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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 maturity does not equate to digital transformation maturity - IT maturity does

Mature cloud adoption does not equate to high maturity in digital transformation of an SMB business. Data shows that only 44% of SMBs on the digital transformation maturity curve are also mature cloud adopters. It is true that these businesses believe in cloud and its effect on digitization but they also believe that true digital transformation requires advanced adoption of multiple technology solutions. Techaisle survey and segmentation data also shows that SMBs which have a siloed strategy of digital transformation are intermediate adopters of cloud, mostly driven by non-IT business units which need cloud to further their business objectives.

techaisle smb digital tramsformation maturity cloud maturity

Techaisle SMBs digital transformation research revealed that although businesses are investing in cloud solutions, there is a deep-rooted belief and position to continually invest in core modern infrastructure solutions to support emerging technologies that deliver new and previously unimaginable business outcomes.

The digital transformation mature SMBs believe that the roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound physical infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. Digital transformation doesn’t start with a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to the core – it is organic, with evolution happening at all levels of the business infrastructure. They also believe that 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.

techaisle smb digital transformation depends on it maturity

Research also reveals that there is no simple way of building a comprehensive view of future IT requirements to drive digital transformation. Many of the most powerful and compelling technologies in today’s business world seem almost magical in their abstraction from the physical world that we work in every day. The future requires – at both a business and technology level – a connection between back-end infrastructure, applications and client devices – cloud to core to edge - managed through an effective strategy, to obtain superior returns from interactions with customers and prospects, employees, shareholders and partners, and the market as a whole.

Research Reports

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

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HPE SMB go-to-market – a paradoxical problem but partners to the rescue

In response to my question, “what defines HPE’s SMB go-to-market strategy?”, Tim Peters, Vice President and General Manager, SMB, put it eloquently, “local empowered presence as a business solution provider through the largest partner network”. Perhaps, therein lies the paradoxical problem. HPE GreenLake and Ezmeral are top discussion topics amongst partners, enterprise customers, media and analysts. But none of these are yet available and targeted towards the SMB customer. Regardless of having a wide portfolio of SMB solutions, HPE’s SMB go-to-market messaging strategy is getting drowned under the onslaught of “return to software” shift. As a result, channel partners have become the most important conduit for information source and SMB solution selling. But data also shows that 70% of an SMB buyer’s journey is complete before first contact with a supplier (channel partner or direct vendor).

Partners resolving the paradoxical problem

The paradoxical problem that HPE faces relates to marketing to two bookends of market segments – enterprise with a software solution approach targeting developers and IT buyers and the SMB customer with a yet to neatly defined as-a-service offering where the primary buyer is the business management. As HPE continues to design GreenLake enabled offerings for the SMBs, utmost reliance on partners is important. Partners contribute to creating, shaping and defining demand – in some cases by making customers aware of a new category or product, in others by helping to define solution requirements or specifications. To achieve partner success within the SMB market, HPE is focused on reducing friction across its enablement initiatives. Launched three years ago, HPE has brought to the forefront its enablement program Pro Series – Sales Pro, Tech Pro, Marketing Pro. Partners can tailor their experiences based on SMB market segment, a robust program for channel partners for a unified learning experience and digital marketing. (More on this in a future Techaisle Take analysis). So the question is, is HPE relevant for SMB customers?

Is HPE relevant for SMB customers?

Yes, despite an intense focus on the enterprise segment, HPE is one of a handful of vendor suppliers with a dedicated SMB executive team, and a partner organization, under Paul Hunter, that is stepping up its commitment to SMB channel partners.

Enabling Digital transformation

79% of SMBs are on the road to digital transformation. The roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound physical infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. The most advanced and digitally transformed SMB firms are looking to improve their ability to effectively manage IT delivery into the future – cost efficiencies, operational excellence, innovation, business growth, organizational productivity and IT’s speed and agility. HPE solutions lay the foundation for effective, agile, secure modernization and transformation.

I like that HPE does not have a catch-all process for selling digital transformation solutions to the SMB customers. There is a deliberate process to empower partners to understand an SMB customer's workloads and digital transformation stages before recommending, architecting, deploying and managing digital transformation solutions to deliver business outcomes.

Adopting Hybrid IT

Techaisle research shows that SMBs use a mix of public, private and public clouds – and that businesses often use two or three of these approaches simultaneously but they are definitely settling on the “best approach” which is hybrid. Workloads on hybrid has gone up by 30% in the last one year and basic hybrid deployment is expected to increase by 56% in the next one year. Hosted infrastructure will likely see a growth of 131% in the next one year.

HPE has several offerings for hybrid environments, including HPE OneSphere, HPE ProLiant for Azure Stack and Cloud-Ready Storage. Specifically, for SMBs, HPE has a set of five hybrid cloud solutions. Built upon the core features of HPE ProLiant Gen10 servers and Microsoft Azure services, these hybrid cloud offers provide a path to SMBs to enhance productivity, improve IT service delivery and manage cost efficiencies. The offering includes – Hybrid Remote Workers, Hybrid File and Backup, Hybrid Virtualization, Hybrid Development and Test, Hybrid Database.

In addition, HPE has solutions tailored for small businesses. Leading with its HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus featuring remote management and security capabilities. The solutions include Office in a Box, Scalable File and Backup as well as Edge to Cloud for simplified access to cloud services.

hpe smb solutions

Deploying Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Techaisle data shows that HCI adoption is within the top ten IT priorities for SMB customers. Although a distant third in HCI deployment, HPE’s SimpliVity solution has been growing at the edge for SMBs. It requires only 2 nodes to start, does not require separate storage and backup, and restoration can be done from a point in time. HPE’s dHCI is ideal for SMBs who want their compute or storage or network to scale independently. The entire environment is managed through vCenter and monitored through InfoSight making it easy for SMBs. It separates compute and storage so that they can grow independently giving the SMB customer flexibility of HCI.

