Mobile, cloud, and the channel are where SMBs will see growth and a return to familiarity according to Steve Hilton of Analysys Mason.
Two years of economic woes have left many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) lean and hungry. They still face some key business constraints that hinder their chances of growth, but in some parts of the world we are starting to see the end of a difficult economic period. The economic recovery in the U.S. has certainly lagged that of Europe and Asia, but looks like the U.S. economic lion is starting to get its roar back.
It is time for us to make new predictions for technology trends in 2011. Here are our three predictions for SMBs in 2011.
Trend 1: Mobile Applications
One of the top trends for consumers has been the proliferation of mobile applications. There are plenty of interesting applications that are appropriate and useful for SMBs, but no vendor or service has substantively started capitalizing on the value of mobile applications in an applications store environment for SMBs.
Analysys Mason expects mobile communication service providers will create packages of mobile applications for SMBs. Sprint is dabbling with this concept right now with its Sprint ID Business Pro Pack. Communications service providers (CSPs) will pre-test these applications -- with plenty of help from handset vendors -- in order to make sure they function properly on approved Android, Apple, RIM and Symbian devices.
There are many categories of SMB employees -- for example, sales people, technology support, customer services, executives, etc. -- so we anticipate that CSPs will categorize SMB end users into different segments and match those segments to appropriate mobile application packages. We expect CSPs to trial only one or two of these free application packages initially, although we anticipate that CSPs will charge for more advanced packages in the future. Kudos for Sprint for getting out in front of the market.
Trend 2: Cloud-Based Services
SMBs still need to cut costs and one way to accomplish this task is with cloud-based services. SMBs have underinvested in technology for the last two to three years. They must replace some of their oldest technology or face increasing maintenance costs and the possibility that their systems could break down. SMBs could purchase new on-premises solutions, but shortages of free cash flow are quite common. Furthermore, while interest rates remain low, banks are loath to extend credit to SMBs in almost all countries.
SMBs will continue to favor cloud-based email, messaging, and collaboration solutions like those from Comcast in the United States. We expect CSPs to offer more cloud-based storage and back-up solutions as well as begin to dabble in SaaS solutions like CRM.
Trend 3: Novel New Sales Channels Launched
Most technology vendors and service providers that target large enterprises have technology centers and R&D facilities. Vendors and service providers often bring representatives of large enterprises to visit these centers to see the latest technologies in 'real-life' situations. Often these solutions are multi-vendor and really highlight the product and services prowess of the supplier.
We believe a small number of CSPs (possibly only one) will set up a technology center aimed at SMBs, featuring multi-vendor solutions from the mobile and fixed-line telecom industries as well as unified communications, video and cloud services. Obviously, this type of technology center will need to be properly scaled and staffed for the SMB market with particular emphasis on the local needs of SMBs. The CSP will launch the technology center in one of their retail stores or possibly in a third-party retailer of consumer electronics products.
Analysys Mason expects that 2011 will be a year of growth for small businesses and a year of increased SMB sales opportunities for the service provider, vendor, and partner community. While the economic recovery has been slower in the US than we've seen in Asia and Europe, we anticipate increased spending in a variety of technology areas.
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