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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.

Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions for 2021

In all sectors, 2020 was a challenging year – and as a result, 2021 is challenging from a market planning perspective. The disconnect between 2020 and 2019 was so severe that it rendered spend forecasts virtually useless: IT suppliers reacted to shifting market trends in real-time. As we enter 2021, IT product and service suppliers look to create a context for understanding the range of outcomes that the new year may bring. Techaisle's 2021 report series illuminates issues and requirements in the vast SMB market to support that effort. To start 2021, here are our top 10 predictions.

1. Digital inequality will be more important than the digital divide
2. Quest for reinvention, innovation, resiliency will drive bursts of incremental transformation goals
3. The hybrid workplace will require HR focus and drive adoption of workspace, workflow solutions
4. Meaningful customer partners and not trusted advisors will determine supplier success
5. Pragmatism will overtake progressiveness in technology adoption for a future-ready organization
6. Requirements for automation and enhanced IT services will become time-critical
7. Security and risk mitigation will focus on a safe middle ground
8. Systems of insight will move into the analytics mainstream
9. AI will arrive as a capability integrated within other solutions
10. Open source adoption will become an indicator of cloud success

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SMB security and risk management – IT focusing on ensuring integrity of technology infrastructure

Risk mitigation is everyone's business, and SMB IT is uniquely positioning to manage reliability, privacy, and cyber-risk. In most SMBs, IT's role is to provide users with fast and reliable connections to needed systems and data. Increasingly IT is expected to prevent leakage of sensitive information that could harm the business or its customers. A global survey conducted by leading research firm Techaisle found that security solutions (cloud and mobility) are seen as a top IT priority by 75% of SMBs.

There is evidence of the enormous requirement for the defense of an ever-expanding perimeter – but if anything, it understates SMB's focus on cybersecurity. SMBs have deployed, and continue to deploy, increasingly-sophisticated shields to protect against the relentless advance of threat sources attacking businesses of all sizes through their cloud instances, mobile devices and connected users, and new technologies (such as IoT) and core networks and systems. SMBs (and the managed services suppliers they work with) are responding by developing better internal processes and deploying IT security solutions that are frequently enhanced by advanced features rooted in analytics and AI.
Defense against cyber-threats requires a comprehensive approach that spans people, process, and technology: appropriate systems need to be deployed, configured, integrated and continuously upgraded, processes – particularly related to the management of sensitive data – need to be established and embedded in work routines, and staff (all users, including IT) need regular and relevant training. A gap anywhere in this continuum will leave openings that intruders can exploit.
And as daunting as a defense against cyber-risk may be, the reality is that IT's role in ensuring information and infrastructure integrity is extending into other vital areas as well. With businesses now reliant on technology for most tasks' performance, IT must deliver continuous access to systems and safeguard data against loss. And in most environments, it is expected that IT will play a meaningful role in maintaining the privacy of sensitive data. In today's SMB, the IT leader is responding to multiple risk management demands.

SMBs typically start with basic endpoint/user security technologies – and many stop there as well. Even organizations that deploy additional 'shields' often shy away from taking the next step beyond trying to prevent a breach: assuming that a breach will occur and developing processes and deploying technologies needed to minimize the resulting damage and exposure. Some experts also point out that many firms – SMBs and enterprises – don't fully understand their devices (including back-end infrastructure, user devices and sensors), access points, applications, data, and system users. Building this inventory is an essential step in understanding the scope of potential exposure to breaches or losses.
Deployment of security technology will be an ongoing challenge as SMBs attempt to identify, budget for, deploy, integrate, and operate the security shields that are most important to their businesses' operations. In many cases, access to skilled professionals is the most tricky part of this equation. In this environment, SMBs struggle to attract and retain capable security staff members. Increasingly, this is leading to the use of managed security services: Techaisle's global survey shows that managed security, currently used by 29% of SMBs, is in the plans of an additional 44% of small and medium businesses – which will result in a 152% increase in the use of managed security services. 

Privacy is a component of many different SMB business responsibilities: it is critical to compliance, and as a result, to senior executives and shareholders; it is a crucial issue for legal advisors; included in statements made by marketing; and of course, concerning data, it is assumed to be something that is managed by IT. Privacy is a cross-functional responsibility. Sensitive data needs to be classified as such and prioritized for the highest-level security; the security may be an IT function, but the classification needs to be done by the business leaders closest to the inputs and implications of disclosure. Leaks are very often the work of insiders rather than anonymous external hackers. Here, too, while IT plays a role (through monitoring technologies and systems that look to prevent data exfiltration), HR and business unit managers also need to be proactive in preventing privacy breaches.

