The most strategic vendors for SMBs may be the same as for large enterprises. Or, the local and regional vendors that keep serve the IT needs of smaller businesses may just fly under the radar of national and global vendor rankings.Almost every business relies on IT vendors to some extent to develop, manage, and maintain IT infrastructure. As the proliferation of SaaS options and cloud computing have curbed the need for businesses to spend precious capital on hardware and physical infrastructure, more and more smaller businesses are coming to rely on vendors for critical IT operations. For big companies, co-dependent relationships with vendors are old hat, but does that hold true for SMBs as well?
Perhaps it does, but first let's discuss what we mean by strategic, rather than merely tactical or transactional, vendor relationships. Recently, InformationWeek's Rob Preston addressed exactly that point. He said:
"In interviews with countless CIOs over the past decade, InformationWeek's editors have asked about their most strategic IT vendors -- or "partners," in the politically correct parlance. What makes for strategic? For one thing, those relationships usually are forged over many years. Strategic vendors often command a substantial share of IT budget and a central place in the IT architecture ("We're a Vendor X shop"), and they'd be very hard for CIOs to replace. Strategic vendors sometimes play a critical role in supporting basic business functions ("We run our business on Vendor Y") and delivering competitive advantage ("Vendor Z is our innovation engine"). And you'll find them at the end of the "No one ever got fired for..." line."
That served as preamble to what Preston calls a "back-of-the-napkin Top 10 ranking of the world's most strategic IT vendors." Here's the list:
Given that many SMBs don't have a CIO (or if they do, the CIO is also the CEO, CMO, and CFO), the Fortune 500 flavor of the top 6 make this list look large-enterprise centric. That said, distinct SMB offerings from most these vendors don't make them the exclusive province of big companies. Not to mention as you descend the list, the more you'd expect to see these names on an SMB vendor list - culminating in the last entry, which stands to be the most popular SMB option.
Looking back several years to a SMB vendor ranking by Gartner Research reveals more familiar brand names: HP, Microsoft, and IBM. Leap ahead to present day to a poll question posed by Panorama Consulting about ERP vendors for small business it's again rife with familiar brand names: Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. This poll does include Netsuite, Quckbooks, Other, and None as options so it's not all traditional biggies. Yet, one could deduce from this limited view that the strategic vendors for large enterprise and SMBs are one in the same.
To that point, a discussion about those Gartner rankings makes clear that correlating enterprise and SMBs IT vendors isn't an apples to apples comparison. Again, this material is dated, but the underlying issues still pertain. At the time, then Gartner research vice president, Mika Yamamoto Krammer, said, "Half of Microsoft's revenues come from SMBs. We gather a lot of feedback from small- and mid-sized businesses. A lot of them say they select Microsoft simply because there is a lack of any mainstream alternative."
The lack of other "mainstream" alternatives remains a valid point. It's one that Jim Lippie, vice president of Staples Network Services, made to me just last week when discussing the launch of Staples Technology Solutions, a new IT services offering for SMBs. Lippie said, "Traditionally this market has been dominated by local and regional players. We want to bring to bear an organization that gives SMBs the resources of Fortune 1000 corporations, but also services the SMB psychology of high touch."
A global research firm like Gartner isn't going to rank bigger regional vendors (even those with a national footprint), much less small local shops. In that sense, ranking SMB IT vendors poses the same challenge as the SMB market in general: it's huge . . . and hugely fragmented.
So back to the question of who are the most strategic IT vendors for SMBs? You tell me. Comment on this or send me email about what makes a vendor strategic for your business and the specific vendors clear that bar?
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