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Cisco Small business portfolio has landed at a good place - finally

It is no secret that Cisco has made several attempts and investments to address the needs of small businesses. It would not be out of place to quote an English proverb that states: "A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays". This time I believe that Cisco will stay. Cisco has landed at a good place.

Today at Cisco Live 2020, Cisco unveiled latest updates to its Cisco Designed portfolio of small business solutions that are aligned with top five problems that Cisco is solving for small businesses.

  1. Work from home: how to meet and collaborate with employees and customers securely
  2. Cybercrime protection: how to safeguard from identity theft, hackers and internet attacks
  3. Always-on business: how to provide easy installation and reliable IT services using cloud technology
  4. Workplace monitoring: how to enable safe social distancing and real time monitoring
  5. New office: how to improve productivity and security at shared physical workspaces

The announcements

  1. Cisco Business Switches and Dashboard - easy to set up, secure connectivity for small businesses which are powering connections across remote and in-office workforce. The two new series of switches – CBS 250 Smart Switch and CBS 350 Managed Switch - provide essential functionality along with advanced security options and are priced right – starting at US$200 - for small businesses. Both switches support PoE+ and have integrated DoS protection and time-based ACLs. The switches are stackable and come with limited lifetime warranty (usually unheard of). Techaisle small business research on buyer care-abouts for technology solution selection supplier shows that price (67%), reliability (66%) and support (54%) are ranked top 3 criteria. Cisco switches are purpose-built to appeal to the care-abouts. The dashboard, which directly integrates with the switches, is a network management tool with a streamlined user interface (a “single pane of glass” for all Cisco devices that eliminates the need to work with Cisco’s command line interface) to manage entire network with integrated lifecycle management and automated alerting. With zero-touch plug and play deployment, and hosted in the cloud or on premises, it allows small businesses to set-up, monitor and operate network devices from a simple interface on any device.
  1. Tools to manage network in the Cloud – Cisco Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allows small business customers to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from Meraki Dashboard and API as well as detect and fix issues in minutes. As per Techaisle’s managed services research only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff and even within the 20-249 employee size segment, less than half are staffed with internal IT. Regardless of the size of IT staff, 79% of their time is spent on support and maintenance, majority in troubleshooting which creates not only IT efficiency deficit but also negatively impacts organizational productivity. Meraki Health’s objective is to make troubleshooting simple for the lean and almost non-existent and over-burdened small business IT staff.
  1. Cloud Mailbox Defense for Office 365 – enhanced email security solution, designed for use with Office 365, with no changes to mail flow or DNS and can be made operational with 5 minutes. O365 (renamed to M365) adoption is on a meteoric increase. For example, Techaisle research shows that 48% of US small businesses are planning to use M365 within the next year. However, a vast majority of small businesses worry about malware and phishing attacks, password compromise and account hijack. Only 3% of very small businesses and 27% of small businesses have internal full-time IT security staff. These small businesses usually fail to add a secure email gateway, because they are unable to manage operational overhead and lack expertise to change mail flows and operate complex policies. They prefer a solution that can be easily deployed and managed. Powered by Cisco Talos threat intelligence, Cloud Mailbox Defense, runs natively in MS Azure, can be plugged into O365 with minimal policy configuration and does not require any specialized training to manage. Minimum seat count to get started is 25.
  1. Webex Work bundle - a complete cloud collaboration solution that combines Webex Calling, Meeting and Messaging services in a single subscription, with attractive flexible monthly pricing for small businesses - per user/per month Webex licenses starting at $19.95/month. Techaisle research shows that within small businesses collaboration adoption efforts are being driven by demands for decision agility, speed of innovation, customer intimacy and faster time to market. 47% of small businesses are increasing investments in collaboration solutions because a lack of teamwork is impacting productivity. While the creation of a central information repository was the most important business driver for collaboration solutions initially, new adopters want to address the needs of increased employee mobility, dispersed team members and ad hoc scheduling.

Techaisle Take

To understand the profundity of Cisco’s small business solutions let us harken back to three of the top 10 SMB predictions I had written in 2015:

