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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Culture is the strongest foundation of Zoho and applications are its biggest strength

Five years ago, I flew in from Newark into Mineta San Jose International Airport. At the baggage claim carousel, I noticed a massive advertisement of Zoho with the tag line – operating system for the business. I was both intrigued and non-committal. It was my first introduction to the company. Before that day, I had either not paid attention or had not come across the name. When I reached home, I sent an email to my team with a question, does Zoho appear in any of the surveys as a cloud business application that SMBs and midmarket firms are using. Two hours later, nearly midnight, I was pinged by my overseas team with an answer. Zoho's penetration had been increasing since 2009. I still did not give Zoho the serious consideration that it deserved. In 2019, during my several visits to Dell Technologies' events, I began noticing the remarkably colorful Zoho banners at the Austin, TX airport. During the same timeframe, the number of inquiries from our SMB panel of respondents seeking our take on Zoho increased. I knew I had to call Zoho's analyst relations, and I did. It was a turning point. I contacted a company where customers come for the products and get enriched by Zoho's ethos.

I first met Sridhar Vembu, CEO, Zoho, in January 2020. Unassuming, unpretentious, and unassertive, he was standing in his "chappals" and "bush shirt." He poured out his passion for building a company that cares for the underserved communities, hires, educates, and develops talent from underprivileged families. He is committed to keeping Zoho private and debt-free, fiercely protect its customers' privacy and security, and spread its offices in the rural areas of India, the US, Europe, and Japan. I knew I had to learn more. Soon enough, I also got swept up into Zoho's product portfolio. A collection of 50+ apps running on single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack consisting of services, software infrastructure, network infrastructure, and hardware infrastructure deployed on Zoho's data centers to ensure performance availability, security, and privacy. It is not for small businesses only. Zoho's fastest-growing market segment is the midmarket. Salesforce, Microsoft, and SAP are the established brands within the midmarket; Zoho is the challenger, not by deliberate design but by a sheer and silent commitment to customer success. I have interacted with many Zoho senior executives, product evangelists, and customers in the last year. The pervasiveness of genuine fondness to learn, desire to challenge the status quo, develop themselves as great human beings and develop solutions that exceed customer expectations is palpable. Zoho has as many micro-cultures as there are apps, fifty.

Zoho has been 25 years in the making. With 9000+ employees, 60+ million users in 180+ countries, annualized 5-year revenue growth of 34%, and a 97% customer retention rate, Zoho seems to be just getting started. Using a hub and spoke model – major city and adjacent rural areas – Zoho has opened 15+ small offices in the past six months to support local economies and partnerships. Sridhar Vembu, the recipient of Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian honors, calls the model a cloud-enabled rural revival. He returned to India from the US in September 2019 and has settled in a small rural village, Tenkasi, where even the street lights are non-existent.

Sridhar is setting the tone for the next 25 years. He aims to continue enhancing a vertically integrated technology stack (from the data center to applications) and building horizontal integration where different groups, micro-cultures, and departments feel empowered and collaborate seamlessly. The deep-seated culture is evident in the enthusiasm of Zoho's empathy and responsiveness to the pandemic. It instituted a 6-month subscription waiver for small businesses. To meet remote workers' needs, it launched Remotely, a suite of 11 free productivity tools. To enable workplace re-opening, it has announced the BackToWork app, free for a year. For Zoho, free does not mean using customer data for monetization. Zoho does not run on public clouds, has removed all adjunct surveillance, and does not collect or store any customer data.

Zoho's latest versions of Zoho Projects and Zoho Analytics (with 1500 built-in dashboards) are comprehensive, customizable, secure, scalable, and intelligent. Zoho's universal NLP (Natural Language Processing) search – across all apps and data pillars - provides contextual answers, processes 16 million search requests a day, and performs 150 million indexing jobs a day. Zoho's offering is the Low-code platform to empower citizen developers with last-mile customizations. It incorporates many new functionalities, including Zia (Zoho's AI platform), assisted development, and sandboxing. Zoho's other recent notable offerings include the Employee experience platform and Marketing platform.