Security – both the technology and the skills needed to optimize security systems and keep them current, integrated, and complete – is one of IT's most complex areas. To address these complex (and related) issues, SMB IT is needing to develop a portfolio of security technologies and skills that is equal to the task of defending against cyber-threats; develop and continuously execute on business continuity plans; deploy network and access technologies that are aligned with user needs; implement training approaches and management processes that reduce the risk that human error (or malfeasance) will bypass the SMB's technology shields.

They cannot do it in isolation. There is no 'silver bullet' that SMB executives can use to deliver a failure-proof, future-proof approach to risk management. However, by connecting security, privacy, and reliability/continuity – by working with the right suppliers who understand business requirements – SMB IT leaders want to make a real difference to their organizations' regulatory compliance, customer trust, and bottom-line success.

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Study shows SMBs are considering five critical cloud planning and strategy issues

With renewed growth prospects, SMBs looked to platform technologies to support new initiatives in still-uncertain times. Agility has become the watchword for new automation projects, and acceptable timeframes cannot be in months. There are few absolute certainties in technology, but one subject beyond debate is that the cloud has permanently changed how technology is deployed and consumed within SMBs. What are the key issues that SMBs are considering when planning their cloud strategy as they identify the portfolio of products/services that best meet their "new normal" business needs? Five key issues have become intrinsic to the development of SMB cloud strategy:

1. Cost

Within SMBs, the cost is always an issue in business decisions. However, with the cloud, the cost is taking on additional meanings. Cost is not only a reduction in CAPEX or OPEX. Cost also relates to the missed revenue that may result from an inability to address new market demands. Cost is a function of needing to recover from a catastrophic event within the business. Cost also relates to a perception that competitors are pulling away or realizing that business, as usual, is no longer enough – that traditional approaches are no longer sufficient. Cost, across these many dimensions, has become an essential factor in building a cloud strategy.

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HPE is serious about addressing the technology needs of SMBs

In 2019, the phrase doubling down on SMB was mentioned several times, including the keynote address by Antonio Neri at HPE Discover. Fast forward to the present, HPE's SMB momentum is building. George Hope, a 22-year veteran with SMB channel experience, is the new worldwide channel chief. With more than a decade of SMB market understanding, Maciek Szczesniak is the new Vice President and General Manager SMB and Mid-Market. HPE's GreenLake, a flagship, "as-a-service" product, which offers a flexible alternative to traditional IT hardware consumption, is now available in a smaller starting capacity targeted at channel partners and their SMB and midmarket customers.

HPE is undoubtedly doubling down on the SMB segment. Last week HPE made several announcements:

- Smaller starting capacity for HPE GreenLake
- SMB FlexOffers program for SMB and midmarket customer
- Specialist support for HPE GreenLake and Storage portfolios

Smaller starting capacity for HPE GreenLake

HPE GreenLake packages now are available from as low as $70,000 with storage (HPE Nimble Storage) and compute (HPE ProLiant servers). The storage starting capacity is 15TB and compute at 4 servers. HPE will continue to offer a 17 percent reseller rebate to drive profitability with partners selling HPE GreenLake. In the coming months, HPE plans to expand to provide a lower starting capacity across the technology portfolio. The speed with which HPE is lowering the minimum threshold is commendable. In mid-2019, HPE had announced a $200,000 minimum targeted at midmarket customers, only a year ago.

The announcement is very significant in addressing the technology needs of SMBs and midsized businesses. Most SMB executives understand that technology plays a central role in their management processes. Many also realize that payback on any technology asset increases as one approaches full utilization and that economies of scale tend to benefit larger rather than smaller organizations. SMBs know that they cannot realistically target and reach optimal IT resource utilization. A small business has trouble consuming all of the new systems' capacity, meaning that they often pay for resources they are not using. Those that do get to full utilization have a different problem: systems that lack adequate storage, memory and compute capacity frequently crash. SMBs cannot rapidly deploy new servers, storage, and networking equipment. Even if they were, the SMB would know that it is paying some form of premium: an SMB will never get to the purchase volumes needed to warrant large scale discounts. Hence, HPE's GreenLake, with its consumption-based business model, is an excellent fit for SMB customers.