  • Collaboration becomes a much bigger concept. In years past, “collaboration” was a big-company issue in which IT professionals used something called “presence” to connect staff to each other. What a quaint time that was! In 2015, I had said that this concept of collaboration will be swept into the dustbin of history. and it will become clear that collaboration spans files and people, staff and customers. It includes file exchange and multi-point editing; it extends beyond the corporate staff (and as a result, beyond large enterprises) to include customers; it has broken through the corporate walls, and demands support for mobility. In fact…
  • Collabmobilicloud becomes an SMB management reality. There is a tendency in the press and in vendor product literature to treat collaboration, mobility and cloud as separate solutions. There is a tendency from the user perspective to treat them as aspects of a single approach to accessing, working with and sharing information. The users pay the bills, and in 2015, their perspective will predominate. Collaboration initiatives are part of mobility strategies, mobility is at the core of collaboration initiatives, and both are dependent on the cloud. This will have a major impact on application development and…
  • Connected security becomes “security”. At one point, there was a debate in the security world - what was better – unified threat management (UTM) systems that ensured that there are no cracks between security products, or best-of-breed (BoB) products that could evolve as quickly as the threat landscape itself? BoB won that debate decisively; in fact, what used to be called “UTM” is now referred to as “next-generation firewalls,” one of many important “shields” around enterprise data, applications and users. However, with the expanding threat perimeter (caused in no small part by the trends towards hybrid and collabmobilicloud), 2015 is time to take a fresh look at how to ensure that all of the aspects of security infrastructure are integrated to protect against intrusion.

The above were true then and are even more poignant today. The Cisco Designed portfolio of small business-focused solutions directly addresses the needs and threat vectors for secure workplaces, better collaboration, simplified manageability and organizational productivity empowerment. Cisco has also made it easy for small businesses to buy the solutions, deploy and manage them either through their own internal staff or externally with the help of channel partners such as MSPs.

If the office of a small business is defined by devices, so too is the workplace defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices (and their users) are located. Small businesses are investing in mobility because it contributes to cost savings, increases market reach, improves productivity and establishes better ways of working. Security remains the top constraint for accelerating remote work adoption as small businesses struggle with data protection and mobile management. Techaisle global survey reveals that cloud, mobility, collaboration and security are among the top five technology priorities for over 60% of small businesses. 42% of small businesses are looking for solutions that are easy to buy, deploy, manage and support.

However, designing simplified products does not guarantee success in the small business segment. In an IT environment that is already very complex and likely to become more so, trusted advisors are very important to small businesses. Three quarters of small businesses rely on a trusted party – an internal employee with expertise in IT and/or external consultants – to provide advice on IT strategy. In most cases (over 60%), these advisors are trusted because they are viewed as unbiased and experienced, and able to provide the “right guidance” to the buyer. While the ‘unbiased’ observation would seem to rule out product vendors, small businesses exhibit a clear preference for advisors who can move seamlessly from advice to procurement and deployment. Cisco needs to invest in nurturing “super consultants”, both internally and externally (within channel partners) who can not only advise but also architect, deploy, manage and support Cisco Designed for Business portfolio solutions.

Regardless of the thoughtfully designed solutions, they are still discrete and transactional offerings. But we are increasingly immersed in a post-transactional market, where discrete sales of individual products or integrated systems are being replaced by agreements to provide IT functionality “as-a-Service.” Inexorably, the market is shifting from one defined by discrete purchase-and-deploy deals aligned with refresh cycles to one where businesses take a ‘hybrid IT’ approach that blends a limited number of on-premise assets with a growing range of on-demand services. To participate in this shift and stay relevant Cisco needs to create bundled solutions, including managed services with a recurring “as-a-service” offering.

Cisco should plan a larger product vision that aligns with digital transformation trends within small businesses. The vision should cover technologies such as HCI, SD-WAN, security, IoT, and workspaces. These integrated solutions will create reasons for small businesses to remain connected with Cisco.

Cisco has landed at a good place, finally. And it is ready to take off and soar within the small business segment. (Don’t muck it up)

Download the full pdf report here

 

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Top 5 technologies where small businesses are increasing investment

Techaisle worldwide survey of 2427 SMBs shows that collaboration, cloud, security, mobility and PCs are the top five areas where small businesses are increasing technology investments. Each of these address current business challenges and lay the foundation for the five pillars of small business digital transformation: 1/ achieve cost efficiencies, 2/ initiative innovation, 3/ enable operational efficiency, 4/ drive business growth, and 5/ empower organizational productivity.

techaisle top 5 technology areas small business

Collaboration: 66% of small businesses are increasing investments in collaboration solution as compared to 19% who are either decreasing or delaying investments. Collaboration is a critical solution priority. The enormous reliance on mobility, the trend towards flexible work within small businesses and the general trend of including customers within the framework of collaboration solutions have all contributed to much broader demand for collaboration solutions. Use of collaboration solutions within small businesses started as file-first but has quickly transitioned to person-first. The central requirement for a collaboration solution is the ability to share files from desktop or mobile devices, the second is to enable online interaction, and the third is to provide richer media and media escalation for person-to-person communications.

