IT channel partners feel the immediate effects of any IT trend change in market forces or business operations and have to adjust their channel strategy. In the last five years, a lot has changed in IT, including the advent of cloud computing, the massive adoption of virtualization and mobile computing platforms. This shift brings opportunities to the channel, including an increase in demand for wireless services, cloud-based storage, desktop virtualization infrastructure, mobile device management and more, with each new trend using new infrastructure and software.
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To get an idea of how the IT environment is changing at small and medium-sized businesses and what shifts in IT channel strategy these changes require, we talked to Tim Howard, chief technology officer at RMON Networks Inc., an IT solutions provider in Kingston, N.H.
How has the SMB IT environment changed in the last five years? What technologies are being used and what infrastructure do they require?
Tim Howard: Ubiquitous connectivity is something many of us have come to expect as the standard. This has changed the way employees use IT and what they desire from their IT departments. This has really been a business communication revolution. It used to be that companies built processes and supported employees in the office, but now they have adopted different mindsets. It wasn't long ago when the idea of accessing your data remotely meant hours of time downloading, uploading and limited connectivity. The transitions to the cloud and BYOD [bring-your-own-device] infrastructures have become a natural progression as the demand for mobility increases.
What are the challenges to IT of employee expectations around ubiquitous connectivity at home, office or on the road?
Howard: The main challenge for the IT employee is always security, especially with an increasingly mobile infrastructure. More access points to important company information through ubiquitous connectivity, means more monitoring of the network for security breaches. Ensuring that employees have taken all the necessary steps to secure their devices can be a challenge for both businesses and IT departments. The IT department has to follow up more frequently on devices than they have in the past -- especially with BYOD. Allowing employees to bring their own devices also means IT departments need to be more diverse than ever in their knowledge of operating systems and devices.
How does the BYOD trend affect small businesses? What challenges does this present to IT?
Howard: There are countless benefits for small businesses allowing BYOD. Businesses are able to increase productivity without any additional costs. This is especially beneficial to the small business that has to do more with less time, money and resources.
But security breaches can be detrimental to the small business. More than ever, the IT department has to pay close attention to the security of employee devices and the network. Small businesses have a smaller IT department, maybe just one person. Asking them to not only run the network, but also to manage the security of employees -- as well as be versed in a variety of devices -- is a serious challenge.
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How are SMBs doing "more with less?" What do they need help with from the channel?
Howard: SMBs are doing more with less by adopting infrastructures that allow for maximizing their budgets. BYOD and cloud infrastructures increase productivity while saving money on large [and] expensive hardware and provide more appealing methods of payments.
Additionally, by outsourcing IT needs to managed service providers, they are able to increase the size of their IT department without breaking the bank. By either replacing the department with an external company or employing the external company to work with the IT employee(s), businesses save money by preventing costly security breaches. The channel helps businesses educate the employees. By partnering with the leaders in the industry, solutions providers can educate employees. This saves SMBs resources by preventing security breaches.
What benefits does cloud computing offer to SMBs under the current economic and business conditions?
Howard: The current economic situation has SMBs' resources and time stretched thin. When there is a product that can support an SMB with both of these areas, it's always a good thing. To help with resources, companies using cloud computing save in the cost of hardware. Before cloud computing, SMBs would buy unnecessary storage for their data, and it wouldn't be used. Now, they're able to store the data in the cloud, and as their companies grow, their storage can grow with them.
Cloud computing also allows employees remote access to files. With personal mobile devices, employees can work more on the road when they are out of the office. This saves the employees' time once they are back in the office, enabling them to spend their time more efficiently in other areas.
How is RMON Networks adapting its business model to these changes in the SMB market?
Howard: RMON's business model is built on the cornerstone of security. As an SMB that started around the same time as the economic downturn, we've always focused on maximizing the value of our dollar. RMON has adopted cloud practices ourselves -- we currently use Microsoft Office 365 and we are a BYOD environment. When our engineers are on-site, they are able to stay connected with happenings back at our office. Although we are an SMB, we continue to expand our options for our customers and update employees on new products or offerings from our partners.
What does the future hold? How can an IT channel partner strategy prepare to serve the SMB market needs of the future?
Howard: SMBs are doing more with less by adopting infrastructures that allow for maximizing their budgets and growth. They need an environment that can grow with them, and [to] avoid investing in hardware that won't meet their needs in two or three years.
Trends such as BYOD and cloud infrastructures will continue to increase productivity while saving money. Additionally, SMBs partnering with an IT service company will benefit by expanding their IT department and getting additional specialized support. By either replacing the department with an external company or employing the external company to work with the IT employee(s), businesses save money by preventing costly security breaches. The channel will also continue to help SMBs, educating them about new technologies.