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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.

2015 Predictions Review: did IT live up to the hype in 2015

December has traditionally served as the occasion for the publication of New Year forecasts. It’s understandable that we want to look ahead to the sources of opportunity that lie ahead. But in the business world, December also marks the beginning of the review season. And while detailed forecasts focus on the next twelve months, the planning horizon needs to look a little further, so that tactics provide support for business strategies, rather than simply delivering a series of course adjustments.

This is a two part blog article. The first part, below, reviews the predictions we made for 2015. Second part will focus on outlook for 2016 and for the longer term.

A look back – what was it we said was right around the corner, again?

Here are the issues we highlighted, “Ten predictions for 2015 – and five issues to keep an eye on for 2016 and beyond” and how we think we did in our prognostication.

The Top 10 for 2015

1. Hybrid arrives – not as a strategy but as the result of many discrete decisions

With the benefit of today’s perspective, we might fairly say that in 2015 and for several more years to come, a more apt description of hybrid is journey rather than destination. Digging into the detail, though, we believe our prediction that “an ability to manage hybrid infrastructure will become a key corporate IT requirement in 2015” has been borne out by the focus on tools and strategies (ranging from Docker to Agile) that we saw throughout the year. In Techaisle’ SMB Cloud adoption studies, there was a sense of growing ubiquity in the usage and plans for private, hybrid and public cloud. Use of hybrid cloud continued to increase as both a conscious strategy and as a reaction to use of both public and private resources within a single infrastructure; by the end of 2015, two-thirds of companies with 100-999 employees were using hybrid models.

2. Collaboration becomes a much bigger concept

In 2015, collaboration began to expand beyond file-sharing to become a necessary tool for driving decision-based agility, fostering innovation and extending customer intimacy. Collaboration is a process rather than a discrete outcome. Our key notion that collaboration “extends beyond the corporate staff (and as a result, beyond large enterprises) to include customers” clearly did reflect strategies and investments in 2015. Within the SMB segment collaboration is increasingly becoming a central component to virtually all business activities rather than a means to enable connections between discrete tasks. Other changes in this area will further reshape collaboration, but you’ll need to refer to the “forecast” part of the blog for that discussion.

3. Collabmobilicloud becomes a management reality

The core concept explained that despite vendor tendency towards defining collaboration, mobility and cloud as separate domains, both enterprise and SMB users have started viewing them as integrated components of business solutions. The user belief that collaboration, mobility and cloud should all be attributes of modern applications has become clearer, and even suppliers are starting to recognize the importance of an integrated collabmobilcloud approach.

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New wave of SMB channel conflict in building a cloud practice

This is a two-part blog article. The first part dealt with “SMB IT channel reaching an inflection point”. Second part, below is on “New wave of SMB channel conflict in building a cloud practice”.

Turning a supertanker

Building an effective cloud practice within a channel business is a complex undertaking. Using an old metaphor, it has been compared to “turning a supertanker.” This is an inapt comparison, and not just because the vast majority of channel businesses are far smaller than a large ocean vessel. The real problem with the comparison is that turning a supertanker refers to an exercise whose success rests on an anticipation of future change. Certainly, this is part of the problem for the channel – what is the best time to invest in ramping up cloud practice resources? – but the issue has a much greater scope.

A successful cloud business practice requires new management metrics, new financial models, new sales processes (and generally, compensation models), new vendor relationships, new marketing activities, new consulting capabilities and new technical support capabilities. To use a nautical analogy, creating a cloud practice within an existing channel business is like building a second boat within your ship, sailing it off in a different direction, and maintaining alignment between the two courses in order to maximize synergies and benefits and reduce expensive discontinuities.

Abundantly Complex

If this sounds difficult and complex, well…it is. However, there is abundant reason to believe that the exercise is necessary for future viability and success. Roughly 80% of channel firms either offer some type of cloud solution today or are planning to offer cloud solutions; of these, more than 60% expect cloud revenue increases in in next one year (Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner Trends study). This is not a single-year issue, though: the business impact of cloud within the channel is expected to continue to increase over time. Techaisle expects that over the next several years, the position of the generalist channel firm – the “one stop shop for solutions” – will become untenable, squeezed by market forces requiring higher degrees of specialization. Some channel firms will specialize in cloud, while others will link cloud with one or two other specialties, such as mobility, virtualization and converged infrastructure, and/or managed services. But very few channel businesses will remain viable without having a credible cloud business practice.

