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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.

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

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Post-pandemic lead generation is proving problematic for channel partners

Six months have changed how SMBs and enterprises operate, how employees work, how customers purchase, and how products/services get delivered. A shift in go-to-market imperatives has become problematic for channel partners. Techaisle leveraged its panel of 225K channel partners to understand the impact of the pandemic on channel business. 49% of channel partners have allocated resources and budget for lead generation, but 60% rely on leads from vendors, an increase of 18% from pre-pandemic. 29% more channel partners than previously are finding social media as one of the most effective methods of lead generation. 46% of partners have increased their usage of analytics to drive leads, and 60% have increased influencer marketing.

Techaisle survey research data also shows that for 42% of channel partners, driving growth is the top business issue, especially with a clear focus on increasing the effectiveness of sales and marketing. Despite pandemic, 68% of channel partners expect revenue increases in the next year but have tempered their revenue growth expectations from 19% to slightly over 10%. Channel partners deploying digital transformation solutions expect ~2X revenue increase compared to those who are still not focused on digital transformation offerings for their customer base.

The requirement to focus on digital discovery conveys some hard truths. The first is that channel partners need to reach a large and diverse buyer population, extending beyond the IT department into business units and the executive suite, which means that marketers need to create and place various messages to keep the sales process on track. Another important implication is that prospects who engage with a vendor will represent a relatively small subset of the total potential market, as many buyers will disqualify suppliers before drafting a potential vendor list. The third implication follows the first two: to maximize the addressable market; channel partners need to embrace digital marketing as a way to gain entree to accounts that have not yet self-identified as prospects. Channel partners that rely on traditional lead generation campaigns realize that these funnels are reaching a diminishing share of the market.

Marketing has not been a primary focus for most channel businesses, and those that have invested in marketing staff have typically tasked them with optimizing access to vendor investment funds. Marketing’s need to add advanced digital competencies is challenging most channel partners. Vendors will need to provide programs that support content and digital marketing to ensure that their partners can engage with the largest possible number of prospective clients. Techaisle’s research highlights the core issue. Buyers, working in teams that average 5.1 individuals, typically don’t have meaningful contact with a supplier until they are 70% of the way through the purchase process.

All four of the top IT suppliers – Dell Technologies, Cisco, HPE, and IBM – have made partner marketing a priority.

  • Dell Technologies’ Cheryl Cook, SVP, Global Partner Marketing, is made it a mission to equip and educate partners with a series of guided podcasts and webinars
  • Cisco’s Boon Lai, VP, Global Partner Marketing, is enhancing the marketing velocity program
  • HPE’s Laura Seymour, Senior Director, Global Channel Marketing, is focused on Marketing Pro and Partner Marketing Concierge
  • IBM’s Catherine Solazzo, VP, Partner Ecosystem Performance Marketing is driving My Digital Marketing platform

If the customer journey begins with research conducted via the web, the marketing imperative must start with digital discovery. The channel partner marketing teams should take advantage of their IT suppliers’ initiatives, invest in putting thought leadership messages in front of prospective customers, and in the processes required to nurture new contacts to the point where they become sales-ready leads. Leaders at traditional channel partners will recognize this endpoint – but the process needed to arrive at this point is much different in the post-pandemic world.

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Dell XPS 13 – Perfection Personified

In 1818, John Keats, the famous romantic lyric poet wrote “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Two centuries later I opened the Dell XPS 13 9300 packaging to behold the beauty of a PC notebook. I let the XPS 13 sit on my desk for three days, lest I may spoil the serenity of the frost white / alpine white composite fiber chassis. But use it and review I must.

As an SMB analyst, I decided to evaluate the notebook through two lenses – the SMB and home user. Consumers & SMB employees already overlap in their use of technology usage between work, home, anywhere. Dell XPS 13 is a right-fit for both. The latest model that I am using is Intel 10th Generation i7 (Comet Lake six-core processor), 1TB SSD, 16GB RAM and FHD+ display.

The difference between the new Dell XPS 13 9300 and the older version XPS 13, which I am used to, is like chalk and cheese. Besides look and feel, power and productivity seem to be the core design tenets of the newest model. Productivity enhancement begins with the four-sided InfinityEdge 13.4" FHD+ Touch anti-reflective 500-Nit display. The original 16:9 screen has been replaced with 16:10 which as per Dell has 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. As a result, the 19.5mm bezel at the bottom of the display which used to house the webcam has been reduced to 4.6mm giving the entire screen an edge-to-edge display. PowerPoint and Excel or Excel and Word or PowerPoint and Word are three of the applications that I use side-by-side most often. With the new aspect ratio, I feel that I am successfully tricked into achieving better productivity because of more screen real estate. Working from home, my XPS 13 notebook is usually connected to Dell UltraSharp 27-inch monitors via a Dell dock but I remain productive even during my occasional trips to other rooms of my home (in the absence of travel). When I have to look at data all day long, full screen brightness works great for me – both indoors and outdoors.