However, the awareness and advantages of a consumption-based technology acquisition model are limited and challenging within the SMB segment regardless of whether SMBs are the front-runners in cloud adoption. Techaisle data shows that as the complexity of technology increases over the next five years, most small and midmarket firms will not realize the return on investments for long periods or as their businesses scale. HPE and its partners are well-positioned in the market to gain from the massive shift to XaaS procurement models.

SMB FlexOffers program for SMB and midmarket customer

Channel partners are the primary conduit to HPE's SMB and midmarket success. Price-conscious SMBs are demanding agility from their channel partners in their digital transformation deployments of core infrastructure solutions. To meet the SMBs and the partners' needs, HPE debuted its FlexOffers program providing distribution and SMB-focused solution provider partners the ability to customize their built-to-order (BTO) products at bundled discount prices. Partners get the flexibility to select preferred options that, through dynamic attach-driven pricing, can help them access and ensure the best price. Besides, solution providers will drive quicker delivery times by leveraging distributor inventory, and distributors will benefit from an automated, simplified claiming process. In the initial phase, SMB FlexOffers include HPE ProLiant Servers and HPE Storage products. HPE FlexOffers is being offered through select distributors during the pilot starting in November 2020. Partners will leverage the iQuote partner portal that HPE has been refining for the last two years.

Specialist support for HPE GreenLake and Storage portfolios

However, selling "as-a-service" requires that channel partners invest in pre-sales activities. There will be a proverbial opening of floodgates of latent demand from channel partners with the new announcements. Recognizing the need, HPE is committed to providing specialist support for HPE GreenLake and dedicated pre-sales for the channel. HPE will also be providing training for partners to accelerate their HPE GreenLake knowledge and positioning. The additional support will be in the form of dedicated enablement initiatives, like workshops with experts, to help partners personalize their as-a-service journey.
HPE is serious about equipping its partners to participate in the "as-a-service" business model. It offers partners training on HPE GreenLake and an opportunity to self-assess partner "maturity" to shape their own consumption/aaS journey with HPE around their (and their customers') needs.

The shift to "as-a-service" has been in the making for a long time. In FY21, HPE plans to extend partner support and activation through unique and specific enablement initiatives piloted last year with a few partners, who also participated in HPE's "Consumption Advisory Council" meetings. An example is Advizex, an HPE Platinum partner for 35 years.

Not three years ago, the HPE Channel & Pointnext team started to help partners shift to consumption IT and HPE GreenLake to expand opportunities, accelerate digital transformation, and gain competitive advantage. HPE's team collaborated with Advizex on marketing initiatives, education, and dedicated workshops and enablement. This strategic effort allowed Advizex to assess their readiness to shift to consumption, identify the knowledge and actions needed, become proficient in selling HPE GreenLake and consumption IT ahead of the competition, and develop a strategic plan to drive consumption IT with HPE. Now, as HPE doubles down on HPE GreenLake specialist resources, it can extend this kind of support to all partners who decide to focus on HPE's consumption offering.

Solution providers and distributors will also have the opportunity to elevate their conversations and accelerate sales by working with HPE's "Storage Rangers" - outcome-based solution selling experts with a high degree of technical skills. These specialists will help partners enhance the request for quotation (RFQ) process to execute existing campaigns and initiatives.

Storage Rangers are funded heads (aka Champions, partner-badged) with a specific focus on storage. The geographies that have opted-in to the program have nominated a Program Lead (HPE-badged), and that is the go-to person if a partner wants to have a Ranger. HPE offers a specific training curriculum for Sales & Presales Rangers and local support to help them deliver on the request for quotation (RFQ) process and generate new business opportunities.

Each IT supplier is currently focusing on streamlining deal registration for its channel partners. Techaisle's latest global channel survey research of our 2400 partners shows that fees and activity-based incentives, solution development funds, and deal registration are significant enablement incentives for 40% to 50% of partners. Partners have an unmistakable idea of their criteria for partnerships - vendors that are easy to do business with, technical support, quality of partner programs, and those who offer end-to-end solutions that are easy to deploy, integrate are preferred. HPE is increasing its commitment to providing its partners with price and margin protection and new incentives as part of its deal registration program.

Final one-line Techaisle Take

Competition with Dell is on full display. There is no reason to ignore HPE as an IT supplier and a vendor partner for addressing the technology needs of the SMB and midmarket firms for better business outcomes.

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