Forewarned is forearmed, particularly for small business owners who want to keep up with a shifting technology landscape. And similar to how innovations like smartphones, tablets and cloud computing reshaped small business IT last year, 2013 has the makings of another tumultuous year in technology.
Of course, that begs the question, is it worth trying to keep up at all? Yes, says analyst Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner of the SMB Group, a market research firm.
"It's getting to a point where it's very difficult to ignore technology," says McCabe. For small businesses owners, it can oftentimes seem that technology creates as many problems as it solves. Despite the challenges, there's an overwhelmingly good reason for pursuing IT solutions.
Among those small businesses that employ computer technology, "revenue growth is higher than that of their peers," says McCabe. Success generally comes to those who "think about it more strategically and see it as a business enabler," she adds.
Here are just some of Laurie McCabe's top SMB technology market predictions for 2013, in no particular order.
Social media use among small and midsized businesses (SMBs) jumped last year to 58 percent from 53 percent in 2011. Unfortunately, strategic use of social channels eludes most small businesses.
Echoing some of the themes of her group's findings in 2012, McCabe notes that only 28 percent of SMBs are strategic in their use of social media. "The percentage that uses it strategically isn't going up," she laments.
In 2013, random tweets and other ad-hoc approaches to social media engagement won't cut it. McCabe recommends aligning your social media activity to your business goals, measuring the outcomes and adjusting your strategy accordingly.
This represents a big opportunity for social media vendors in the coming year. McCabe describes the current state of small business social media software solutions as "still very piecemeal, very clunky." Those that manage to deliver a seamlessly integrated suite for small businesses could make it big in 2013.
Bridging the Big Data Divide
There was no escaping Big Data last year. Businesses were enthralled by the prospect of unearthing potentially profitable insights that lurk within their huge data stores of transaction logs, customer files and social media activity feeds.
A competitive edge awaits those that dive in and bring sophisticated analytics tools to bear, or so the thinking goes. However, "a lot of small businesses are not even in the game," says McCabe.
According to her company's findings, a mere 18 percent of small businesses have implemented or upgraded a business intelligence solution in the past 24 months. Only 17 percent expect do so over the next year.
Does that mean Big Data is out of reach for small businesses? Not necessarily, says McCabe.
"To make it relevant for these smaller businesses, a lot of education that has to be done," she says. Big Data solutions providers that want to expand into the small business market will want to turn their attention to-simple-to-use tools that seamlessly integrate into their existing business apps.
Mobility's a Must
The explosive rate of smartphone and tablet adoption isn't just transforming the way consumers search, share and shop online, it's also shaking up the small business IT market, says McCabe. And she has the stats to back it up.
In blog post, McCabe writes, "SMB use of mobile business apps for employees rose from 17.5 percent to 21 percent from late 2010 to 2012, adoption of mobile-friendly websites ticked up from 18 percent to 34.5 percent, and mobile commerce adoption increased by 5 percent."
Paradoxically, mobile incurs "a lot of cost," warns McCabe. While typically cheaper than PCs, and infinitely more portable, devices like smartphones and tablets can represent "big ticket expenditures." That means small business owners will turn their attention to protecting them.
Supporting mobile device use in the workplace is becoming a priority for small business IT professionals. Expect SMBs to focus on security and mobile device management (MDM) as they seek to safeguard and exert control over their mobile ecosystems.
Cloudy, with a Good Chance of Success
If there's one technology that small businesses have not been shy about leveraging strategically, it's cloud computing.
No longer do small businesses have to fork over huge sums of money for servers, networking, storage and software. Instead you pay an affordable subscription fee, which frees up funds for other business-boosting endeavors.
Cloud services reached a big tipping point last year. According to the SMB Group, 52 percent of SMBs employ cloud solutions. On-premises software solutions are clearly losing their luster among small businesses. Expect the trend to continue as the IT industry targets small businesses with a growing number of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions.
Prioritizing Data Protection
If you haven't already done so, put together a data backup plan. Next, take a gander at the following statistics.
"As regulatory pressure and consumer scrutiny to safeguard data intensifies, SMB investments for data backup, security, server virtualization and desktop virtualization solutions will rise. Fifty-five percent, 50 percent, 34 percent and 36 percent of SMBs, respectively, plan to purchase and/or upgrade solutions in these areas in 2013," blogs McCabe.
Small businesses aren't investing in backup and security solutions just for the sake of it. The "mobile-social-cloud triumvirate," as McCabe describes it, is responsible for a huge volume of data that SMBs must protect to stay in business.
If you still doubt that data protection is vital for small business, consider this. Last year, Symantec published a study that put small business owners on alert. Lax security practices cost SMBs $126,000 a year. While moneyed firms can take the hit and live to see another day, for some mom and pops it is a staggering blow that can end their business.
To shutter your business because of challenging market conditions is tragic, but losing your business due to a weak password or the lack of data backups is inexcusable in this day and age.
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