Cloud: 64% of small businesses are increasing investments in cloud. Cloud is no longer a trend that is discrete from mainstream IT. This shift in cloud’s positioning has brought with it a shift in the kinds of insights needed to help connect suppliers and buyers to address common interests in deployment, integration and expansion strategies. Small business buyers are needing help in moving past initial cloud pilots and applications to integrated cloud systems that provide support for mission-critical processes. Vendor suppliers need to adjust their messaging to address the needs of early mass market rather than early adopter customers.

Security: 61% of small businesses are increasing investments in security solutions. Although data shows that small businesses are more optimistic than they ought to be about their current security profiles, security is an important constraint on mobility within the small business segment. Vendor suppliers need to help small businesses to establish frameworks that protect against both external and employee threats to information security.

Mobility: 59% of small businesses are increasing investments in mobility solutions. If the “office” is defined by devices, so too is “workplace” defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices (and their users) are located. Small businesses are investing in mobility because it contributes to both cost savings and increased market reach, with “improved productivity” and related answers connected to establishing “better ways of working” viewed as the greatest benefit of mobility within SMBs. Techaisle’s data shows that there are inherent challenges in supporting the mobile workforce: struggle with the “on ramps” to mobility (such as finding appropriate suppliers and solutions) and concerned with security/data protection and mobile management.

PCs: 56% of small businesses are increasing investments in PCs. PC is where work gets done. PC is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new PC is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance, manageability and security features and even price conscious small businesses benefit significantly from replacing older PCs with modern PCs.

There is a strong connection between cloud, mobility, collaboration. Mobility, cloud and collaboration are all important trends in today’s IT market, and Techaisle data indicates that they are tightly interconnected. Mobility is a key driver of collaboration demand, with worldwide total of 292 million small business mobile workers looking for framework technologies enabling them to connect with suppliers, customers and each other. At the same time, collaboration is seen as a key attribute of successful cloud solutions, with more than one-third of small businesses citing “the ability to provide or support collaboration” as a key success factor in cloud solutions.

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Updating PCs and software vital for SMB bottom line - says new report

A recent report into the technology purchasing habits of SMBs in the Asia Pacific has revealed that a significant number of businesses are operating with dated PCs and operating systems – which has the potential to damage both productivity and profits.

The Asia SMB Tech Insights Report, conducted in September 2019 by Microsoft and Techaisle, was produced following a survey of 2,000 IT and business decision makers across the Asia Pacific region. The study specifically covered small and mid-size businesses only (up to 499 PCs).

Get the key insights by downloading the summary report for your region:

 Key findings from the report include:

  • Over 1/3 of SMBs are using old PCs (4+ years old) and old Windows operating systems
  • Over half of SMBs have no PC refresh policy (or aren’t following it)
  • Using old PCs can cost a business up to US$2,657 per year
  • 82% of SMBs agree that new PCs can make employees more productive, and 87% agree that new PCs reduce maintenance costs
  • More than 50% of all SMBs in the region experienced security breaches in the past 12 months, and operating with older versions of Windows increases vulnerability
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SMB IT is challenged and its role in supporting governance-risk-compliance

Managing governance, risk and compliance is an IT challenge for over 1/4th of midmarket firms and slightly more than 1/10th of small businesses in each geo – US, Europe, Asia/Pacific, Latin America. See chart below. In an SMB context, “governance” is at least somewhat analogous to “taste” in home décor, or “sustainability” in supply chain practices: easy to acknowledge as important, but difficult to define. What is easy to delineate is the notion that governance has important linkages to issues that are of vital importance to SMB management:

  • risk mitigation,
  • regulatory compliance, and
  • protection of the corporate reputation.

Governance is a way of describing the objectives of senior executives, or of the company as a whole; it is the approach that determines how the SMB interacts with its customers, its suppliers, and its community. Oftentimes, the term ‘governance’ is coopted by IT professionals, who talk about issues like “IT governance,” “cloud governance,” or “data governance.” These are important concepts, but they really refer to policies and controls.

techaisle smb compliance challenge globally 2

Policy is the ‘glue’ that connects governance and security: SMBs benefit from thinking about management issues first, and then developing positions that guide security decisions. This works as a starting point for an SMB security strategy. However, there are challenges that arise from specific IT usage patterns or events that impact an SMB’s risk profile.

Consider the issues cited in the chart below - examples of usage patterns that affect an organization’s security stance: use of cloud, and ‘shadow IT,’ or user-managed applications and/or storage that may not align with corporate security policies. It’s possible to simply state that any use of cloud or user-managed IT services needs to adhere to these policies, but the reality is that they may not: for example, a cloud supplier’s SLAs may not include corporately-approved escalation processes, and users may lack understanding of (or concern for) corporate IT guidance. This doesn’t mean that use of cloud and shadow IT should be banned – cloud is an important IT service delivery option, and to some extent, shadow IT reflects innovation within the business.

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