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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.

Digital transformation on the radar of SMBs

Techaisle worldwide survey research data from over 3600 SMBs and interactions with hundreds of businesses shows that 51% of SMBs have stepped up their digital transformation investments and is prominent in the plans of 22% of SMBs who report that current crisis has amplified their “belief in organization-wide digital transformation”. SMB firms that were already committed to organization-wide digital transformation are experiencing 2.1x cost reduction, have 1.9x better levels of customer intimacy and 1.4x higher productivity levels than firms that have been ‘selective adopters’ of digital transformation. Data also reveals that nearly one-fourth of SMBs are not expecting to change (accelerate or decelerate) their plans and will continue with their pre-pandemic planned digital transformation journey and expect significant benefits and upsides in the near future. On the downside, 27% of SMBs are delaying their planned technology spend on digital transformation to reallocate funds to other essential immediate capital and operational expenditures.

Techaisle’s SMB research has found that the need to be more cost efficient is the single-most compelling reason for SMBs to embrace digital transformation. Other key drivers include initiating product innovation, enabling operational excellence, driving business growth and empowering organization productivity.

There are differences across geos (US, Europe, Asia/Pacific, Latin America) as well as variations between small and midsized businesses.

For 46% of SMBs achieving cost efficiencies is a natural ‘first step’ in exerting control over their businesses and ensuring viability in an uncertain market which is besieged with cash flow constraints, limited access to capital, competitive landscape, erratic revenue, and many more. While productivity is always top of mind, cost-efficiency is a more compelling need. In fact, 1.6X as many SMBs are investing in digital transformation to reduce costs as those investing to improve productivity. Most SMBs have already adopted one or more technologies that contribute to employee productivity improvements; however, these SMBs are moving past individual to organizational-level productivity goals.

techaisle smb digital transformation pillars final
Looking at five pillars of SMB digital transformation, it is clear that digital transformation is cast primarily as a means of addressing business objectives. This observation holds an important message for vendor suppliers: when defining a digital transformation path, look first at the business outcomes, and work backwards to the need for core technology and Interwork© solutions that support these outcomes.

Data reveals that there is a difference in approach to investing in core infrastructure solutions between SMB firms adopting organization-wide digital transformation strategy vs. those with a siloed and sporadic approach. The roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. Core infrastructure devices need to be kept in sync with the requirements of digital transformation initiatives; servers and storage and networking and security need to advance with the needs of the organization.

Clearly, core infrastructure has evolved to meet future digital transformation demands. But SMBs are also increasingly making moves to adopt forward-facing solutions (2nd order technologies after foundational technologies). There is a general sense that these solutions will increase insight into and control over key aspects of the operation, and deliver benefits in different ways, and to different ends. Once a scalable, secure and cost-effective infrastructure platform is in place, it is expected to support a range of digital transformation objectives through deployment of different, complex solutions.

Today's economy demands that technology support business activities. The future will be defined by business capitalizing on IT-enabled business options. But the question in front of most SMBs is, “what is the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity?”

A lack of well-articulated answer has resulted in a growing ‘digital divide’ in the SMB business ranks which has become starkly visible throughout the crisis created by pandemic. SMB firms that are embracing an agile IT/business infrastructure and capitalizing on the advantages of digital transformation are developing sustainable competitive advantages that will define a path towards success in both the near and longer term.

Detailed survey research reports are available for individual purchase or are delivered as part of annua; retainership contract.

US SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research
Europe SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research
Asia/Pacific SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research
Latin America SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research

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Lenovo ThinkBook Plus for SMBs makes a superlative statement

I first saw and fiddled with Thinkbook Plus in November 2019. The notebook gripped my attention because of its “Think” pedigree, focus on the SMB segment and unexpected E-Ink screen on the lid. It was an intriguing pre-production prototype. Fast forward six months to June 2020. Since the last one week I have been using a fully-configured (512 GB SSD, Intel Comet Lake i5-10210U processor, 16GB memory, 13.3-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 internal screen, 10.8-inch E-Ink monochrome display on the chassis cover, finger print scanner on power button) production model. It is whimsical yet practical notebook that exudes quiet confidence of imaginative applied design. When I powered-on the notebook my synapses fired on all cylinders, E-Ink came to life which I quickly personalized. I was thrilled to see the Techaisle wallpaper and icons to browse folders, clone desktop, view emails, calendar and weather.

