Source: Alcatel-Lucent SMB
Did you know that Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) are responsible for 2 out of every 3 jobs around the world? Understanding the challenges and opportunities that are shaping the future of SMBs is a matter of the utmost importance.
A recent survey, conducted by Techaisle, identified the top 10 SMB priorities that IT and business decision makers are focused on in 2016. That got us thinking and we decided to drill down on 5 key areas we believe SMB business owners are grappling with this year:
#1 Business on the go
In today’s business environment employees need to be able to work from anywhere, anytime–whether from home, from Starbucks, or on the road. To get the most out of mobile solutions, small businesses need to figure out what they want to accomplish. For instance, a flexible workforce can provide real-time customer service; employees can collaborate more easily and get faster results; real-estate costs can be reduced. The solution might be complex, highly secure and expensive, or it might be simple with lower security and higher risk. Selecting the right solution is specific to each company’s goals.
Some of the challenges SMBs face today when setting up mobility solutions include high equipment costs, complex installation, VPN integration, and they may require assistance installing software on mobile devices. And, even when a solution is working fine, it may be operationally complex and require IT expertise to maintain.
Hybrid cloud solutions are changing the game. Employees can easily install applications on their devices and become immediately mobile. Regular updates keep their applications current with no requirement for complex installations. The solution just needs to be hybrid-cloud “connected” to the existing telephony system and they are ready to go. Additionally, since the service is provided on the cloud network, there is no requirement for a VPN, or a remote security solution.
#2 Collaboration is key
The world is clamoring for collaboration. Voice and video calling directly embedded in a browser is making that possible. With the open-source API standard, Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC), Web applications can engage in direct voice calls, video chat, and data sharing without the need for desktop or mobile applications, add-ons, or browser plug-ins. This means videoconferencing will continue to get smoother, smarter, and more affordable while operating at even higher Internet speeds.
But it’s not just about video conferencing, IDG’s 2015 Unified Communications & Collaboration Study, predicts a surge of adoption in UC&C over the next three years. According to their findings, 56% of enterprises, and 66% of SMB organizations plan to implement or upgrade their UC&C solutions within the next year. Those numbers are impressive.
Cloud-based integrations also have a role to play in expanding collaboration. They can connect a videoconferencing solution with, not only core collaboration software, but also the myriad of devices with which employees interact. Off-site team members increasingly collaborate using smartphones and tablets, as much, if not more, than they use desktop or laptop PCs. Whether that means joining a group chat, sending and editing shared documents, or logging into a videoconference from an Android or iOS device on the go, cloud-based collaboration is on the rise.
Fundamentally, the key is to align systems with how people actually work. In a March 2015, Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Technology Alone Won’t Solve Our Collaboration Problems”, Mark Mortensen stated “every week a vendor introduces a new gadget, system, or service that promises to improve communication and collaboration.”  The reality is it’s not necessarily what technology you’ve got, but how you use it.
#3 It’s time for the hybrid cloud
A recent study from IDG Research Services asserts, “it’s no secret that digital business transformation and hybrid cloud computing are two of the most dominant IT trends today.”
Findings from the study indicate there is, “clear proof that a hybrid environment makes implementing digital business initiatives faster, easier and less expensive.” Costs are lower, and return on investment is quicker and higher than initially projected.
IDC’s white paper, “The Growth Opportunity for SMB Cloud and Hybrid Business Continuity” suggests, “SMBs are discovering, that in today’s hypercompetitive business climate, an investment in cloud-based business continuity can mean the difference between thriving, surviving, and becoming obsolete.” It confirms that, “SMBs around the world continue to shift investments from on-premise, to public and hybrid cloud environments, to achieve robust, complexity-free, and cost-effective business continuity.” 
Business owners are being driven toward consuming everything in their environment as a service. This is a major shift from capital expenses to operating expenses. By migrating services like communications, Unified Communications, and collaboration, from on-premise, to a hybrid cloud platform, companies can commit to a consistent expense structure that is flexible and can create a business advantage.
#4 The security challenge
As SMBs rely more on technology to run their businesses, the requirements for access, as well as secure and protected data, become more critical and more complex. So, it’s not surprising that both small and medium businesses rank security among their most pressing technology challenges.
Data is no longer tied to a specific device or location and that makes IT folks uneasy. In our increasingly “cloud-first, mobile-first” world, data may reside on a company server, in cloud applications, or in cloud-based file-storing services. In addition, data can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet as easily as from a desktop.
The Dimension Data, Network Barometer 2015 Report, which was focused on a large installed base of customers, uncovered the following results:
- 60% of network devices have at least one security vulnerability
- 74% of wireless access points are older models (802.11g and older) that don’t support a sound mobility and security strategy
- 53% of network devices are aging or obsolete (and that number is growing year-over-year)
This confirms how critical it is to regularly review network infrastructure.
#5 Scaled activity without scaled budgets
Budget constraints are top of mind for most SMBs. They often have different requirements and different IT challenges compared to large enterprises. In the blog entitled, “The SMB Digital Challenge: Scaled Activity Without Scaled Budgets”, Lindsay Rowntree says that, “In the UK, SMBs make up 99.3% of all business, yet account for only 18% of total marketing spend. One of the core challenges faced by small business marketers in the UK and, indeed, globally, is the lack of budget versus their larger peers, forcing them to limit their options significantly.” That huge disconnect, between the number of SMBs, and the marketing spend, means SMBs have to seriously consider what they need to do to compete.
To be successful today SMBs need to be online, connected and accessible via mobile apps. To ensure efficient customer service, they need to be able to manage their business anytime, and from anywhere. The digital world is creating a massive opportunity for SMBs willing to embrace and leverage its advantages. A pay-per-use service offering can deliver the services and the budget flexibility that SMBs require, especially when essential services are basically provided for free.
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5 Key Issues SMBs are Grappling With