Change is a given in business. And nowhere is change arguably more up front and personal than in a company's information technology infrastructure and systems.
There's a tsunami of change in the pipeline for businesses of all shapes and sizes — cloud computing, virtualization, ubiquitous access, bring-your-own-device (BYOD), consumerization, big data, predictive analytics, mobile computing. This list is endless. And it's equal opportunity, affecting small- and medium-sized businesses as well as the largest companies.
SMBs are in a unique position. While on the one hand they don't have the kind of resources to throw at this new IT ecosystem that large enterprises do, smaller firms have an inherent agility that often makes it easier for them to occupy the leading edge of technological change.
So, what's in store for SMBs in terms of IT? Chris Ogburn, Hewlett Packard's director of SMB and channel marketing, recently shared his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges that the changing world of IT will bring to SMBs.
BusinessNewsDaily: What are the significant trends that are going to affect SMBs over the next two years?
Chris Ogburn: I think a major trend we'll witness over the next two years will be a restructuring of how IT is implemented into the overall workflow of small- and medium-sized businesses. With the increase of mobile business and the popularity of hiring freelancers, the need for remote access to data has become very important. Businesses will continually need to evaluate how to provide manageability and security to maximize remote productivity.
Another complimentary trend is the evolution of BYOD. Consumerization is ahead of IT managers' abilities to manage sleek, easy-to-use consumer devices. The need to cross-connect these devices to central headquarters has been a task that is increasingly important for SMBs in order to execute projects and requests in real time. In the near future, we predict there will be a greater need for integration of these devices, both mobile and stationary.
For this reason, HP has created tools businesses can use to address the needs of growing SMBs to help them put an integrated IT system in place that is easy to work with, as well as to provide SMBs with the support they need to help make this transition.
BND: How will these trends benefit SMBs?
CO: SMBs are more agile by nature, which allows them to keep communication channels open and more efficient. This has always been a key competitive differentiator. But without IT structure and standards, it can also become their weakness.
BND:Is this evolution or revolution?
CO: A bit of both. The trend of combining consumer electronics with business features to better suit consumers and SMBs alike has been evolving, and HP is committed to meeting those needs. What makes it revolutionary has been the speed at which this evolution has taken place.
BND:What do SMBs need to do to prepare themselves for these trends? What changes will be required in hardware, software, people and processes?
CO: As with all trends, it's important to get ahead of them before they get ahead of you. That means changing processes to accommodate technological . In regards to BYOD, businesses must decide how to provide access to data at anytime, from anywhere, while keeping their network manageable and secure.
We often see SMBs who need to better manage their technological suite, which means working with a manufacturer that also serves as a support provider to decrease time spent by SMB IT teams. At HP, we've created a number of improvements and services that will put our hardware and software in front so that it fits the business customers' needs.
With all of the cross division in product, there needs to be a central hub of communication. And that requires a combination of software and hardware. For example, every business needs a quality printer that offers a range of options for agile SMBs, such as wireless printing capabilities.
BND: What can SMBs do to maximize these benefits?
CO: When the hardware and processes are in place, SMBs need to commit and back the strategies they've bought into. As the saying goes, old habits die hard. Members of the team should understand why new IT processes are put into place and fully understand their capabilities to improve workflow.
BND: Will old systems need to be replaced, or can they be upgraded in place? Are there benefits to a totally new installation?
CO: The bottom line is, eventually everyone will have to upgrade at some point to ensure success. But, in my experience, SMB owners are practical and would prefer to get the most out of the technology they have, for as long as they have it. The key is to not wait too long. For example, through my conversations with SMBs, I can estimate that about 40-50 percent still run Windows XP on their systems. These businesses will need to upgrade before the operating system is no longer supported and the company risks losing their system and ultimately revenue.
BND: Are there any bet-the-company developments on the horizon?
CO: As a technology company, we are always developing new products and services to meet the needs of our customers, whether consumer, commercial or SMB. There's no question that there is a lot of opportunity for us as a company to fine-tune our own device strategy. For that, we — like many SMBs — are looking to mobile as a differentiator, and that's evidenced in our recent product announcements. That strategy will be key in the future, too, as our SMB customers continue to demand more in that realm.
BND:Which of these trends are SMBs more prepared for? Least prepared for?
CO: I think SMBs have been on the cutting edge in terms of mobile and BYOD, and naturally so. As BYOD is an affordable solution to past IT costs, although one major hurdle that they might be least prepared for is management and security. To prepare, SMBs will need to apply centralized, integrated solutions so as to not have so many moving parts and risking inefficiency and loss of data. Simplifying what has and will further become a difficult world is the key to keeping your IT systems manageable and secure.
BND:What will the pain points be?
CO: SMBs have limited budgets and resources, and saving time and streamlining workflow is crucial to their success. It's not surprising that most of the challenges facing today's small businesses revolve around going from paper-intensive processes to digitized workflows. And that’s where technology can provide solutions.
Technology can also help manage multiple workflows, another SMB challenge. And cloud services technology is a cost-effective, efficient alternative for SMBs.
Finally, the increasing need for mobile access to the office is another SMB challenge. Business-class tablets, wireless printing options and wireless accessories can be a boon for SMBs who need to be able to respond quickly and professionally to the changing needs of business. In fact, studies show that being able to connect back to office processes via mobile can increase productivity by 36 percent.
BND: What kind of investment from "make-do" to "all-in" will these trends demand?
CO: Again, SMBs are smart, practical and budget conscious.Whatever investment they make in technology has to make sense for the bottom line, business goals and company objectives. And that number will be different for any business. It's important for SMBs to take a step back to consider their needs now, a year from now, five years from now and even 10 years from now — and consult with a knowledgeable technology professional about the most effective IT strategy and budget. You wouldn't buy a car without looking at the price, right? Not usually. But sometimes, it all depends on the car.
BND: While SMBs are coming to terms with the next wave of IT trends, what can they do to help prepare themselves for future generations of change?
CO: The best thing SMBs can do to help prepare themselves for future generations of change is to not be afraid of technology. Learn from enterprises and organizations that help teach about the benefits of IT and invest in the technology. Recent new business developments have led to a younger generation of entrepreneur more adept at technology. If you aren't currently investing in technology, you can bet that your competition is.
BND: What conditions need to exist or be created for these new trends to successfully take root?
CO: Trends are only trends if there is a need for them to exist. Currently, the conditions point to an ever-expanding amount of devices, platforms and more. As a result, we've seen trends that try to consolidate and aggregate these items in an attempt to make them more digestible.
Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.Follow us @BNDarticles, Facebook or Google +.