Agility is essential to managing business uncertainties. It also translates into business process automation and rapid deployment, and enhancements to business applications. Specifically, the smaller a business is, the less likely it is to have dedicated staff developing custom applications to support unique processes. From pro-code to low code to no-code, Zoho Creator Platform can appeal to a broad swath of citizen and professional developers. For citizen developers, it reduces complex functions to one-click or drag-and-drop actions. For experienced developers, Zoho has added controls to build customized applications and services from the ground up. Like everything Zoho, the platform has been 15 years in development, rendering the learning from organizations of all sizes to better user experience and scalability. For specific vertical industries for whom governance is a vital issue, the platform is SOC2 Type II and GDPR compliant. It also provides authentication, encrypted data storage, and full lifecycle management. Zoho's low code platform, Zoho Creator Platform, currently has 13,000+ paying customers, which is up by approximately 30% during the pandemic year. A testament to how the platform empowered businesses to pivot with agility to respond to employee and customer needs.

Although Zoho is known for its focus on the small business segment, which continues to grow, it also gains traction within the enterprise segment. Zoho's largest customer is IIFL, with 28,000 employees using 45 of the 50 apps. Zoho is a genuine one-of-a-kind visionary firm. It is the complete CRM platform and has the most comprehensive toolsets for hybrid, co-modal work. Its flagship, Zoho One, has over 50 products designed for multiple business needs across productivity, finance, marketing, HR solutions, etc. I am glad I made the call to Zoho analyst relations. Zoho will continue to be within Techaisle's vendor research radar for a long time. It should be on the evaluation map for SMBs, mid-market firms, and enterprise customers.

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US SMB IT spending will grow by 7.6 percent in 2021

US SMB IT spend is forecast to grow by 7.6% in 2021 over 2020. In July 2020, we had written that resiliency, agility, and adaptability would accelerate recovery for SMBs. Techaisle's survey of 1720 US SMBs confirms the prognosis for the US market. Data shows that 45% of US SMBs will be in the high growth segment, with IT budget increases ranging between 7.5% to 15%. However, 12% of SMBs will experience budget decreases of more than 5%. The majority of the declining IT growth segment will be in the 1-49 employee sizes. Regardless, the small businesses will grow their IT spend. There is an apparent dichotomy appearing in how technology is likely to be acquired by SMBs. Nearly two-thirds of micro-businesses prefer acquisitions structured around leases, whereas one-fourth of midmarket firms plan to move to "as-a-service" approaches.

IT services spending will grow by 8.6%, driven by managed services, data/platform integration, cloud orchestration, and business process automation. As cloud applications increase, the demand for hybrid IT is becoming a pressing requirement for SMBs.

2021 will be the year of the midmarket segment, with IT spending forecast to grow by 8%. Data illustrates a fascinating picture showing IT budget increasing in direct proportion with size, from 100-249 to 500-999 employee firms. The upper midmarket (1000-4999 employee size segment) will have an average budget increase of 6.1%, slightly lower than the 500-999 size business.

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Wildix – an SMB-focused UCC firm you have never heard of – but you should

Founded by brothers Steve and Dimitri Osler in 2005 in Italy, Wildix created the industry's first browser-based Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) solution for small and medium enterprises with between 50 and 1000 employees. Deriving 100% revenue from its 1000+ certified channel partners, Wildix grew by 32% YoY with MRR at +274%. Its UCC solution is accessible with a simple click from a browser or via a smartphone App. The solution with webRTC technology has multiple integrations, native encryption, and proprietary hardware to deliver high-quality sound and video.

Techaisle's SMB and the midmarket survey show that Unified communications and collaboration are an IT priority for 68% of SMBs in the 50-1000 employee size segment. Unified communications adoption is likely to increase by 129% in 2021. Although there has been a high percentage of adoption and usage of individual components of communications and messaging, the adoption has been low when combined in one service. It has been a domain of midmarket businesses. Unified communications within small businesses has many inhibitors. At the top of the list are overall cost, lack of IT staff to manage, and lack of interoperability with other on-premise and cloud systems. Besides, similar to most other daily-use technologies, unified communications adoption suffers from internal staff resistance to learn and use. Adopting UCC solutions, like the adoption of most technology solutions, starts with a point of business pain: how can suppliers address an issue that impedes SMB business success.

