Companies continue to channel more resources to their small business IT initiatives, as maturing technologies like cloud computing and server virtualization gain traction, while IT managers remain divided over how to address workers' mounting appetite for bringing personal mobile devices into the workplace, a practice known as BYOD.
Small Business IT Pros Respond to Spiceworks Survey
Those are among the long list of findings in the latest survey from Spiceworks, a multifaceted small business IT hub catering to tech workers. Spiceworks canvassed nearly 1,500 IT workers at firms with fewer than 1,000 employees for the latest installment in its semi-annual survey series.
Overall, survey respondents indicated that their small business IT budgets had risen 15 percent over the past year, with the average annual budget currently at $152,000. Of that spending, hardware accounts for the lion's share at 40 percent, followed by software and services, at 34 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
Large majorities of the respondents indicated that they plan to purchase new desktops and laptops over the next six months, while interest in tablet computers is coming on strong. Sixty-two percent of the small businesses surveyed said that they either have already deployed iPads or other tablets or intend to do so in the near future, up 50 percent from findings in Spiceworks' last survey.
One area where companies are not investing heavily is their small business IT staffs. Spiceworks found that 56 percent of SMBs plan to retain their current staffing levels, while just 30 percent intend to hire additional IT workers, roughly on par with the hiring rates reported in the firm's previous study.
"The rate of hiring is holding steady," said Adam Weinroth, executive director of vendor marketing at Spiceworks. "They're still hiring, but that rate is fairly even from the last period."
Those workers are tasked with an array of new management challenges, including the phenomenon known as the consumerization of IT, which carries with it the so-called BYOD (bring-your-own-device) dilemma, where managers must decide whether or not to allow employees to bring their personal equipment behind the company firewall.
It seems clear that the BYOD camp is carrying the day. According to Spiceworks' survey, 75 percent of small businesses currently manage and support workers' personal equipment, with the most popular devices ranking as iPhones, Android phones and iPads.
But that emerging trend hasn't developed without some resistance and grumbling on the part of small business IT. Twenty percent of respondents said that they fully embrace BYOD, and an additional 35 percent said that it works for some devices, while other equipment is ill-suited for use in the workplace. While 25 percent responded that supporting and managing consumer devices is a headache, another 20 percent said they had yet to form an opinion.
A solid minority of small businesses reported that they have embraced cloud computing services, at 48 percent. But that's up just two percentage points from the previous survey, indicating that while cloud computing has become firmly ingrained in the small business IT landscape, the technology is maturing and growth is predictably leveling off.
"We've seen a lot of growth," Weinroth said. "We're starting to see a kind of natural progression that's indicative of [approaching] a level of saturation."
Growth in virtualization adoption shows similar signs of slowing, but that only tells part of the story. Sixty-four percent of the survey respondents told Spiceworks that they use virtualization, a modest uptick from the 61 percent who said they have embraced the technology in the previous survey.
However, respondents reported that virtualization has penetrated more deeply into their operations. On average, the SMBs that Spiceworks polled said they have virtualized 3.1 applications, up nearly 50 percent from the mark of 2.1 they reported a year ago.
"When you look closely you see that there's more reliance [among] the companies that are using it," Weinroth said. "IT pros are just getting more proficient, more comfortable, as are their users."
Taken together, the new crop of mobile devices, transformative technologies like the cloud and virtualization and other factors combine to present small business IT workers with a barrage of new challenges. And, with the hiring lines generally flat, they are expected to confront these new challenges while still tending to the basics -- keeping the network secure, minimizing down time and responding to the needs of their users across other departments of the business, to name only a few.
"The small business IT pros are just kind of surrounded by these changes on all sides," Weinroth said. "The standard they're held to doesn't change," he added. "The bar hasn't been lowered, but the hurdle has been raised."
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. You can find Kenneth on LinkedIn.
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