Where vendors too often go wrong: SMBs need enterprise-grade IT too

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For far too long now, many vendors seem to have assumed that the IT requirements of small and mid-sized businesses are less complex than those of larger organisations. As a consequence, many of the systems sold into the SMB market were and are cut-down versions of those offered to their large enterprise customers, but frequently lacking key capabilities or operational characteristics.

Some of us were arguing as far back as the 1980s that this was the wrong approach, and it is certainly not the right approach today, as a paper we recently published made clear.

The reasons for this are many, and should be obvious even with just a few minutes’ consideration. SMBs, like their larger enterprise cousins, are often just as dependent on their IT systems. As many examples show, without key systems business can grind to a halt – or at the very least, it becomes difficult to maintain key functions without slowing down essential business processes. Just think, customer support without IT takes us back to bits of paper, pens that may not work, and people desperately trying to figure out who to contact to fix something.

The result? Frequently it is reduced revenue, greatly increased staff workload and, perhaps most damaging of all, customer dissatisfaction. After all, even in odd times like these, most customers can go somewhere else, and if they go, will they come back?

The dependence of SMBs on their IT in order to function efficiently is no different from that of bigger companies. This means that the important IT systems used by SMBs must be resilient to failure and able to scale up and down as the business climate demands.

How the IT needs of SMBs and large enterprises really differ

But as SMBs may not be large enough to justify dedicating different systems to specific workloads, those they use need to be able to run a variety of workloads with different performance characteristics. Running, and trying to manage, multiple silos hasn’t been the best option for more than a decade.

And, of course, they need to be cost-effective. That does not mean “cheap”. Indeed, if the systems are resilient and able to scale over time, it’s often the case that a system that appears to have a higher acquisition price may have a much longer effective lifetime before it needs to be replaced. In essence, over longer accounting periods than a single budget year, these systems may work out less expensive.

The cost question also gives a potential advantage to vendors who can bring to SMBs the same range of flexible payment methods that they have available today for their enterprise customers. But only if they also provide excellent support to SMBs, either directly or via their channel partners.

The paper I mentioned earlier, SMB-friendly IT solutions are needed, present a relatively detailed case for the characteristics such systems should have. What do you think? Is it time for big IT vendors to take the huge SMB market – and the channel partners who support it – more seriously?

Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.