Wildix is in the right market segment, with the right solution, at the right time. However, WebRTC is not a rarity anymore. Wildix may have been the pioneer, but almost all communication solution providers use WebRTC, including Wildix's main US competitors, Vonage and RingCentral. Wildix focuses on its positioning, not based on products, pricing, and features, oriented towards SMB business issues. It is a conscious shift from being features-oriented to value-oriented, which means understanding business problems, designing profitable solutions, and delivering the value that matches the SMB customer's business issues.

As a result, Wildix is becoming a sales-oriented unified communications solution and has created "boosters" for each step of an SMB's buying journey with a mission to sell growth, revenue, and productivity. All three are the top SMB business issues as per Techaisle's latest global survey. Wildix has over fifty integrations, including sales solutions such as Salesforce, Zoho, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics, Teams, Poly, Freshdesk, HubSpot, InfusionSoft, SAP, and Zendesk.

Over the last year, Wildix has "invested 125,000 person-hours of over 80 developers, QA engineers, and UX specialists in launching new and enhanced products to improve its positioning in the market. WebRTC KITE, Wizyconf, Wizywebinar, x-bees, and x-caracal form the centerpiece of Wildix's sales-oriented UCC solution. The objective is to help SMBs convert strangers into customers turning any website into the core of an SMB's sales efforts.

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Cisco Meraki masterfully enabling digital workplaces for SMBs

New work patterns and the acceleration of distributed workplaces are resulting in a range of productivity benefits for SMBs today. As such, businesses see increased workforce efficiencies and talent recruitment while minimizing cost by reducing intermediaries and integrating contract professionals – and even improved environmental performance through reduced commuting and building footprints.

In the quest to deploy a perfect hybrid workplace technology infrastructure, SMBs often overlook networking – wireless, routers, firewalls, and beyond. Similarly, as small business retailers and other small commercial offices struggle with re-opening uncertainties, they also grapple with the daunting task of enabling secure and safe environments for their employees and customers. Digitization with minimum IT disruption and low manageability is on their minds.

Cash flow constraints, limited access to finances, competitive landscapes, the need for innovation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more are drivers for achieving cost efficiencies within SMBs. Digital transformation is no longer the domain of only upper midmarket firms and enterprises. Techaisle's SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation survey research shows that 46% of SMBs are adopting digital transformation to reduce costs, and 38% are planning for innovation in customer engagement and services.

Helping SMBs thrive with robust IT solutions

Unbeknownst to many, the Cisco Meraki platform and the solutions it powers is a critical foundational technology to fast-forward digital transformation for SMBs. Much of this comes from its ease of use, simplicity, and flexibility for lean IT to innovate by doing more with less.

Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012, around the same time (2013), when it divested Linksys to Belkin. Over the years, Cisco has continued to innovate on its highly successful Meraki platform. It is no secret that Cisco Meraki invented cloud-managed networking technology in 2006. It has continued to innovate and expand the networking portfolio to IoT solutions and cover any business need or use case. The Meraki platform consists of switching, security & SD-WAN, wireless access points, mobile device management, and extending to IoT, including smart cameras and AI-equipped sensors to drive business intelligence.

