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Midsize Businesses Too Busy For Social Media

Technology leaders at the Midsize Enterprise Summit have little attention to spare beyond managing basic IT infrastructure.

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Social media and social software may be one of the most promising technologies for midsize enterprises to exploit, but they are not necessarily high on the priority list for midmarket CIOs.

Social technologies did get a shout out at the Midsize Enterprise Summit East in Orlando this week from Gartner analyst Jackie Fenn. In a keynote presentation on Thursday, she mentioned social media analytics and crowdsourcing as pioneering uses that smaller, more agile companies can exploit to get ahead of their larger competitors. But that was almost the only time social media entered into the program--and the program was built around what the CIOs and other technology leaders in attendance said were their highest priorities.

Cloud, virtualization, and mobile computing were at the top of that list, followed by other more basic operational and data management challenges, said conference chairman Jim Browning, a Gartner vice president and research director who focuses on this market.

While agreeing with Fenn's assessment that social technologies represent an opportunity for midsize companies, Browning said the defining characteristic of this market is that IT departments are "resource constrained," often consisting of just a handful of people. Maybe they're more agile, he said, "but they're also doing a lot more putting out fires and blocking and tackling."

After having to hold back on technology investments during the worst years of the recession, many of these organizations have their hands full trying to catch up, he said. "This year they're heavily infrastructure focused around things like upgrading to Windows 7, and it's because of what happened in 2008 and 2009." Virtualization fits into that picture because these CIOs see the opportunity to consolidate servers rather than simply replacing them, he said.

Collaboration technology for the midmarket largely means SharePoint--and about half of these companies it means the free Windows SharePoint Services version, Browning said. SharePoint is an easy solution that largely meets their needs, although many organizations are coming to terms with having created islands of collaboration by letting SharePoint instances proliferate too freely, he said.

Many of these organizations have moved to VoIP phone systems, which is one technology they have adopted faster than larger enterprises because they are typically less encumbered by legacy systems. About 40% (based on preliminary numbers from a poll conducted at the conference) are actively using unified communications technologies that integrate other modes of communication, so that employees can see who is online and available to be reached by voice, video, or chat.

"UC is usually aligned with their VoIP infrastructure, which is one of the areas where their infrastructure tends to be more mature," Browning said.

VoIP is also an example of how midmarket CIOs tend to adopt technology, which is very much at their own pace, Browning said. When Cisco and Avaya came calling with tales of all the virtues of VoIP, midmarket CIOs started to pencil a transition into their plans, but most didn't make a move right away. "They'd say, 'Yeah, I'll replace that when the old box starts smoking.' They weren't going to replace what they had overnight--not when what they had was still working."

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