AMD, Lenovo Say Underequipped SMBs Present Resellers With Opportunity

SMBs are not using technology to their full advantage and channel resellers could be the ones to help them to that end, a new survey says.

The report, released by AMD and Lenovo Thursday, found that SMBs are increasingly strapped for resources and cash due to the current economic climate and, as a result, many are cutting corners and putting data at risk rather than taking advantage of opportunities to save on costs. In addition, some SMBs face a "knowledge gap" with regards to some of the latest technology.

Harris Interactive, which conducted the survey, questioned 722 participants, who were all adults in the U.S. and who either own or work for a business with no more than 500 employees.

In an interview with CRN on Friday, Jay McBain, director of small and medium business at Lenovo, said technology in general is becoming an integral part of running small and medium-sized businesses -- whether it's e-mail, social networking or the use of various software platforms. And according to AMD and Lenovo, channel resellers are in a position to provide SMBs with the solutions they currently lack for networking, storage, communications and design.

The survey found that only 13 percent say they're using an online storage service, while 50 percent of SMBs use USB thumb drives and CDs/DVDs to backup important information.

As for wireless capability, 25 percent of respondents said they or someone in their company piggyback other available Wi-Fi networks to conduct business. With multiple users sharing one connector in a variety of ways, piggy-backing creates a security threat and raises privacy issues, McBain said, attributing the problem to a knowledge gap.

In addition, 70 percent of small businesses are not using Voice Over IP for business calls. Additionally, 87 percent of small business professionals are either somewhat or not at all familiar with the term “unified communications,” which is the integration of voice, video, audio and instant messaging tools.

McBain said some SMBs may be held back in the integration of new technology because of the use of industry jargon, as some may not have heard the term unified communications. Nevertheless, McBain said VoIP appeared to be a significant opportunity for the channel in addition to networking and storage. However, he said solution providers would need to overcome a knowledge gap with small businesses.

"It's an awareness issue," he said, "We need to educate small businesses on what technologies are available. Retailers and e-tailers aren't going through this discussion with businesses, their focused on consumers."

Next: What The Channel Can Learn From The Study "I think this study gives the channel some answers in terms of finding out what their customers are knowledgeable about, what gaps the channel can help small businesses with, and how the channel can extend their value into small businesses," he said.

As Lenovo's director of small and medium business, McBain said he spends virtually all of his time with SMBs and the channel, and has gathered feedback from thousands of channel partners over the years.

He said channel partners can strengthen the opportunity with the customer by "breaking into" their business and making their services stick.

"Once you break into a new customer based on a problem, there's the stickiness factor -- the ability to broaden your services to the customer," he said. "MSPs have been successful at doing that, as opposed to just being the tech guy that shows up when things break.

"Then the customers can start looking at the channel as the IT shop, as the price pressure and the quoting and the RSPs go away from and the transactional behavior of the customer turns into a business relationship model with the customer," McBain said. "It's not about ripping out what they already have, just adding to it with something new."

Many SMBs already have mobile devices but could use additional technologies and improved designs. According to the survey, 40 percent of SMBs have desktops. However, 85 percent of SMBs conduct work outside of the office, while 72 percent rarely take an e-mail free vacation. The majority prefer laptops to run their businesses in order to keep up with their hefty workload, McBain said. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said laptops were their preferred device and 31 percent said they preferred smartphones.

"The 9 to 5 workday is turning into a thing of the past," McBain said. "There's a high level of mobility within small business."

McBain said the laptop becomes an extension of the business. Seventy percent of respondents agreed that the appearance of a laptop issued by a small business is a reflection of the company.

"They agreed that the appearance of a laptop is a reflection of what they do. Having a laptop with a cracked case or a multicolored notebook may cause customers to make subliminal judgments," McBain said.

Due to the increase in mobility among SMBs and the relevance of design and appearance, McBain said Lenovo has created a middle ground for small businesses with the Think Pad Edge. The Edge combines the classic durability, security and simple black design of the Think Pad line which Lenovo acquired from IBM in 2005, with audio/video capabilities, blu-ray, HDMI output, and other features typically found in consumer notebooks.

Next: What The Survey Didn't Mention The survey did not ask respondents why they chose to obtain or not obtain certain technologies, or probe beyond asking which technologies were available to them.

However, McBain said he has a lot of conversations with partners at industry conferences and that they appreciate the focus of behavioral research, as opposed to what McBain called "census data."

"At these conferences, it seems like there's a 150 things that are 'important' in IT that they should be focusing on," he said, "but they want to know what are the three or four things that are going to allow them to expand their business."

The next step is to see what impact the study itself has in the reseller community.

"We're looking forward to getting partner feedback from the survey over the week or the next couple of weeks," McBain said.