Regarding deep intelligence and analytics, Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allow SMBs to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from the Meraki dashboard or API and easily detect and fix potential issues in minutes. Techaisle's survey shows that only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff. They spend 79% of their time on support, maintenance, and troubleshooting— creating an IT efficiency deficit and negatively impacting organizational productivity. Meraki Health's objective is to simplify troubleshooting for the lean, almost non-existent, or over-burdened small business owner/manager. Small businesses need to propel growth and enable new business initiatives freeing up time and resources. To ease the digital transformation, Meraki provides many capabilities that protect SMBs of any size, including:

  • Preventing cyber-attacks: Meraki MX Security & SD-WAN appliances protect SMB businesses, users, and devices. Meraki security has the backing of Cisco Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams globally.
  • Deploying remote workers: Meraki Z3 teleworker gateways provide connectivity and secure and seamless in-office experiences. Meraki Insight delivers deep visibility into critical business applications and proactive troubleshooting for remote workers.
  • Ensuring safe occupancy: Meraki MV smart cameras let SMBs maintain social distancing guidelines by remotely monitoring and tracking safe occupancy levels in physical environments through intelligent analytics, such as object detection and tracking.
  • Cost savings from simplicity: All Meraki products are deployed and controlled from a single pane of glass. Meraki Health is available for all devices, saving many troubleshooting times by pinpointing specific problematic devices and clients via root cause analysis.

SMBs agree that Meraki solutions can be quickly deployed with zero-touch provisioning and configuration and remotely managed through a cloud-based GUI dashboard (single pane of glass), with all-inclusive licensing. Meraki provides 24/7 technical support (email or phone) and a lifetime warranty on devices (except cameras & outdoor APs) with advanced replacement.

Challenges in small business security

Techaisle's SMB security survey research data shows that security is a top IT priority and challenge for 76% of SMBs, and 65% are planning to increase IT security investments. Within the SMB segment, small businesses often lack the skills required to work with software-based security solutions and are 25%-33% less likely than midmarket firms to work with managed service providers.

Most small businesses are not proactive in addressing security issues, but that may not be the whole problem or perhaps even the greatest obstacle to small businesses’ adoption of security technology. Relative to midmarket firms, small businesses have limited to no internal IT security staff, are not generally working with a managed service provider capable of handling security needs, and are about 50% less likely to embrace external vendors' software-based security solutions.

While small businesses could theoretically pursue some strategies used by larger competitors, they lack the experience and skills to identify, deploy, and manage the products and relationships used to develop shields protecting valuable corporate data, applications, and human assets.

Meraki addresses these issues by providing a secure in-office experience to remote workers—giving access to applications while maintaining visibility and control from anywhere with a cloud-managed dashboard. It also encrypts data with Auto VPN, allowing employees to quickly, securely, and remotely connect to corporate locations.

Meraki smart cameras also address physical security, remote monitoring, and intelligence by including on-device storage and flexibility to access data through the cloud. The cameras allow for many playback features with machine learning and AI to compress the data and provide business intelligence instantly gleaned from long recordings. It is an ideal product for SMBs implementing social distancing guidelines, remotely monitoring physical spaces, reducing in-person exposure on-site, and ensuring comprehensive security.

How SMBs can adapt and digitize

As I said earlier, there is increasing importance for innovation and digitization (not referring strictly to the substitution of digital records for physical documents, but more broadly to the use of digital technologies to meet business goals) in SMB strategy. Dependence on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a perfect storm for small businesses to adapt to changing environments using specifically designed technology.

Over the last few months, we studied use cases and Meraki's usefulness within the SMB segment. Meraki addresses real and compelling issues, and I believe it will continue to expand within the SMB community. Verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services have been quick adopters of Meraki, specifically for launching new business models, deploying remote workers, transitioning to hybrid workplaces, cybersecurity, location analysis, contact tracing, social distancing, personal safety, curbside pickup, and more.

SMB owners and executives are concerned with issues that extend beyond technology. Yet, today's business environments are increasingly dependent on IT support, products, and services that improve productivity and efficiency or expand market reach and potential.

Final Techaisle Take

IT initiatives that can be linked meaningfully to broader business objectives can attract SMB executive support – meaning that products and services that address key business priorities have the most significant growth potential. Meraki is well on its way.

Today's economy demands that technology support SMB activities. The future will be defined by them capitalizing on technology-enabled business options. If SMBs are thinking about the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity, they should include Meraki in their evaluations. Writing this analysis reminds me that I work from home and should probably replace my mesh routers with Meraki devices.

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