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SMB IT Pros Saddled With Support Tasks

IT managers at smaller firms struggle to devote more time to strategy, security, and new technology, HP survey says.

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IT managers at small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have a clear list of ideas for how they can boost the bottom line. Problem is, the list of what they actually do all day looks entirely different.

A new survey, commissioned by HP and conducted by Wakefield Research, highlights the gap: Managers listed strategic planning; training and testing for new technology; and network security as the top three areas they thought would be the best use of their time. Yet software glitches; network and connectivity issues; and hardware headaches were the top three demands on their actual time. The survey included 500 IT pros at SMBs.

"They would really like to have more time to strategically think about the role of technology in their business, not just spend their time supporting issues and problems," said Lisa Baker, director of customer segment marketing at HP, in an interview. "They see the vision of how planning the right level of IT investment can deliver savings in the long run, [offer] productivity gains for their business, and make them more competitive."

Hardware support did make the list of the best uses of an IT manager's time at number four, though just 11% agreed. Asked about the biggest problem with their company's computers, 37% said they were too old. Baker attributed that in large part to several years of cost-cutting and postponed tech refreshes at many SMBs. Indeed, the IT managers surveyed picked slow-performing, out-of-date, and unreliable hardware as the top issues resulting from an over-emphasis on cost. They also listed shorter upgrade cycles, bigger budgets, and better planning and research as the most importance advice they'd deliver to their CEOs.

"The underlying tone was clearly an underinvestment by small businesses in technology," Baker said. "I think they're really struggling with that balancing act between making IT investments, the recession, and managing their budgets."

The survey offered some insights into where SMBs are spending their IT dollars as they shake off the lingering economic doldrums. PCs reign supreme, with 60% of respondents buying laptops and 57% adding desktops this year. Baker pointed to thawing budgets and the shrinking support timeline for Microsoft's Windows XP as key catalysts for PC purchases. Meanwhile, more than one in four SMBs said they're adding tablets in 2011.

"Laptops and desktops at the top of the list is a direct result of them delaying hardware refreshes [during the recession]," Baker said. "Most of these guys are still running on XP, so it's driven by both the aging hardware and the opportunity to upgrade the operating system."

Storage (47%), smartphones, security, and cloud services followed on the 2011 spending list. One in four respondents said they're investing in additional IT staff.

The economies of storage networking have changed dramatically, especially in the options available for small and midsize enterprises. We analyze SMB responses to our 2011 State of Enterprise Storage Survey and discuss which techs will best serve these businesses. Download our report now. (Free registration required.)

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