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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.
Anurag Agrawal

AI PCs Poised for Takeoff in SMB and Midmarket Segments, But Snapdragon Faces Hurdles

A new type of computer is gaining traction: the Artificial Intelligence-powered PC, or AI PC for short.  At Microsoft Build 2024, Microsoft and its leading PC partners, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, unveiled a new class of laptops, Copilot+ PCs, explicitly built for artificial intelligence (AI).  These laptops are powered by powerful Snapdragon® X Plus processors, exceeding 40 trillion operations per second (TOPS), and deliver long-lasting battery life and access to cutting-edge AI models. 

The personal computer market is undergoing a significant shift, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and upper midmarket companies are paying close attention.  A recent study by Techaisle, covering 1410 SMBs and Midmarket firms in the US, suggests a potential surge in demand for these innovative machines within these business sectors. 

High Awareness Paves the Way for Adoption

The study reveals a high level of awareness and purchase intention among SMBs and midmarket firms, painting a promising picture of the market potential of AI PCs. A significant 77% of SMBs and an impressive 86% of upper midmarket firms are already familiar with AI PCs, demonstrating a high level of awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of AI technology for their productivity and operations. This awareness is not just passive, as the study reveals that a substantial 32% of SMBs and a much higher 64% of midmarket firms are actively planning to purchase AI PCs, indicating a strong market potential and the confidence these businesses have in the technology. This robust purchase intention signals a significant market shift and underscores the potential for widespread adoption in the near future. Moreover, 40% of SMBs are considering evaluating AI PCs before making a purchase decision, hinting at the possibility of even broader adoption in the coming years.

AI PCs are projected to dent the PC market within 3-5 years substantially. SMBs, known for their agility in responding to market trends, will likely mirror this trend. With 54% of SMBs planning to invest in new PCs in the next 12 months, AI PCs could become a decisive factor in purchasing decisions.

The study also uncovers some intriguing insights into SMB priorities. While 14% of SMBs view AI PCs as a crucial upgrade, and another 12% are considering a strategic shift towards them, a substantial portion (24%) see no compelling reason to adopt this new technology. However, 58% of SMBs report that their employees are actively requesting AI PCs. This highlights a potential disparity between management and employees regarding the perceived benefits of AI technology, suggesting the need for better communication and alignment.

The study identifies potential early adopters of AI PCs within the employee base. These are the content creators, tech-savvy departments, and executives in corner offices. Creative and design professionals top the list (45%), followed by IT development (27%) and sales and marketing teams (26%). These departments will likely benefit most from AI PCs' enhanced processing power and AI-powered features.

Copilot Gains Traction, But Snapdragon Faces Recognition Hurdle

The Techaisle study delves deeper, exploring the potential for Copilot, a new software solution designed to unlock the true power of AI PCs. Awareness is high, with over half (54%) of SMBs and a staggering majority (89%) of upper midmarket firms recognizing the name.  Despite its recent launch, nearly half of these businesses already know about Copilot+ PCs.

However, adoption intent dips regarding Copilot+ PCs powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors. This hesitation stems from a few key factors. Limited brand awareness compared to the established giant Intel is a significant hurdle. Concerns about compatibility with existing applications and potential issues with peripherals further dampen enthusiasm. Many SMBs are adopting a wait-and-see approach, holding out for the announcement of Intel-based Copilot+ PCs, hoping these systems will offer similar features and impressive battery life.

Despite the growing hype around AI PCs, the study reveals some interesting realities regarding PC selection criteria for SMBs. While GPU/NPU might be a consideration, it does not reign supreme. For SMBs, the top five priorities when choosing a PC remain long battery life, a processor with built-in security features, ample storage capacity, a high-resolution display, and biometric login options.

Anurag Agrawal

Dell Technologies’ Small Business Advisors Program is deeply devoted to small business success

Small businesses are increasingly dependent on information technology. 78% of small (1-99 employees) businesses consider technology critical to their success. These small businesses are dealing with an ever-expanding portfolio of increasingly complex applications and platform technologies. Techaisle's small business research data shows that 73% prefer to purchase from a supplier who provides business issues focused technology advisory guidance and 64% want an IT supplier vested in customer success. In an IT environment that is already very complex and likely to become more so, trusted advisors are essential to small businesses. Launched in May 2016, Dell Technologies' Small business Advisor program has been consistently simplifying the technology complexity and removing the friction from purchase decision inertia.

There is a perception that Dell advisors only sell PCs. Reality is quite different than perception. The advisors advise and sell end-to-end solutions. For complex needs, such as digital transformation, Dell has a clear second-level escalation path. The front-line advisors can raise the small business needs to large order specialists or technical resources to work on complex solutions. These specialists have the depth to look over the needs and the entire customer account from an end-to-end perspective, provide infrastructure guidance, including VMware products, and configure solutions based on the customer's requirements.

