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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.

SMB cloud and MSP channel business by the numbers

A strictly “by the numbers” review of the state of the SMB channel in the US paints a portrait of a well-balanced but fragmenting industry. Techaisle’s survey of SMB channel partners finds that revenues from products and services are approximately equal, and that services revenue are being derived from transactions that do not include products as well as from product-inclusive deals. SMB channel respondents report that 58% of revenue is attributable to services-led contracts and that a similar proportion of revenue is derived from recurring sources, vastly different from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

It is worth noting that while measures of this type provide a very useful benchmark for channel partners, some interpretation of the benchmark data is necessary. For example, the proportion of business attributable to services is only part of the issue that SMB channel management is wrestling with: what kind of services (for example, managed PCs or device maintenance?) is an important consideration in evaluating the impact of a channel services revenue stream.

Similarly, growth in services revenue is not necessarily a proxy for progress, as it can result from simple reductions in product revenue rather than effective transition to a business model properly aligned with the market as a whole. Techaisle believes that SMB channel partners that are looking to be part of the “managed services” channel should be targeting just over 20% of services revenue derived from managed services in 2016, and more than 40% by 2018.

The revenue growth expectations are also interesting. Although 63% of SMB channel partners are expecting revenue increases in the next one year, the scenario is quite dismal for VARs as compared to MSPs. 54% more VARs than MSPs are expecting their revenues to remain flat and a percentage of VARs are expecting their revenues to decline by an average of 30%. Even some MSPs are expecting their revenues to decline by an average of 20%.

However, the overall optimism for growth provides some insight into how and where the channel is growing.

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Addressing SMB and Midmarket buyers cloud & mobility journey

In the course of Techaisle’s SMB & Midmarket IT Decision Making Authority: IT vs LoB, BDMs (business decision maker) and ITDMs (technology decision maker) were asked to identify the “greatest benefits” and “key attributes” of both cloud and mobility solutions.

There is an interesting pattern apparent in the survey research findings. When adopting mobility solutions small business BDMs are focused on addressing near-term pain points: attracting new customers, improving accuracy, addressing work/life balance. The ITDMs appear to be taking a longer view, focused on applying automation to bring structure to business processes – improving the quality of interaction through application of mobility solutions, improving the quantity of those interactions, increasing process efficiency.

Midmarket BDMs are looking to mobility to help increase business process efficiency and customer interaction quality. Midmarket ITDMs, on the other hand are focused on increasing the quantity of customer interactions, which would logically impact other core areas (such as business user productivity and process efficiency) as well.

When discussing the mobility solution attributes that BDMs and ITDMs consider important to delivering on mobility benefits BDM and ITDM buyers have similar and common perceptions across all business sizes. “The ability for the mobile solution to be integrated seamlessly with existing corporate systems” – ensuring consistency across devices – is ranked as the most important mobility solution attribute by small business BDMs, and the second-most important attribute by midmarket BDMs. The ability to create and sustain secure connections for remote workers and the ability to deliver seamlessly across the “three screens” of PCs, tablets and smartphones are also priorities for BDMs in both small and midmarket businesses. ITDMs also have some key common areas of focus: the ability to integrate multiple media types into outbound communications and the ability to read or write data from/to corporate systems are the two top-ranked attributes in both employee size categories.

It is clear that each IT and business professional’s perspective on the mobility journey is shaped by their context – by their business objectives, and by the requirements imposed by the size of their organization. In the figure below we have taken the results from the Techaisle survey and plotted them in three dimensions.

techaisle-itdm-bdm-smb-mobility-attributes-resized

A look at the findings from parallel questions on cloud also reveals differences between ITDMs and BDMs, but similarities between small and midmarket firms. Looking at cloud benefits, BDMs, especially in small businesses, view cloud as a means of introducing capabilities that would have been cost or time prohibitive, and of reducing business process costs. ITDMs, on the other hand, view cloud primarily as a means of reducing IT costs. ITDMs in both small and midmarket businesses recognize that cloud can enable their organizations to be more agile, which connects well with a theme expressed by BDMs.

When analyzing the key attributes leading to realization of the above cloud benefits, data shows some differences in emphasis between small and midmarket firms. The most important difference between BDMs and ITDMs is the BDMs’ emphasis on collaboration: BDMs in both small and midmarket businesses are more likely than their ITDM counterparts to view support for collaboration as a key cloud solution attribute. BDMs are also more likely than ITDMs to look to the cloud for detailed reporting and for support of features – disaster recovery, on-demand data access, and mobility support – that may be lacking in their current environments. ITDMs, on the other hand, are focused on technical attributes (scalability, integration, IT management capabilities) that are difficult and/or expensive to develop without third party support.

