Many of the trends we discussed in 2011, and saw in 2012, were pretty much spot on. Technology like mobility, tablet style endpoints, cloud computing, big data, and virtualization were big in 2012. Even with the languishing U.S. economy, IT spending among the SMB subsector was slightly up for the bulk of 2012. That being said, what IT solutions will the typical SMB entity be putting hard-earned capital into for the next 12 months? For that we’ll turn to the leader on all things IT, Gartner Inc.
In early November, Research Vice President Robert P. Anderson discussed upcoming technology trends with a specific focus on the SMB space and revealed several interesting statistics. According to Anderson, “of all global IT spend, 44% is in the SMB category.” (Anderson, 2012) I must point out that Gartner classifies organizations with 1,000 or less employees as small or mid-sized; a further break down groups companies with 100 or less employees as small business and 101-999 as mid-market businesses. Unfortunately, there is no standardization on what really comprises a small or mid-sized business and the definitions vary across the board. Anderson listed the top three business drivers in the SMB space as “increasing growth, attracting and retaining customers, and creating new products and services.” (Anderson, 2012) Not too dissimilar with the trends for 2012, right? Anderson goes on, “the top five predicted technology items on the SMB purchase radar include mobile technologies, analytics and business intelligence, cloud computing, desktop server and storage virtualization, and collaboration technologies.” (Anderson, 2012) Other technology trends in the mix include modernization of legacy systems and applications, upgraded security hardware and software systems, and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.
Upon closer look, mobility is essential for all the micro businesses that are springing up as a result of several iterations of this recession. For many of these entities, technology as a consumable resource is vital because these organizations don’t have cash on hand to procure expensive office space and all the accompanying utility requirements. These small businesses need to be agile to gain market share and acceptance, so mobile technologies are critical to making this happen. With the increased deployment of mobile devices comes the surge of headaches with managing it especially as you look at the companies with more than 20-30 employees. This is where rapid growth in something called mobile device management (MDM) is making major inroads and will continue to do so in 2013.
Increasingly, employees want to bring their own devices into company operated network environments, so additional considerations are necessary. Generally speaking, MDM systems allow for the management of worker-owned endpoints such as an iPhone, iPad, or Galaxy Tab. As workers use their personal devices for work functions, additional concerns arise as these devices are not controlled, company-owned equipment. What happens if an employee leaves the organization? What if someone gets their hands on the device with malicious intent? What if the device is lost? What happens to all the company data on the device? Some of these issues are similar in regard to company issued laptops and other mobile devices, but it gets more complicated when equipment is not in the organization’s inventory. MDM enables organizations to manage employee owned and/or company owned devices. Functionality includes but is not limited to GPS tracking, remote locking, and remote wiping of corporate data from the endpoint without disturbing private data such as photos. MDM will continue to make large inroads in 2013; however, price and support could remain a concern.
Business Intelligence and analytics have been staples of the enterprise space for a long time. What exacerbates this issue is something called “big data” which is essentially massive amounts of data (structured and unstructured), and is difficult to organize and report on through either standard spreadsheets or database software. This has not been an issue for the majority of SMB organizations, but there is a need for those larger SMB entities that use up to a petabyte of data or over 1,000 terabytes.
Other trends that are here to stay are cloud computing and virtualization. In some ways, the cloud will be the method of choice for application delivery and access for many SMBs. The ability to take advantage of these once enterprise only technologies, without building out redundant data centers or acquiring expensive hardware and software, makes the cloud a very attractive option. Virtualization will accelerate with this shift making shared resources in a colocation space possible. While much of the virtualization work in the SMB space, to this point, has been on the server side, 2013 will usher in the new age of the virtual desktop.
This subset of the virtualization platform allows for a simple, easy to control user experience regardless of the chosen endpoint. An organization can customize the desktop experience for each user therefore lessening the need for full PC clients to run company applications. Lower cost options such as thin client terminals with no onboard storage or operating system can be used to do everything an end-user may need. This configuration also lends well to security functionality as less corporate information sits on individual, and sometimes vulnerable, computers.
Finally, collaboration becomes a concern as mobility is added to the mix. When multiple employees work remotely, it can be difficult to synchronize documents, workflows, or other application outputs. Thus, collaboration applications make sense as a growth area for the SMB. Take for example a group I’ve recently spoken to that produces conferences all across the country. They have no formal office space, and are often in different cities on any particular day. Sure, making a phone call is one way to communicate, but if you are trying to share documents and other information with a colleague across the country, it can be a challenge. At the very least, the ability to “check out” materials and create versions that are stored centrally would be invaluable to this organization, and Microsoft’s SharePoint application is built to do just that. Microsoft’s SharePoint application also has a cloud-based option for small business which makes it both user friendly and budget friendly.
As you can see, there is a great many solutions in the hopper for the SMB market space in 2013. According to Anderson, predictions for the coming year include “that tablet computing in the SMB market will outpace that of the enterprise space, desktop virtualization will finally take off, and mobile connectivity to business applications will rise about 25% from 2012 in the SMB toolkit.” (Anderson, 2012) There is a thought that the flagging economy and unyielding unemployment numbers in the US will lead to an explosion of a micro-SMB marketplace; entrepreneurs who strike out on their own or form small organizations of between two and five people. This fact would further push the adoption of cloud applications which are rising much faster in the micro-SMB market than in any other segment. In this day and age, being the trusted technology partner is a win-win for everyone concerned, so focusing on this relationship will go a long way towards enhancing the recovery for all parties in the future.