Here's Where SMBs Will Spend Big In 2013

Top Of Mind

For solution providers that count small and midsize businesses among their customers, the cloud, big data and BYOD are top of mind this year for SMB executives.

CRN spoke with Mark Bier, founding principal of VAR Staffing, a Richardson, Texas-based recruiting service, and Todd Billiar, director of channel development at VAR Staffing, to learn more about where they see the SMB spend heading in 2013.

"We do see a lot of growth in the SMB," Bier said. In the past, the majority of VAR Staffing's services were for large, enterprise-level companies. However, that's changing. "Eighty percent of the services we do [are for SMBs]," he said. "It used to be 60-40 the other way."

Managed Services Is Just 'Smart Business'

2013 will see businesses' focus shift from capital expenditures to operation expenditures that provide better cost predictability and provisioning of services, which spells opportunity for MSPs.

"I would never employ an IT manager," Bier said. "I use a managed service partner. It just makes the most sense to be as efficient as possible. Thinking not as a recruiter, but as a small-business owner. ... I can't exist without an IT infrastructure," he said. "You've got to have the most efficient operating IT footprint, IT infrastructure."

Disruptive Technology Rocks

Solution providers that service the SMB space are not only uniquely positioned to help guide their clients through new, disruptive technologies but also better enabled to tailor services to meet specific client needs.

"There will always be a need for a personal touch in the managed, outsourced IT world," Bier said.

"New disruptive technologies, be it cloud or, even more recently, mobile, these huge enterprises, they're just such big ships that they take so long to turn that they can't adapt as quickly as [SMBs]," Billiar said.

Cloud Solutions Soar

2013 will be the year of the cloud, with businesses scrambling to migrate and manage their IT assets.

"Everyone wants to get involved with the cloud," Billiar said. "It's almost impossible to get involved with the cloud without using some sort of partner to do it, and managed services just makes the most sense, and we see it big time," he said. "Be it newer backup, newer hosted database, new hosted services, you're seeing these new services, like Dropbox for instance. Whereas the old companies might roll out big, formal systems, ... the SMB consultants are able to roll out much more cost-effective services."

"And, they [the cloud solutions] are more tailored to the SMB market. You're more likely to get the relationship you need [from an SMB solution provider] than from some mega consulting firm," Bier said.

Mobile Madness Revs Up BYOD

At a Gartner Symposium/IT event in November last year, Gartner put forth the prediction that mobile phones will replace PCs as the primary Web accessing device this year.

As such, many SMBs will look to their solution provider partners to help implement mobile device management solutions. "Remote management of the iOS and Android devices, remotely wipe them, push updates, recommend the best applications -- it's just such a fast industry right now that I don't think the big consulting agencies are able to adapt right now as the small, boutique shops are. One of our partners down in our Houston market, the Apple business is one of the fastest-growing segments of [its business]," Billiar said.

Big Data Not Just For Big Companies

Big data analytics will make its way to SMBs, giving them access and insight into data that was once only available to large enterprises.

"Everyone can access big data. As a small business, if you're the company, the client, you'll want to access that in the most efficient manner. The tools that your smaller VARs and MSPs have, they're able to better foster access to that big data than say your mega VAR," Billiar said.

Bier agreed, adding that, "We've been to a couple of shows where you're seeing smaller companies rolling out big data toolsets, and the VARs we deal with are definitely showing interest," he said. "So the ability to bring this technology faster is definitely there."

Social Media Levels The Playing Field

In 2013, social media will level the playing field for many SMBs, with an increasing number strategically leveraging social media to get their name out there, participating with their community and giving their company a voice. "More of [the SMBs] are embracing social media. Social media can be a good equalizer. If you're active on social media, if you're putting good content out there, you can position yourself as an expert," Bier said.

According to the SMB Group, a Northbrough, Mass.-based market research and consulting firm specializing in technology-related solutions for and by SMBs, social media use among SMBs increased 9.4 percent over a year, from 53 percent in 2011 to 58 percent in 2012. However, the study also found that many SMBs aren't maximizing their social media potential. "Only 28 percent of SMBs are using social strategically; the majority take an informal, ad hoc approach," the study said.

Solution providers that can help SMBs get in on the action will be in high demand.

The Need For Security Solutions

Data breaches and hacks made headlines throughout 2012. As such, security will be a key segment for solution providers to focus on for their SMB clients.

"Some of our best clients are in that security vertical," Bier said. "Cognoscape, 100 percent an MSP, SonicWall, these are small intrusion detection and prevention devices. It's not all about the big [enterprise-level] ASA firewalls. In fact, we see more often than not that the appliances are more tailored to the small-business community. And, that's another example of how your small VARs are going to be working with it."

Digital Signage Delivers

AV and digital signage will see a boost among SMBs this year, as many organizations not only make much-needed upgrades but also find new ways to put the technology to use.

"We predict an explosion in AV [audio visual] business -- yes, AV IT," said Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner/Connecting Point, Green Bay, Wis., in a Jan. 3 interview with CRN.

And Billiar agrees. "Education spaces ... putting up LCD monitors [and] televisions -- digital signage is going to be a big space as people embrace the technology. The market is ready for an upgrade. I think that the VARs that specialize in the digital signage and AV space [will grow]."

Windows 8 Slow, But Office 365 Opens New Doors

While Microsoft's November announcement that it had sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses since the operating system launched had some hopeful, many pundits still said businesses will be slow to adopt.

Office 365, on the other hand, has been making gains, as Microsoft has been pushing the platform within the channel, from partner cloud incentives to certification programs. As such, demand for Office 365 experience has been on the rise in the SMB space.

"Office 365, that's a newer skill set that we're seeing demand for, definitely in the deployment area," Billiar said. "The Office 365 is not a capital expenditure; it's a operating expense. And, it's hosted, so it's independent."