IT markets tend to be complex and fast-moving – but even by IT industry standards, the endpoint device market is extremely complex, and subject to significant and abrupt changes. The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ appeal of the notebook – which doubled as both a mobility device and as a content creation platform – waned, for a while and then rebounded. Tablets, not notebooks, were seen as the key productivity tool. The proliferation of operating systems and underlying architectures created opportunity for a wide range of suppliers – and confusion for a large number of IT managers who needed to integrate, support and secure these devices. The acceptance of multiple screens, coupled with the availability of new platform technologies, created a market where “endpoint devices” spanned a wide range of categories: desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, thin clients, All-in-Ones, 2-in-1s and other device types. These form factors are differentiated by more than size and input technology; they move through different channels at different price points; they appeal to different kinds of buyers who use different means to learn about and source them. Buyer openness to new screen types emboldened suppliers to redefine categories, or to create entirely new device classes. ThinkBook Plus is one such example which delivers new experiences for the “worklife” SMB employee. The DNA of ThinkBook is described as “Worklife device for the modern workforce” fashioning a balance of work and life PC for small businesses.

thinkbook plus image article

ThinkBook Plus spans the needs of both small businesses which expect affordability in an appealing design and midsized firms which are demanding distinctive devices that enhance security, provide superior support but at a reasonable price.

At 17.9mm, with front edge at 12mm, ThinkBook Plus is thin and slim enough to not feel bulky despite the presence of E-Ink and weighs 3.1 lbs. It is thicker and heavier than ThinkPad X1 Carbon but then the ThinkPad is a higher premium product. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 14.95mm thick and weighs 2.4 lbs. In comparison, Dell XPS 13 weighs 2.7 lbs. and is 12.7mm thick whereas a 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 lbs. and is 15.2 mm thick. But, a ThinkBook, with most of the business specifications, is more affordable than other brands. ThinkBook is clearly positioned between Lenovo or its competitors’ consumer devices and Lenovo ThinkPad X1/X/T/L/E devices.

Lenovo has not cut any corners on battery life nor compromised on performance to incorporate an E-Ink display. The keyboard is solid and the trackpad is smooth and responsive. The signature red TrackPoint of ThinkPad is missing but a new distinctive stamped logo on the top lid implies a modern, unfussy statement. Blurring the line between business and consumer notebooks, it has its fingerprint reader in the power button and dTPM 2.0 for additional security.

While the E-Ink panel is matte glass, ThinkBook Plus is made from Iron Grey anodized aluminum.  The rounded barrel 180-degree hinges allow the notebook to lay completely flat. Unlike many modern consumer laptops, ThinkBook Plus has several ports - one USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A Gen ports and one HDMI 1.4b port. I would have liked to see two USB-C ports – one each on either side. Battery life is rated at 10 hours and I was able to get up to 8 hours with continuous pounding on the keyboard and using Lenovo Active Pen (stylus) for E-Ink. The pen is shipped with ThinkBook. Since there is no place to holster the pen, I wish Lenovo also shipped a pen holder along with the notebook. However, the Pen magnetically attaches to either side of the notebook screen.

Straddling the line between consumer and business, work and life, ThinkBook boasts Dolby Vision for lifelike images, Harman Kardon audio for superior sound and skype hot keys for communication and collaboration. Borderless slim bezels provide great screen real estate for users like me to work on couple of documents side-by-side. The display, set at 300 nits, could have been brighter for my liking. Unfortunately, I could not connect my ThinkVision M14 as a second display due to only one USB-C port on ThinkBook Plus.

Work from home does not give too many opportunities to try and experiment with mobility-on-the-go features. Hence, during the day I worked on the ThinkBook connected to an external display through ThinkPad USB-C Dock. In the evening, I took it for spin in various rooms in my house including the backyard. I used E-Ink to jot down new ideas, musings on future technology trends as well as create and manage task lists including grocery shopping to-do-list in OneNote. The fact that ThinkBook Plus integrates with Microsoft OneNote is awesome. All my notes on the exterior E-Ink display syncs with OneNote. I became confident in my rapid note taking abilities once I got used to the amount of pressure to use on the stylus. I sometimes use the E-ink during my conference calls. The E-Ink display can be used even when the notebook is in sleep mode. Unlike the Kindle Paperwhite, the E-Ink screen is not frontlit. I hope that a future iteration of E-Ink display will also have this feature to allow for work in darker environments. Regardless, one of the best functional features is the ability to clone the desktop on E-Ink display (without opening the notebook lid). With the touch of an icon I could launch browser, open PowerPoint files, annotate, read Word documents, scroll through file folders and many other tasks. This is currently available as a trial version (which I have been using) and users can look forward to this functionality in future software updates.