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The SMB IT channel has reached an inflection point

This is a two-part blog article. The first part below deals with “SMB IT channel reaching an inflection point”. Second part is on “New wave of SMB channel conflicts in building a cloud practice”.

SMB IT channel has reached an inflection point. In some sense, this statement appears to be just another observation of a recurring phenomenon: the SMB channel is constantly in a state of flux, responding to changes in the underlying industry by adding (or deleting) products and capabilities to its portfolios. The SMB channel’s situation in 2016, though, is different. Changes in the ways that IT is used within SMB organizations, the relationships needed to build solutions addressing these needs, and the skills required to support these usage patterns and solutions are fragmenting the channel into discrete (if overlapping) communities.

Rewind

To put this into perspective, let us rewind a decade, or two, or three. In each case, we see a channel that is reliant upon relationships with customers and suppliers, and which forms the connection between the two groups. Looking first at the customer relationships, the SMB channel organization works with SMB firms in a defined market – generally, a regional market, but in some cases, a market defined by region and industry, and in fewer cases still, a market defined by adoption of a particular type of technology (e.g., a specific type of software – content management, design, etc.) or a specific vendor’s products. The SMB channel firm deals with a tightly-defined contact or set of contacts within the customer organization: in most cases, the IT manager where this role exists, or a senior executive/partner/owner in firms too small to have in-house IT staff. And it provides management services for installed technology, support for users, and analysis and recommendations for new technology.

This position as a “trusted advisor” (or at least, regular supplier) to a defined customer base makes the channel a valuable partner for IT vendors. The vendors can work with the channel partner to introduce new technologies to a target market. The channel benefits by having access to products that shape future analysis/recommendations to customers, extending the channel/end-user connection. The channel also benefits from obtaining margin from the vendor and from vendor investments in channel marketing activities, as well as from a degree of co-investment in skills development. The channel aggregates new vendor offerings to extend existing customer infrastructure, completing the connection between buyers and new products.

For decades, this model worked largely because most new products could be added to most existing infrastructures. IT followed an incremental and relatively homogenous path; companies deployed servers and storage and a set of core financial applications in the back office, PCs and productivity software for individual workers, and upgraded to keep current with interoperability and maintenance requirements. Towards the end of the 1990s, web servers became a core component of this corporate compute portfolio, and firms would occasionally add capabilities (such as IP telephony) in advance of competitors, but like the upgrades and extensions, the progression of new technology was more deliberate than disruptive.

Today

In recent years, IT adoption has become more diffused.

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IT security framework for SMBs

SMBs are not only increasingly dependent on IT – they are dependent on increasingly-interconnected systems, which are in turn open to an ever-expanding population of devices and access points. The volumes and value of data contained in these systems continues to grow, which both increases the potential damage associated with a breach, and attracts heightened attention from hackers. Techaisle’s SMB survey data finds a disconnect between security policy and security practice that creates the potential for poorly-coordinated approaches to security – an uncertainty that is magnified by shadow IT.

In Techaisle’s latest survey of SMBs, only 13% said that they were fully prepared and confident to handle security challenges, especially mobility security. The remaining 87% were partially prepared, unprepared or unsure. These are very sobering statistics.

Techaisle’s SMB Shadow IT survey data shows that over 70 percent of applications and nearly 60 percent of IT infrastructure related spend and decision authority lies outside of IT. These expenditures are made without the IT department’s approval, guidance, or in some cases, even without IT’s knowledge. 

Security is becoming a more critical component of business rather than IT strategy.

SMB IT security managers should petition for senior executive support which will help to build an approach that safeguards the organizations, users and data, in a framework that is flexible enough to respond to emerging opportunities and threats.

SMB Mobility increases threat perimeter

The problem with mobility (like cloud) is that it changes the concept of “perimeter.” Intruders don’t need to batter through closely-guarded walls to gain access to the interior of the network; they can ride through a permeable configuration on the backs of mobile devices that have been granted access to the precious applications and data that live in the interior of the organization. It is as if the castle walls and drawbridge were replaced by windows and breezeways offering access to visitors arriving from all directions.

With mobility, the SMB user community becomes a ubiquitous and shifting source of portals through the perimeter. As a result, IT doesn’t need to only defend against recognized foes: it needs to protect the corporation from breaches that can result from the actions of its own workers, and needs to protect the same data that it delivers as an essential component of support for the mobile workforce – the workforce that is viewed by senior management as making compelling contributions to the top and bottom-line success of the business.

SMBs should consider a four-layer security framework model for deployment:

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