The advisors are not sales agents. Instead, they have the expertise to determine where a small business is in its technology journey and thereby provide contextual guidance. Their goal is to advise customers on what they need and what they could get, what needs to get fixed, how to fix it, and how to get the right next solution. It is a much more holistic way to drive the customer experience. For example, over the last year, a vast majority of advisor conversations were around the following topics:

  • Migration to a remote workforce – What is needed to support a work-from-home environment and individuals looking to maximize their home office setup?
  • General solution guidance – If using software applications such as QuickBooks, Office, or CAD, what system would work best?
  • The move from cloud to on-prem or hybrid environment – What are the benefits of data management, application performance, cost, and security?
  • Supporting the rapid expansion of specific industries, as a direct response to the pandemic. For example, private healthcare, transportation, and niche service companies in the market.
  • Private schools and other entities enabling remote learning/training.
  • Upgrading outdated technology – End-of-life software applications, operating systems, expiring warranties, and low-performing/over-tasked hardware.
  • Ensuring proper security in a rapidly changing IT landscape.

None of the above are simple technology adoption questions. They are also not point-and-click PC purchases. Techaisle data indicates that there is an interesting opportunity to connect high-value guidance with click-to-buy type options. However, this kind of offering needs a more extensive consultative capability in many cases. For example, nearly three-quarters of small business buyers would like their IT suppliers to provide technical advice directly connected to business issues. In addition, almost two-thirds want an IT advisor who is "invested in customer success." Dell has a very rigorous model of getting to know the customer. Customer conversations revolve around what solution the advisors are trying to help with and what problems they are trying to solve through technology.

Anurag Agrawal

Dell Technologies Partner Program – Evolution not Revolution – Consistency to Drive Continuous Improvement

Rola Dagher is the new global channel chief at Dell Technologies. Proverbially speaking, changing of the guard brings in its wake anticipation of partner program changes. Because of the success achieved, Dell Technologies does not feel compelled to make significant modifications to its partner program. On the contrary, continuous fine-tuning of the program has helped Dell drive channel partner growth. While the core tenets of Simple, Profitable, Predictable remain, Dell plans to target consistency and constant validation with some refinements. For example, Dell is simplifying the partner preferred program (now to be named Power Up), launching a new platform to track earnings, MDFs, MyRewards with lower latency and cloud-like functionality of partner portal increasing investment earn-outs with potential to cross-sell and upsell. Dell had launched MyRewards in 2017 to capture the mindshare of the channel sales reps. The system awarded $1 value in points for cash to redeem for products and travel. 2017 also saw Dell launch its digital marketing platform (which has grown enormously), introduce Activation Packs for smaller partners with pre-approved MDF dollars, and develop compensation to channel partners on contract value for the cloud (consumption models).

Dell and its partners have been pleased with the channel strategy, and, as a result, Dell does not plan to change course. While every other IT supplier is planning for channel transformation, Dell's channel leadership believes in "evolution, not revolution." The enterprise partner preferred and commercial preferred programs (for targeted account lists) have been successful, yet they were complex to follow and execute. Learning from the experience, Dell has simplified the program to make it even more impactful for Partner of Record (PoR) partners. An identified list of accounts where partners are already working with Dell competitors; Dell sellers commit themselves to joint account planning to shift the customer to Dell. Partner competitiveness, better sales engagement with clarity of seller-partner offering, and robust programs on competitive takeout and customer acquisition have helped Dell and its partners. All part of the evolution strategy.

Until last year, Dell had struggled to simplify deal registration, both due to the task and technology transition's inherent complexity. Dell is therefore launching a better partner experience portal. Regardless of the complexity, due to relentless execution and commitment, Dell's partners made giant strides. There is no question that Dell has a complete product portfolio in the IT industry. This position has significant potential benefits but can lose impact due to the need for partners to navigate an immensely complex set of offerings. Dell deserves plaudits to recognize this challenge and respond with partner programs that mute the various solutions' roar and enable partners to focus on working effectively – and profitably – with their customers.

Channel partners are the custodians of customer needs. Armed with knowledge, training, and experience, partners are and can be in a great position to guide, design, architect, deploy and manage technology solutions for end-customers to work through the crisis and the future. Despite the headwinds, channel partners are quickly adopting both tactical and strategic approaches to solving customer problems to deliver customer success. Partners are the beacons that customers are looking for – partners who listen, share pain points, advise, and are responsive. It may be the best of times to develop a transformative strategy that is customer-in rather than product-out.

To help frame understanding of go-to-market investments, Techaisle asked its panel of channel partners to identify which of a handful of statements they believed to be accurate for their business. Data shows that the channel is in a longer-term transition. There is a need for sales staff to react to increasing customer's technical knowledge by being more innovative is essential and vital for their businesses. There is also broad and growing agreement that line-of-business selling is rising as a proportion of all sales and that "the as-a-Service model has significantly changed what a partner looks for in sales and business development professionals." These findings indicate that channel sales staff can't rely primarily on fulfillment-centric deals. Instead, they need to demonstrate a real understanding of customer business issues and how technology can deliver meaningful business benefits.

