Small and midsized businesses intend to expand their use of technology to improve customer interactions, mobility options and operational efficiencies, according to a study released by CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association for the IT industry. Seven out of 10 SMBs surveyed said they expect to increase their technology spending over the next 12 months, according to the organization's Third Annual Small and Medium Business Technology Adoptions Trends study.
A third of the companies surveyed expect to increase their IT budget by 10 percent or more. The report said this might reflect large, one-time purchases, which is a good sign for technology vendors and solution providers. In the aggregate, the report expects SMB IT budgets to increase by an average of slightly over 5 percent, with some firms' growth rates much higher and some flat.
"Technology is more accessible, more affordable and more available to SMBs than ever before," said Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at CompTIA. "SMBs may not have an abundance of capital to invest, so they have to make every dollar count. But the majority is willing to spend money on new technologies, especially solutions that give them capabilities on par with a larger enterprise. Technology plays an integral role in the life of a small business."
Among the factors driving SMB technology buying decisions over the next 12 months are desires for better network efficiencies and robustness, improved connections with customers online and in a mobile environment, enhanced resource management and tracking, and more business analytics.
The desire to become more mobile-for both customer interactions and employee productivity-is a trend identified in the CompTIA study. For medium-sized businesses (those with100-499 employees), 42 percent currently have technologies in place-tablets, laptops, smartphones and other devices-that allow them to interact with customers and give employees access to applications, data and networks in a mobile environment. Another 33 percent plan to do so in the next 12 months.
Among small businesses (10 to 99 employees), 25 percent use mobile solutions and 43 percent expect to start doing so in the next 12 months. Even micro businesses (one to nine employees) expect to significantly increase their use of mobile technology, with current usage at 12 percent and planned usage at 22 percent.
Another example of how SMBs mirror their larger counterparts in technology use is in the "consumerization" of IT in the corporate environment. A full 85 percent of SMBs surveyed said their employees use personal tech devices for work purposes. Laptops and smartphones are the most popular options, but 38 percent of the companies see employees bringing in tablets.
While personal devices may offer convenience and productivity benefits, the CompTIA study suggests that the trend is cause for concern among the large majority (82 percent) of SMBs. Midmarket companies may be seeking to mitigate these risks by purchasing tablets, laptops, smartphones and other devices their employees use, bringing them under corporate control.
"The top concerns are security-related, whether in the form of a virus being brought into the company network or some breach related to customer data," Robinson said. "The time supporting these devices is also cited as a concern, whether it's time spent by IT staff or by individual employees attempting to access corporate networks and applications."
Nearly one-third of SMBs have adopted cloud-computing technology, with medium-sized businesses showing the highest utilization (42 percent). Another 35 percent of all SMBs plan to use the cloud in some form in the next year. Storage and backup solutions are the most heavily used cloud applications, with 71 percent of SMBs using the cloud in this way. Email (62 percent), document management (59 percent), collaboration (56 percent) and CRM (53 percent) are other popular options.
Among SMBs now using cloud computing, 92 percent of firms say their experience has been positive or very positive, and 97 percent report that their move to the cloud has produced the desired result, with cost and flexibility most frequently cited as the benefits of a cloud solution.