4 Tech Trends For SMBs In 2012

Small and midsize businesses should expect changes in cloud, social, and mobile approaches, for starters.
It's a great time of year to be in the crystal ball business. Everyone wants to know what's waiting around the 2012 corner. So what's in store for small and midsize businesses (SMBs)?

Plenty, if you ask the folks at the SMB Group. To the market research firm's credit, they look back before they look ahead, evaluating their previous year's predictions. In areas such as mobile commerce and cloud adoption, they were pretty much right on target. With others--such as the value of mobile app stores to smaller companies--they were a little off the mark.

Now, they've just made their top 10 technology calls for SMBs in 2012. In an interview, SMB Group partner Laurie McCabe went in-depth on the four that might matter most.

1. The Rise of the "Progressive SMB." Expect to see continued doom-and-gloom in the global economic headlines--that one seems like a given, at least for the early part of the new year. That means companies will continue to squeeze their budgets, but McCabe believes that presents an opportunity for smart SMBs: Those that make strategic IT investments with clear links to bottom-line growth. In its recent SMB Routes to Market study, for example, the SMB Group found that 73% of midsize firms (100-1,000 employees) that plan to spend more on IT next year also project increased revenue; on the other hand, just 17% of companies with declining tech budgets expect revenue to rise.

[ Big Blue courts SMBs with money to spend--or borrow. See IBM Earmarks $1 Billion For SMB Tech. ]

McCabe calls them the "progressive SMBs," noting that 2012 will be the year that forward-thinking firms will outpace sluggish competitors that can't see the proverbial forest through the trees. "A lot of SMBs will be tightening their wallets, but you still have this group that really gets that investing in technology is going to be their edge," she said. "It's going to enable them to transform their business in some way that's going to help them get ahead."

2. Cloud Becomes Business As Usual. Expect to see some version of this call quite a bit: 2012 will be year that SMBs see cloud technologies as normal rather than cutting edge. Put another way, when it comes time to acquire and deploy technology projects, cloud platforms will be the instinctive first choice--rather than the alternative to on-premises options. While security and other concerns may linger, that's not stopping the mainstream phase.

"The pendulum has swung," McCabe said. "In a lot of cases, [cloud] is going to be the only feasible way to deploy quickly and affordably."

3. Mobile Grows Up. With the smartphone now ubiquitous--and the tablet perhaps not far behind--McCabe expects SMBs will begin mobilizing their core business applications en masse in 2012. While email and other collaboration tools might already be second-nature for mobile users, areas such as mobile payments, time tracking, and field service apps should see large adoption increases.

McCabe notes that industry-specific apps will also grow exponentially in the year ahead. Ease-of-use and efficacy will be key for developers--the apps that explode will be those that help, not hinder, the business user. For vendors, McCabe said product development plans will simply have to incorporate mobile as table stakes--not as a future enhancement for the roadmap.

4. The Social Divide Widens. SMB Group says 2012 will be the year that SMBs that approach social media with an actual strategy will leave ad-hoc users far behind. McCabe said the companies that think through what they want to achieve, how they'll measure results, and how they'll tweak their activities based on real data will far outstrip those that simply start a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, then cross social off their to-do list.

"A lot of businesses that aren't using it or aren't using it effectively are going to kind of get whacked upside the head when they realize their competitor is doing things with social media that are pulling business away from them," McCabe said.

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