Nearly everyone would agree that 2018 was a far-from-boring year, and that applies to small and medium-sized business IT as well.
Raymond Boggs, vice president of small and medium business research at IDC, notes that it was a surprising year in terms of cloud adoption for SMBs, particularly on two points.
First, while cloud adoption is taking off with SMBs — a recent survey of SMBs from CDW found that 73 percent of respondents were using cloud in some capacity — there is still some hesitation among very small businesses.
“The smallest of the small businesses, those with five to nine employees, are still slow when it comes to cloud adoption, which is curious because many of the issues around security and other concerns have been largely resolved. That was quite a surprise,” says Boggs.
Second, and perhaps more surprising, is that once SMBs enter the cloud space, often through cloud-hosted email — 64 percent of respondents to the recent CDW survey noted they were tapping cloud for email services — it seems they can’t get enough.
“We assumed that once small and midsized businesses brought some of their operations into the cloud, maybe email, storage, web hosting or critical apps, that would be enough. Instead, once they take the cloud plunge, businesses get excited and they keep adding more,” says Boggs.
So, what could be in store for 2019? Boggs lays out four predictions for the coming year.
1. Data and Analytics Will Drive Better Business Decisions
Is this the year of data analytics? It very well could be, says Boggs.
“Everything is going to become more data-intensive,” he says. “And we’re seeing some wonderful analytics resources.”
As SMBs tap both vendor-specific data products and Analytics as a Service solutions, the use of analytics could spread to nearly every part of a business, including using data to better understand customers.
“As a business owner, you might know who your biggest customer is, but what about the most profitable customer?” asks Boggs. “Who buys standard stuff, always pays on time, isn’t difficult or time-consuming to work with? That’s your most important customer, and you might not know it. Through effective data analysis and mining, you can identify that person, their trend, and seek to extend that trend to other customers.”
2. Self-Serve Cloud Services Pick Up for SMBs
As cloud continues to embed itself as a must-have technology, Boggs notes that cloud adoption will continue to take off, particularly with smaller businesses that haven’t yet jumped on board. According to CDW’s recent survey, nearly 30 percent of respondents have targeted a broader adoption of cloud services as part of their modernization plan in 2019. What will differ, however, is the way that SMBs choose to purchase or provision cloud services.
“People are getting used to a self-service economy — think of Amazon or the Apple store — and they’re starting to become comfortable with that same model in their business lives as well as their personal lives. This will translate to how businesses begin to buy cloud: through self-provisioning of services so that they can choose what they need at their own pace,” says Boggs.
3. Cognitive and Cloud Cybersecurity Takes Hold
Cybersecurity is a major issue for businesses everywhere, as losses to cybercrime will reach nearly $2 trillion in 2019, according to the Better Business Bureau. SMBs aren’t blind to this fact, as 44 percent of those polled in CDW’s survey ranked security as the most important IT-related topic of 2019.
“As agile and gifted as the defenders are, the attackers are able to leverage some of the same approaches and resources, including artificial intelligence, to figure out how to get around the solutions you have in place — attacking not just endpoints, but servers and operating systems, in ways that are increasingly challenging to detect,” says Boggs.
To hammer down those numbers, Boggs predicts that cybersecurity tools laced with AI will become integral to security strategies everywhere.
“Tools that use artificial intelligence to monitor device and user behavior and flag anything suspicious will be arriving to help improve security capabilities,” says Boggs.
Moreover, cloud-hosted security will become even more important, especially for small businesses that find it harder to keep up with increasingly complex threats.
“As the customer, there’s no way you could build this kind of capability of your own, so there will be an increasing reliance on security companies to take care of you, as well as reliance on cloud vendors who will be able to host resources in a more secure fashion,” says Boggs.
4. Digital Transformation for All Businesses
While digital transformation may seem like a concept that primarily impacts larger enterprises, SMBs can — and should — pursue modernization and transformation where they can in order to ensure they are well positioned for the future.
“When buying a solution and making an initial investment, small businesses need to weigh the immediate impact against the larger technology trajectory and how the business will compete in the future digital economy in 2020 and beyond,” says Boggs. “That’s where digital transformation and future proofing your infrastructure comes in: Is there an investment you can make now that will allow you to grow and remain flexible?”
This requires that businesses think through both customer-facing technologies as well as internal ones, such as enabling secure remote work in order to accommodate a workforce of the future.
“While it’s important not to take unnecessary risks, you do run the risk of being too conservative and running into trouble down the line as a result,” says Boggs, noting that internal operations are usually the ones that suffer. “Often, businesses innovate for the consumer where they can see immediate impact, but the back office can be totally behind the times, and that innovation isn’t spread uniformly across the organization. This is where true digital transformation can provide benefits.”