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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.

Cisco’s Master Plan for Seizing the SMB Market Opportunity

According to data from Techaisle, it is projected that the global IT expenditure of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will escalate to a staggering US$1.35 trillion by 2024. Furthermore, this spending is anticipated to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7%, extending through 2028. Cisco is making a significant push into the SMB market, a segment where it has enjoyed steady growth. In fiscal year 2023, which concluded in July, the SMB segment was Cisco’s top-performing customer category for a third consecutive year. Cisco sees this segment as a $25 billion addressable market opportunity, captured with mid to high-tier SMBs transitioning to cloud and SaaS solutions. Notably, about 20% of Cisco’s SMB business comes from new customers every year, underscoring this segment's critical role in expanding Cisco’s reach and reflecting on the growing demand for technology amongst SMBs.

Cisco’s go-to-market in the SMB segment is partner-led, catalyzed with continuous partner-focused programs, initiatives, and marketing investments to foster robust relationships. According to the latest research by Techaisle, a significant majority of SMBs, 87%, depend on their partners for technology solutions. Furthermore, these SMBs channel nearly 89% of their IT expenditure through these partners. Cisco is, therefore, continuously enhancing its engagement with partners, revamping its marketing strategies, and adapting to the changing needs of its customers. A vital part of this strategy is the focus on the new “Scale” go-to-market initiative, aligned to engaging SMB customers and Partners in this space, as unveiled at the company’s sales kickoff meeting in August. This model offers partners and customers enhanced sales and marketing support, ensuring that SMBs receive expert advice in crucial care-about areas such as cybersecurity or hybrid work.

The concept of “digital transformation” has become a staple in corporate discussions over the years. While some may write it off as a fad, many, particularly SMBs, understand its importance. For these businesses, digital transformation involves adopting digital technologies to streamline operations, improve customer relationships, and position themselves as agile and innovative entities in their respective fields. Techaisle data reveals that 71% of SMBs are investing in digital transformation, and 37% have a holistic digital strategy. SMBs, once perceived as technologically behind, are actively embracing cloud solutions to meet their IT requirements. These technologies have become crucial to their digital transformation journey, enabling them to automate various operational aspects and gain a competitive advantage through essential business process automation tools, orchestration, and integration or advanced offerings like custom AI and analytics applications hosted on cloud platforms.

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Cisco’s Unified Cybersecurity Strategy: XDR, Duo, Umbrella, and Partner Ecosystem

As the market becomes flooded with specialized security solutions, an important question arises: Who can effectively integrate and manage all these different solutions? Cisco is making changes to position itself as a leading contender. As a comprehensive solution provider, Cisco can fill gaps in the cybersecurity landscape and ensure a cohesive approach to security, especially cloud security. It is building and integrating its portfolio of offerings, for example, XDR, Umbrella, Duo, Talos, many others, and now Armorblox.

As threats evolve, security efforts have shifted from solely preventing incidents to investigating them quickly and anticipating future risks. With IT environments now comprising interconnected networks, communication tools, mobile devices, cloud applications, and more, security is a top priority. Techaisle data shows that security is an IT priority for 74% of small businesses, 85% of SMBs, and 100% of midmarket firms. Endpoint security is already relatively widely adopted by SMBs. In addition, security suppliers have made headway in gaining customers for mobile hardware and access control security services. While Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools are helpful, their capabilities are limited to detecting and responding to threats on endpoints and servers. Prevention remains the best approach to security, but detection is essential.

Cisco’s new XDR technology presents exciting opportunities for business growth by leveraging its vast network infrastructure and customer data to tackle security challenges. To strengthen its position in the security industry, Cisco is streamlining its go-to-market strategy and investing in partnerships to unify its cybersecurity offerings. Its partner growth strategy includes upgrading firewalls and refreshing products for existing customers, offering competitive pricing and margins to win new business, and introducing new partner offers for Security Operations Centers, such as Managed Detection and Response using Cisco XDR.