Dell is working on its partner training and sellers to transition from product to solution selling, from pricing-led to outcome-driven strategy. It seems to be yielding results. For example, in Q3, over 60% of Dell's new customer activation was through the channel. An increase in incentives to 20% for flex-on-demand offerings (for both referral and resell) lead to US$1.3B in offers in as-a-service. Dell is working to enable partner participation with Project APEX and access to Dell's as-a-service portfolio. The first offering in its portfolio will be Dell Technologies Storage as a Service (STaaS), delivering a pay-per-use model and elastic capacity and deployed on-prem. It will launch in the US for Dell's direct business in the first half of the fiscal year. Dell will share an update later this fiscal on partner availability with Project APEX, including STaaS. The key enabler of Project APEX is the Dell Technologies Cloud Console. This single web interface enables both customers and partners to manage cloud workloads and services. The Cloud Console's initial rollout will allow customers to browse a marketplace of IaaS products, services, and solutions. For partners, Dell is working on a roadmap and timeline for the console to be API eligible, allowing partners to integrate with their marketplaces.

Techaisle data shows that transformation partners are targeting revenue growth over quarterly, short-term incentives. But incentives seem to work wonders for Dell. Channel partner interest in fees and activity-based incentives are driven primarily by firms with traditional channel business models. SIs and VARs, who form most Dell partners, consider this type of stimulus most important to their businesses. But firms developing IP prefer solution development funds (which has been introduced by VMware). Channel partners focused on commodity products may not capitalize on deal registration, and only large partners would have access to staff/embedded headcounts. Rebates may be popular, but they do not increase margin much and often depress street price instead. Fees and activity-based incentives support solutions that require very long sales cycles, which would not be as beneficial in a rapid-turnaround niche. Solution development funds can be instrumental in building an ecosystem around a platform product but may take a long time to generate tangible results. SPIFs are generally helpful to shaping sales behavior but can be expensive, require effective targeting and management, and only work where there is buy-in from the partner business's owner. Within the overall channel partner ecosystem, 50% prefer fees and activity-based incentives, and 43% want solution development fund. Staffing and embedded headcount are preferred by 37% of partners.

It is evolution and not revolution. Those expecting Dell to make market-shattering transformative changes will likely be disappointed. Dell is working towards simplifying operations, educating partners, and enabling better digital marketing. Yes, there is a lot more Dell needs to do. Recent work by Techaisle shows that the need for updated understandings of channel management imperatives has expanded beyond the tactical questions of sales or management metrics or marketing activities. The pandemic has been an accelerator. Digital transformation provides enormous opportunities for the channel. It offers a means of establishing a customer relationship that secures ongoing/escalating account revenue and influence, improving the business outlook of channel firms who can capitalize on customer need for digital transformation support. For now, Dell's channel partner program has both its feet firmly planted on solid ground. Dell does not want and does need to take flight. Instead, it plans to and should continue its fight to remain valuable and loyal to the channel partner community.

Anurag Agrawal

Dell Technologies emerges as a new compelling challenger in the as-a-service market

HPE is not the only game in town. Dell had announced its entry into the aaS arena in 2017 with PCaaS on the client-side. Dell Technologies, the only IT supplier with an end-to-end portfolio, announced its latest foray into the "as-a-service" (aaS) arena with Project Apex, which it hopes will take Dell Technologies' aaS capabilities to the next level. Its objective is to unify Dell's as-a-service and cloud strategies to provide a consistent experience wherever a workload runs - on-premise, at the edge, or in the public cloud. Project Apex aims to simplify customers' and Dell Technologies partners' access to Dell's as-a-service portfolio. The first product, Dell Technologies Storage as a Service (ST-as-a-service), delivers a pay-per-use model and elastic capacity and is deployed on-prem but fully managed by Dell at the initial launch. The key enabler of Project Apex is the Dell Technologies Cloud Console. This single web interface enables customers to manage their cloud workloads and services, available to a few select early customers with a wider roll-out in 2021. Dell has a long road ahead with "everything-as-a-service" as a final destination. After STaaS, Dell is expected to roll out compute-as-a-service (COMPUTEaaS), PCaaS, Data-protection-as-a-Service (DPaaS) and vertical solutions (SAPaaS). PC-as-a-Service (PCaaS) is already available. Apex will enable it to move from a bundled, "leased" offer tying software and services to each device in an annual price per seat to modern, flexible aaS capabilities providing customers with tailored offers of hardware, software and services delivered over the air and accessed/ managed through a single portal enabling customers to seamlessly scale up and down specific to their unique needs and renew effortlessly, with one simple price per month.

HPE may have the lead, but nobody can claim a victory lap as yet. It is too early to declare a winner. Dell is a compelling challenger. It matters to SMBs, Midmarket firms, Enterprise customers and Partners.

Cloud, private cloud, and conventional infrastructure are three parts of a whole. Dell Technologies is currently betting on it by providing simplicity, consistency, and flexibility. However, the current branding of solution offerings of Dell Technologies Cloud Platform and Dell Technologies On Demand will need to merge quickly to avoid digressing and having complex customer conversations on the merits of each. And then, there is the VMware Cloud, which adds to the choice complexity.

Let us discuss why the as-a-service challanger status matters to SMBs, Midmarket firms and Dell Technologies' Partners.

Why the announcement matters to SMBs and Midmarket firms

Research You Can Rely On | Analysis You Can Act Upon

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