Understanding the requirements, preferences, success metrics and areas of focus of BDMs and ITDMs within both small and mid-sized businesses is critical to structuring an effective SMB sales and marketing strategy. The findings open the door to an important issue: the requirements in structuring and communicating messages to ITDMs and BDMs within small and midmarket businesses. To effectively engage with and manage the increasingly-diverse decision making unit, IT suppliers will need to structure messages that address the "care-abouts" of BDMs and ITDMs, and deploy those messages through the channels that are most effective at reaching each community.

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IBM – motivating midmarket firms to think strategically about cloud security

A blog “Big Data in the Cloud - an ideal solution for SMB banks” that we wrote touched a nerve, in a good way. Post blog, in our several discussions with both large and community banks we find that cloud objection is largely based on the size of the bank. In addition, regulatory compliance concerns are huge as most midmarket businesses and banks in particular spend a lot of money being compliant. With the move to cloud they want to make sure that the investment extends to the cloud without being exposed to security breaches and from a regulatory point of view.

What is clear is that migration to cloud is forcing businesses to think differently about security, in very standardized ways because the delivery of cloud service is standardized. It is also pushing them to automate security because utilization of cloud is dynamic, elastic, automated and fluid thus making manual or even semi-automated security processes unmanageable. However, this approach creates multiple vulnerabilities. The bad guys themselves are taking advantage of all the cloud technologies and are becoming a lot faster and more automated than the businesses. Security therefore becomes a moving target and cloud security is a perfect opportunity for businesses to improve defenses and reduce risks.

While most midmarket businesses are reactive, hunting after point solutions when something goes wrong, others are taking a proactive approach to risk and threat so that they have more fluidity in the way they respond when a threat occurs.

IBM security is on a path to help businesses think differently about cloud security. It is moving the businesses along a maturity curve from reactive to proactive to optimized. Optimization refers to the difference between being able to weather an attack and continue with business and how much time could one can shave off and how much cost could be optimized for being able to respond to that event in reducing risk.

As Sharon Hagi, Global Strategist and Senior Offering Manager, IBM Security, said in an interview “the state that IBM is advocating goes beyond reactive or proactive. We call it the optimized state where organizations use automation coupled with predictive security analytics to drive towards a higher level of efficiency. By mixing the elements of proactive approach, automation and security intelligence businesses can actually get to the point where they are a lot more efficient and they actually reduce time and cost to respond to risk.”

IBM is differentiating and trying to distance itself from others in a number of different ways. IBM has a managed security services practice with ten plus security operation centers around the world servicing 133 different countries with 6,000 security professionals and its research lab X-Force provides actionable threat intelligence and insights for business and IT leaders. IBM monitors 10,000 security customers globally, 70 million end-points with 20 billion events per day, has made enormous investments in security intelligence analytics platform that allows it to distill information, identify threats and respond quickly.

But for banks and businesses that come under deep regulatory scrutiny, security goes beyond managed services and is a major psychological barrier to cloud adoption triggering a high level of fear-factor. Recently, we posed a fundamental question of “Why do you want security” to banks and midmarket businesses in general. The responses received could easily be bucketed into five categories:

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WW SMB Cloud Channel partners – builders more successful than resellers

Data gathered through the Techaisle SMB Channel surveys in US, Europe and Asia/Pacific shows that half of channel firms that have launched cloud businesses are primarily focused on “cloud builder” activity, which in many cases is an extension of existing resale business, and which is leading the channel partners down the path of specializing in virtualization and converged infrastructure. This naturally bodes well for channel partners of Dell, VMware and even Cisco although it must be said that VMware SMB channel strategy is yet to take center stage and Cisco is most famously focused on midmarket customers.

The three approaches to establishing a channel cloud business covered in Techaisle study include:

  1. “Cloud builders” who are typically engaged in creating private clouds for customers,
  2. “Cloud resellers” who resell third party cloud capabilities (often, SaaS applications), and who may also integrate multiple third party offerings, and
  3. “Cloud providers” who have built their own infrastructure and are selling access/capacity to SMB customers

Cloud builder, cloud reseller and cloud provider approaches to building cloud practices within SMB channel businesses all address common SMB customer needs, but have unique challenges. Survey data also reveals that cloud optimism and success is highest among cloud builders.

“Cloud resellers” is the second largest cloud business approach. About one-third of US & Europe SMB channel partners with cloud businesses are primarily focused on reselling cloud capabilities but the proportion of “cloud resellers” increases to 39 percent in Asia/Pacific. However, many cloud resellers are still not very successful (see figure below) in their cloud endeavors, again proving the fact that simply reselling cloud solutions is not a viable long-term business.

The third approach, “cloud provider”, chosen by less than 1/5th of SMB cloud channel partners, offers a high degree of control but requires reserves of investment capital and operational expertise that are beyond many channel firms.

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