. Dell concentrated on the foundational block, Cisco connected the blocks, HP played with all block layers while IBM refocused to the top layers. Vendors like Microsoft, SAP and Oracle provided the layers that enabled the blocks.
The process of an SMB growth and its relative steps to absorb IT were steady and predictable. Some SMBs stacked the blocks faster than others but steps to get to the top of the block were always same. It was also dependent upon the financial capacity of an SMB to the extent that those with large dollars available for investment built the blocks faster not necessarily having the same end-results as SMBs with limited investment capabilities and which moved slower. Call it cutting edge versus laggards, but such nomenclature also never proved that the cutting edge SMBs were more efficient or profitable than the laggards. IT vendors and channels made money as they exploited the IT imbalance among various SMBs creating a race to reach the top of building blocks as fast as possible.
Enter Flat IT. Cloud, mobility, virtualization, and managed services have effectively toppled the blocks down in one fell sweep and have laid everything flat on the table. SMBs are now automatically empowered but they do not know it yet, because nobody has told them so directly. The concept of cutting edge and laggard has been torn apart because
it carries little meaning as SMBs now have a rich menu of solutions available that can be plugged into in a very short time. Now it is not a race to the top, but how can an SMB reach its full potential in the shortest period of time.
In a Flat world, with Flat IT, similar technology is now available across all countries and gap between developing and developed worlds is narrowing. In some of the emerging markets, IT is not only Flat but leapfrogging technologies as building blocks are not fully present. Where converged infrastructure is becoming a possibility, Cloud services will
be delivered via wireless.
Next week we will discuss how SMB IT has become Time & Size Agnostic and how the SMBs of today are transforming themselves.