There is arguably more opportunity to define net-new PC offerings today (foldables is a much-anticipated trend) than there has been for decades. There is an additional requirement on PC OEMs to segment accurately, to be in tune with the needs and preferences of target segments, and to move quickly to address new demand drivers – but there is also new opportunity to translate this acumen and agility into substantial marketing-driven success. As PCs become more capable, SMB buyers – especially the business decision makers (BDMs) who wield increasing power in IT decisions – are moving past the device itself, to a need for solutions that capitalize on the capabilities of the new units.  To date, PC OEMs have focused on building and selling screens, not the solutions that connect the screens. OEMs who understand how to connect their products to business-relevant solutions have an opportunity to differentiate those products, attracting new SMB customers and channel partners. And this is what Lenovo has set out to achieve.

In recent years, emphasis across many different PC functions have changed. Communications and information access increased in importance, and eventually became the dominant use mode for personal technology. As a result, both user requirements for devices and the market for these devices became more fragmented. Many users opt for a multi-screen approach to personal technology: they use smartphones to communicate and to consume content, PCs to collaborate and to create content, and tablets for all of these activities in varying degrees. Lenovo ThinkBook is not an attempt to replace either the smartphone or the tablet. On the contrary, BYOD (once a euphoric trend which Techaisle had rightly predicted would vanish quickly against all pundits’ prognosis) has been replaced by CYOD. Lenovo is on a path to ensure that SMB employees have access to the productivity tools that suit them best. By giving a choice to SMB IT buyers, Lenovo is simply narrowing the usage continuum: desktop PCs primarily for creation, smartphones primarily for consumption, tablets as both consumption and light content creation, notebooks for creating content and as a mobile consumption port.

ThinkBook is not an ordinary notebook. Presence of E-Ink is debatable. It is built for the SMB customer. In its first iteration it splendidly succeeds in making a superlative statement and reimagining a new modern way to multitask on notebooks.   

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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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COVID-19 Impact on SMB Tech Investments

Precision is impossible but agility and resilience are realizable. In every crisis, there is opportunity. If history is any indication then the SMBs are well-placed to narrow the banks of uncertainty. With integrative thinking SMBs will be adept at maneuvering around the edges of flames that have been fanned by COVID-19. 

Over 12 years of Techaisle tracking data paints a fascinating picture in which SMB business goals established by unexpected challenges drove new IT priorities. Klaus Schwab, Founder, World Economic Forum observed that, "In the new world, it is not the big fish which eat the small fish, it's the fast fish which eat the slow fish." SMBs are the fast fish as compared to enterprise segment.

After every downturn, SMB IT spend has rebounded higher and faster than overall (consumer + SMB + enterprise + government + education) IT spends. Techaisle had published its forecast scenarios here.

But the questions remain. Is today the same as the past? Will the future be different? We know that to be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous. There are already many discussions and surveys conducted by various firms on today’s devastating impact on SMBs. At Techaisle we agree that SMBs are currently desperately operating between the raindrops but our objective is to square the circle, to simplify the path forward for IT vendors and channel partners and see past the blind corner.

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on future of IT we conducted a survey of N=2427 SMBs in several countries. Regardless of the uncertainty, over 50% of SMB business leaders in Asia/Pacific and some countries in Europe are optimistic and are confident about a V-shaped recovery as compared to US and UK SMBs who believe in more of a U-shaped recovery.

Download free Techaisle Take document to understand:

  • Why agility and adaptability will accelerate recovery for SMBs Worldwide? Global SMB IT spend vs Overall IT spend vs GDP growth rates
  • Why SMB technology and business alignment will result in resiliency, agility and adaptability?
  • What will be post COVID-19 impact on business and IT operations? Uncertainty and status quo.
  • What will be the impact on tech investments? Increase, decrease, delay, no change
  • Will digital transformation be the agility enabler for SMBs?
  • What is the current non-technology related work-from-home challenge for SMBs?

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