In addition to a taller display, the edge-to-edge keyboard with larger keycaps and touchpad add to a productive experience. The left and right arrow keys are full-size, bigger than in previous models but the up and down arrow keys are still annoyingly narrow and tiny. The page up and page down keys are gone but I do not miss them. Normal travel of the keys makes for comfortable typing for both one-finger and ten-finger typists. The keyboard backlight is nice but the color against composite alpine keyboard deck threw me off initially because the contrast is unnoticeable. There is a slightly higher light bleed under the “U” key than other keys which leads me to believe that all keys may not be seated uniformly. But I am just nitpicking. It does not in any way hinder the performance, likeability and experience of the notebook. After many days of use I have managed to reprogram my muscle memory to look for delete key one space to the left because its rightful place has been taken over by the power button / fingerprint reader (which is easy to reach, perfect size and not bothersome and incredulously placed on the side in the Dell Latitude 7390). The glass touchpad is not only smooth but is also big in a small-sized notebook. In the absence of left-right click buttons the physical switch works great for me which I prefer over a haptic sensor (present in some PC brands). The ample space for palm rest is one of the best experience design elements of the keyboard.

xps 13 white keyboard view resized

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Dell announces On Demand, PowerOne, expands PCaaS, focuses on customer advocacy, invests in SMB

Dell was always been relevant for small business and education markets but is now in an exalted position to stake its claim within the enterprise segment and the new battleground – the midmarket firms. In this Techaisle Take analysis I cover Dell Technologies’ On Demand offering, Progress Made Real initiative, expanded PCaaS for SMBs, focus on customer advocacy, continued SMB investment, new converged infrastructure PowerOne, Unified workspace solution and channel partner strategy.

Dell Technologies Summit in Austin was a showcase of bold announcements and understated commitments to corporate social good and customer advocacy. Dell has certainly transformed in the last five years. It has moved along a path from a PC company to end-to-end solutions provider to a digital transformation partner to a place where it is driving its own transformation through the power of analytics with a goal of delivering customer success. Dell has catapulted itself into relevancy for the next decade.

In 1984, when Michael Dell founded his namesake company in his college dorm, I was a freshly minted engineering college graduate working through my first job at a tractor manufacturing plant in India. My first interaction with Dell was in early nineties when an India-based firm was awarded a contract manufacturing deal. I was then running the secretariat of a computer manufacturer’s association in India. Since then not only technology has progressed but both the consumers and commercial buyers have evolved. Dell has not only moved with the times but sometimes has been ahead of the curve. One such “ahead of the curve” initiative is “Progress Made Real for 2030” announced at the summit.

Progress Made Real for 2030 stands on four pillars:

  1. Advancing sustainability: for example, one-for-one recycling, that is, every product that Dell sells it will recycle an equivalent product
  2. Cultivating inclusion: committing to 50 percent of Dell workforce to comprise of women by 2030, 40 percent of managers of people will be women, 25 percent of US workforce will be Hispanic or African American
  3. Transforming lives: for example, Dell’s work with Tata Trusts, with a goal to reach 40m under-privileged people from the current 11m
  4. Upholding ethics and privacy

Enabled by a combination of pervasive use of technology and vastly-expanded solution options, the technology user and buyer community has become more diverse in both composition and focus. Business decision makers (BDMs) are not content to await IT’s blessing to pursue technology options that align with business needs: an increasingly tech-savvy business user/management community plays an ever-expanding role in assessing technology options, and even in specifying solutions and managing their rollout. At the same time, the solution options themselves have expanded to become more accessible to non-IT staff. Some technologies, such as analytics and IoT, directly address business management questions. Others, notably cloud, provide support and delivery options that give business units the option of avoiding IT oversight. Even core IT functions, such as storage management (especially with respect to Big Data) and security (particularly with regard to cloud and mobility) are reshaped by system requirements imposed by BDM needs. It is not out of place, as an analyst, to say that Dell has been a little late in recognizing and pursuing the shifting patterns. Regardless, Dell has been a believer of technology democratization and has begun a concerted effort to manage technology chaos with a differentiated customer strategy and drive the ability to scale human capacity. These are very lofty and moonshot initiatives. But then Dell is a founder-led company whose founder is skilled at assembling the proverbial ship piece-by-piece and navigating it through uncharted and occasionally choppy waters.