Implementing Networking

Aruba Instant On announced last year, is suited for 100 users and below, extends to 7 switches and has both wired and wireless unified management through Aruba Central. However, it is only offered as a subscription service. John Moran, Sales Director, North America, HPE Aruba, points out that HPE has not come across Cisco’s Meraki Go in a competitive environment. I believe it is because Aruba Instant On is truly meant for the midmarket customers whereas Meraki Go is for the small businesses. Many SMBs still prefer outright purchase rather than subscriptions.

Is there a missing middle – midmarket segment?

Ignite Midmarket initiative, announced at HPE Discover in 2019, seems to have retreated into the background. As per Antonio Neri, President and CEO, HPE, midmarket initiative is still active and very important to HPE’s success. Within the HPE GreenLake Cloud services, HPE has designed 17 pre-configured offerings, available in small, medium, large pre-configured services which can be installed within 14 days. Some of the services are suitable for the midmarket segment.

HPE GreenLake Hybrid Cloud is of huge interest to the midmarket segment because it offers the promise of consumption-based cloud solution for on-premise scalability, security, performance and cost management without over-investment in infrastructure allowing cloud management of both public and private resources from one console. HPE is extending its GreenLake offerings for the midmarket for quick deployments of workloads with right sized and ready to go storage, compute and virtualization. For midmarket firms which do not own and manage their own data centers, HPE has partnered with Equinix and CyrusOne to offer co-location solutions. To help its channel partners that serve the midmarket segment, HPE has developed a new quoting tool that reduces quote time from 18 hours to 15 minutes.

HPE’s everything-as-a-Service enablers

HPE GreenLake

It is no secret that HPE has strategically dived into its swim-lane with a commitment to offer “everything-as-a-service” by 2022 - entire portfolio through a range of subscription, pay-per-use and consumption driven offerings. HPE GreenLake, which offers a flexible alternative to traditional on-premise IT hardware consumption, is the foundation for HPE’s as-a-service strategy. HPE’s GreenLake platform hosts servers, storage and networking in-house while retaining connectivity to multiple clouds overlaying with its own software and services. Cray acquisition in May 2019 is enabling HPE to offer HPC as-a-service for some of the most demanding workloads. HPE says that GreenLake has 90%+ customer retention rate (99% in July 2019).

HPE’s vision is to become the Edge-to-Cloud Platform as-a-Service company with a focus on customer use cases and solutions and HPE Ezmeral is core to its strategy. HPE already competes against Dell in storage, servers, and networking, with Cisco in networking, and with Lenovo in servers and NetApp in storage. With the launch of Ezmeral, HPE has expanded its competitive footprint to include VMware Tanzu and Red Hat OpenShift, but HPE is quick to point out that Ezmeral is the only solution with built-in persistent storage. VMware and Red Hat are also partnering and HPE is working with both to define where Ezmeral can really add value. As customer traction is increasing, the competition is also stepping up, specifically, Dell Technologies On Demand, Azure Stack, AWS Outposts, Lenovo TruScale Infrastructure Services.

Once HPE launches GreenLake for SMB segment and provides access to GreenLake Central to MSPs and channel partners we could very well see a welcome arrival of HPE's everything-as-a-service strategy into the SMB segment.

Hybrid Cloud focus

Public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud approaches each offer unique business benefits to the adopting organization. While public cloud can deliver rapid scale for temporary workloads or support smaller businesses that find appeal in OPEX procurement models, private cloud can deliver scale at better cost in some circumstances, while hybrid cloud offers better, faster access to formerly siloed sources of information. In each case, cloud capabilities, including automation, programmability, self-service access to on-demand resources and consumption metering, can help transform IT from a cost center to business enabler.

HPE has an alliance with Google to adopt Kubernetes in hybrid cloud environments and extend reach of its software-defined infrastructure for building private clouds to legacy ProLiant servers, HPE Nimble Storage dHCI and HPE Cloud Volumes Block. HPE is giving its customers an option of deploying on-prem servers with virtual machines with either a VMware vSAN storage software or the HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged infrastructure platform. Additionally, customers have the option of deploying Kubernetes on bare-metal server. HPE is also embedding its HPE OneView IT infrastructure management and HPE Composable Fabric networking solution to create a composable rack environment. HPE’s partnership with Nutanix provides an integrated hybrid cloud as a Service (aaS) option by leveraging Nutanix’s Enterprise Cloud OS software, AHV hypervisor and delivering the solution through HPE GreenLake for a fully HPE-managed hybrid cloud.

The scene stealer - Ezmeral

No doubt Ezmeral was a scene stealer at HPE Discover Virtual Event. It is a complete software portfolio spanning container management, AI/ML and data analytics, cost control, IT automation and AI-driven operations and security. It is expected to speed innovation, transform applications and data from edge to the cloud. All of these are within the planned technology adoption path and essential to enabling digital transformation for 83% of midmarket firms to reduce IT deficit and deliver previously unimaginable business outcomes. HPE’s initial focus is the enterprise segment. I strongly urge to not leave the midmarket segment behind. It is the true battleground segment.

Related HPE Techaisle Takes

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus focuses on SMB Digital Transformation
HPE boldly pivoting headlong into post-transactional market
HPE addressing SMB and channel partner Hybrid IT demands
HPE vs Dell SMB IT solution stack
HPE – doubling down to be SMB’s IT partner of choice
Dell, HPE, IBM, Cisco competing for global SMB US$1 trillion IT Spend
Hyperconverged Infrastructure on a high-growth trajectory within SMBs and midmarket firms

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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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