The nation’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) see technology as a primary factor in meeting business objectives. 2018 will be marked by a few key communication trends, including modernizing communications, improving IT security, and effectively managing and using data.
According to a recent CompTIA survey, a large majority of the 600 SMBs it queried are looking to communications and technology to help them grow, reduce operational overhead, be more responsive to their customers, and work more collaboratively with partners. About 40 percent of SMBs say their current level of spending on technology is too low.
“This highlights a key challenge: balancing the desire to embrace innovation with the realities of running the business,” said Tim Herbert, senior vice president, research and market intelligence, CompTIA.
Communication Trends Guiding SMBs
Some of the trends guiding SMB communications choices in 2018 include the following:
A Continuing Move To Managed, Hosted & Cloud Services
While the move to cloud has been underway for some time, plenty of SMBs have yet to make the transition or have only done so in part. 2018 will see more businesses than ever before moving additional mission-critical functions to the cloud or to hybrid models.
The CompTIA survey found that while 60 percent of SMBs believe their return on investment in technology has been excellent or good, 40 percent categorize it as “just okay” or disappointing. Among the reasons are things that moving to the cloud and a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution can fix: ongoing maintenance costs and fees, required upgrades and built-in obsolescence, staff time needed to operate and maintain systems, large upfront costs, and complexity.
Similarly, according to a survey from technology solution provider Directive, 69% of SMBs expect a decline in installed applications on local machines, in favor of virtualization and the cloud. By storing data in a secure online location, they can easily add user access permissions, create new accounts or scale services according to their business’ specific needs.
“Today’s digital climate doesn’t have room for complicated infrastructures, let alone the inability to scale alongside change in your workforce or business needs,” Directive noted. “Your infrastructure needs to be volatile enough to adapt to change--something that only a virtual environment can provide.
Small businesses are increasingly the target of hackers, as they’re at an inherent disadvantage compared to enterprise-scale organizations. The effects of an attack on an SMB are proportionately different as well.
When a small business experiences a breach, it’s more than just a hack of confidential data – the entire company is at risk. SMBs don’t have the funds that corporations do to react in a crisis situation, bring in crews to assess the risk and attack, and respond in a way that cements customer loyalty. Reputations are typically damaged beyond repair, so SMBs must take precautions now to prepare against this increasing threat if they want to survive. As a result, investment in solutions that offer built-in security are on the rise among this set, especially managed security. The Directive survey found that 81% are putting funds towards security, as well as mobile device management (51%).
Emerging Technology Adoption
SMBs are growing comfortable with the basics of digital transformation, and many organizations are setting their sights on cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality-based collaboration.
In 2018, spending on the software, hardware, and services that enable digital transformation will nearly reach $1.3 trillion, predicts analyst firm IDC. That figure represents a 16.8 percent jump compared to the $1.1 trillion spent this year. By 2021, IDC expects that digital transformation spending will reach nearly $2.1 trillion.
"While some industries are more focused on the core technologies underlying the 3rd Platform, particularly cloud, big data and analytics, and mobility, many have shifted their investment focus toward the Innovation Accelerators, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, and robotics," said IDC program director said Eileen Smith. "While the investment strategies may differ from company to company, the objective remains the same: to reimagine and reconstruct the business to compete in the increasingly digital economy that's platform-powered and ecosystem-enabled.”
A cooperative work environment that enhances collaboration, both inside and outside of the office, is one of the biggest goals for SMBs in 2018. While 2017 saw the rise of mobile apps for UC, which offer unified voice, messaging, and video capabilities while on the go, 2018 will see that mobile-centric experience expand. Going forward, the range of UC function supported on mobile devices will expand to include team collaboration, content sharing, and enhanced meeting support.
A proliferation of anytime, anywhere capabilities, including audio/video chat, or the ability to share desktops, location, and availability with colleagues serve the growing virtual workforce, helping users stay connected and enabling continuous connectivity to customers and employees around the world.