Dell Technologies differentiated customer strategy is built on four key points:

  1. Driving social impact with purpose-driven relationships
  2. Creating customer advocates for life by honoring customer loyalty and delivering success
  3. Making it easy to do business with Dell by executing on basics
  4. Unlocking customer value by leading with insights

Dell’s customer advocacy team is constantly analyzing 9.5K social conversations per day, looks at 33K customer verbatims in addition to its 16K sales team members sharing feedback. Dell’s plan to delivering a seamless and simplified customer experience is not very different from recently announced customer lifecycle experience, aka race track, by Cisco. End goals are the same, approaches are slightly different. But the fact that all suppliers are landing at the same end-state is significant on how the technology industry has evolved.

Perhaps the most important announcement at Dell Tech Summit was its On Demand offering. Dell went to great lengths to explain its genesis and development but it is clear that it a direct response to the growing popularity of HPE GreenLake. Regardless of HPE commanding the media-waves Dell has jumped headlong into the as-a-service, post-transactional market with Dell Technologies On Demand Autonomous Infrastructure available via DT Cloud. Dell is prepared to deliver solutions today and at scale. And it is also within reach of midmarket businesses. Key takeaways of Dell’s On Demand solutions are:

  1. On-demand, consumption-based and as-a-service solutions for on-prem infrastructure / services is customizable, integrated across the full-stack for Dell's end-to-end portfolio from edge to core to cloud
  2. Dell widened the product of their Flex On Demand offerings for PowerEdge servers and their new PowerOne autonomous converged infrastructure solution (announced at Dell Technologies Summit). With this announcement, Dell’s consumption-based on-demand solutions now cover PCs, servers, storage, CI/HCI, IoT, datacenters, networking and data protection. Ideally applicable for firms with a minimum $250K 3-year contract-value but end-points including PCaaS is available for SMBs (at lower committed contract values).
  3. Dell knows how to create simplicity within complexity. Businesses can customize and select their on-demand path from:
    1. Payment: Pay As You Grow, Flex On Demand, Data Center Utility
    2. Services: ProSupport, ProDeploy, Managed services
    3. Portfolio: Edge, Endpoint, Core, Cloud
  4. On Demand offering provides two options for channel partners to participate:
    1. Referral fee – 7%-10% on committed contract value including tier credit program benefit. Dell owns and manages the customer. The partner still plays an active role in managing the customer relationship. The referral fee model positions the partner to address the customer’s solution needs, and enhance their customer relationship without having to take on the usage and credit risk associated with offering a pay for use solution.
    2. Resell – Partner owns and manages the customer. Allows partner to uplift base usage charge and earn program benefits including rebates, marketing development funds, and tier credit

Pay As You Grow is for committed workloads. The metering coverage in Flex On Demand includes processor, memory, and GB consumed. Data Center Utility adds metering based on VM and per port. The solution is still in its early stages and Dell views this as a journey rather than a destination. But the offering, in early stages, is finding acceptance at many of Dell’s customers. Scalar (a CDW company) has been configuring on-demand solutions with unlimited scalability for major Hollywood studios.

Relative to the cost of conventional hardware and software, on-demand cloud solutions are generally more cost effective than equivalent CAPEX-based on-premise alternatives, and its OPEX-based billing model works well for cash-constrained SMBs and midmarket firms. Cloud’s ‘as-a-Service’ delivery model reduces the need for individual SMBs and midmarket firms to attract and retain specialized IT staff; scale up as the organization grows, and cloud provides SMBs and midmarket firms that are often unable to maintain refresh cycles with ‘always-on’ access to current technology.

SMBs are not being left out from Dell’s strategy. In fact, small and midmarket businesses are two of the fastest growing segments for Dell. Its small business advisory has witnessed tremendous success but the team is not resting on its laurels. It aims to add 100 more small business advisors in the next one year. Each advisor goes through 160 hours of in-person classroom training. Dell has built a progressive hierarchical advisory structure, based on “needs complexity” to help SMBs learn, identify, buy and deploy technology. Small businesses with specific and simple requirements can also use Eva – a chatbot – to help guide through product selection and purchase.

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