As workforces become more mobile, IT pros are trying to keep up with security needs.
- Among more than 400 North American IT professionals, 55% said their employee technology experience "resembles a consumer-like model." The same percentage says that's been very or extremely effective at letting people work remotely.
- Because of suboptimal collaboration tools, 66% said their workforce deals with delays or other undesirable outcomes on projects at least five times a week.
- Still, respondents described cloud technology as having the biggest effect on an organization's future growth.
Apps on your phone connect to it, communication servers depend on it, and services like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive wouldn't exist without it. Whether you know it or not, you're using the cloud at this very moment. The advent of this nebulous tech in recent years has changed many facets of our lives – especially how we work.
While it has enabled easier collaboration and a more mobile work environment, a study of more than 400 IT professionals at independent and growing North American businesses found that the cloud poses unique problems for the people who strive to keep data secure.
According to the Insight 2020 Technology Report: IT Trends for Midmarket and Small Business, approximately 55% of respondents agreed that cloud-based work solutions not only help their organization "resemble a consumer-like model," but also make remote work either very or extremely effective. While that sounds completely positive, researchers found that 66% said working in the cloud has caused "delays or worse-than-expected outcomes" on projects at least five times per week.
Brenda Hudson, vice president of inside sales at Insight, said companies that don't embrace employee choice and flexibility in where and when employees work are "behind the times," but measures should still be taken to boost productivity across the board.
"Businesses, especially midsized and smaller organizations, need to invest meaningful resources in structuring flexible IT policies to ensure that outcomes don't suffer," she said. "Unfortunately, we're seeing SMBs stumble as they work to navigate a growing universe of devices and collaboration tools."
While the adoption of digital innovations always comes with some growing pains, IT pros said they saw "significant opportunity for improved outcomes." Areas like customer experience, operational efficiency and workforce productivity could see major boosts, they said.
New tech meets old tech in a bad way
One of the hardest and most expensive things to do as a small business is upgrading tech, largely thanks to the high price tags of industry-leading devices. Margins are already tight for emerging companies, so replacing a server that has worked for the last few years with a modern, cloud-friendly one can be hard to swallow.
Yet trying to adopt new digital technology on aging hardware while still meeting daily operations is one of the "most acute problems" that researchers said SMBs must solve. According to the study, 95% of respondents said they either have already implemented new "digital transformation initiatives" or plan to implement them within the next year. Furthermore, 49% said adding new tech on older systems is either very or extremely challenging.
Among the most challenging aspects of implementing the latest tech, understanding which ones the company should invest in was at the top of the list, with 45% of respondents reporting this as a challenge. Meanwhile, 44% said budget constraints were the biggest hurdle for adoption. [Read related article: Save Money and Boost Productivity by Upgrading Your Technology]
SMBs like the cloud, but stumble on full adoption
Among the technologies that would most impact their organizations, respondents said cloud technology will be the most important addition to help company growth, with data analytics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things close behind.
With cloud-based upgrades likely to be the first adoptions by SMB owners, IT professionals emphasize that this requires more than just flipping a switch. Migration and implementation can be difficult for SMBs.
Two major hindrances that SMB IT departments regularly face when switching legacy infrastructure to the cloud, according to the researchers, are associated costs and the need for security. More than half of respondents (56%) said comparing current costs with migration costs was a major barrier. Additionally, 65% said making sure data is secure and compliant with current regulations is a "primary challenge when it comes to cloud implementation."
"All too often, we see businesses make missteps from the start when moving critical application and development operations to the cloud," said Ed Schuber, Insight's Northeast market leader. "Setting up an organization for cloud success begins with clearly defined strategic goals, proper onboarding, ample end-user support, and a means to monitor cloud consumption to ensure the greatest optimization of these investments." [Read related article: Your Guide on How to Back Up Your Computer to Google's Cloud]
Vendor overload also causes problems
Since businesses of all sizes rely on outsourcing to handle their IT needs, there are countless vendors willing to step in and help – for a fee, of course. With so many potential partners to consider, it's hard for companies to know which ones best fit their needs.
According to the survey, 41% of respondents told researchers that their companies were using six to 10 IT vendors. Even more troubling is that 24% said they were using more than 10.
That kind of fragmentation can lead to some major problems. According to the data, these IT professionals run into issues when dealing with service providers to handle certain problems. The most difficult task, respondents said, is customizing solutions to fit the company and its needs. Other major issues include coordinating internal and external resources on complex IT projects (43%), vendors catering more to larger enterprises (43%), managing assets and juggling licenses from multiple providers (40%), and vendors failing to understand small businesses' needs (40%).
"IT leaders understand that, in a limited-resource environment, there is inherent tension between what needs to get done today versus what needs to get done tomorrow," said Steve Dodenhoff, president of Insight North America. "There's also a fear that innovation will cause disruption – and not the good kind. But the very technology problems SMBs fear can be solved by investing in innovation. It needn't be 'today or tomorrow.' IT operations and investments should be 'today and tomorrow.'"