Cyberattacks targeting small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have increased, particularly ransomware and DDoS attacks. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) safeguards employee identities and credentials. However, only 16% of SMBs and 25% of midmarket firms use MFA enterprise-wide. Similarly, only 13% of SMBs and 16% of midmarket firms have adopted single sign-on. However, the intent to adopt is significantly higher. Cisco offers MFA and single-sign-on (SSO) through its Duo offering, introducing innovations such as passwordless and risk-based authentication and Verified Duo Push. In addition, Duo has made security more accessible by integrating its Duo Trusted Endpoints capability into all service tiers, allowing users to restrict access only from corporate-managed devices or devices registered with Duo. This helps prevent unauthorized access attempts from unknown devices. In the advanced tiers, users can also assess the devices’ health before granting access and block risky or non-compliant devices, such as those running out-of-date software.

Securing endpoints and servers is essential for organizations, but cybercriminals are finding ways to bypass these measures through covert attacks. Instead of directly targeting high-value assets in data centers, they gain access through laptops and move laterally through the network. As a result, relying solely on an EDR solution or a firewall is not enough to detect and prevent cyberattacks. To fully protect IT infrastructure, it’s necessary to integrate prevention, detection, and response technologies into a single solution. This is where Extended Detection and Response (XDR) comes in, providing a comprehensive approach to security.

XDR builds upon the concept of EDR and expands its scope. It goes beyond the endpoint and server by integrating data from various security tools, including firewalls, email gateways, endpoint, network, identity, DNS, public cloud tools, and mobile threat management solutions. While it is possible to connect these components manually, a comprehensive XDR solution is designed to function as a unified system wherein components are interconnected and work together seamlessly to optimize threat detection and response workflows. Cisco's XDR solution in one such system.

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SMBs Make Cloud Calling and Collaboration a Priority – Webex Gets it

Historically, remote work solutions have been the domain of large enterprises equipped with processes and technology resources needed to support workers in the field. However, driven by short- and longer-term factors, flexible work options are now available to employees in businesses of all sizes. Moreover, as social distance health requirements forced the temporary closure of public office spaces, remote work became a matter of survival for many organizations. The pandemic has also crystalized recognition of the productivity benefits of technology-enabled remote work – measured in output rather than hours – which is sure to have a profound and durable impact on workplace behaviors. Today, working from anywhere is the new normal, enabled by powerful communication and collaboration tools, which draw together workers regardless of physical location and are becoming the catalyst for change in large and smaller businesses. What are the primary enablers of this flexible work trend? Data shows a growing commitment to leveraging the power of the cloud and adjacent technologies of mobility, cloud calling, and collaboration - technologies that allow workers and teams to connect, reflect, and share insights and output. Techaisle SMB and Midmarket Hybrid work and collaboration adoption survey, N=1810, shows that:

  • 93% of SMBs have prioritized remote and hybrid workplace technology solution adoption
  • 58% of employees in the SMB segment are likely to work remotely
  • 79% of SMBs are prioritizing cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions which show evolving recognition of the value of cloud calling and collaboration

The simultaneous commitment to cloud calling and collaboration solutions and future planning around a return to the office suggest that something deeper is at play in the SMB communications solution marketplace. Cloud calling and Collaboration are central components of virtually all SMB business activities. The need to communicate anywhere, anytime also means any type of communication and collaboration – synchronous/asynchronous, serendipitous/scheduled, on-the-go/fixed location, within a virtual workspace/within a specific app, with employees/partners/customers. As the lines of demarcation between tasks have been eroded by the increased pace and changing nature of business activities, SMBs have moved past linking discrete actions through linear, sequential processes. Instead, in today's business environment, SMBs interact at all points in the business cycle: in cross-functional planning and management, within a single co-created document, in the stages and connection points defined by their business processes, in delivering better customer experiences, and enabling improved employee productivity.

There is value in adopting unified cloud calling and collaboration. The use of traditional collaboration tools by SMBs is well-established. However, cloud calling solutions are rapidly gaining attention from SMBs. With nearly a hundred percent cloud priority, shifting from on-prem solutions (acquired through CAPEX budget) to cloud-based as-a-service offerings creates a sort of inflection point. As the name implies, cloud calling is cloud-based and available as a subscription. It supports remote work and mobility, provides cash flow predictability, easily integrates within the employees' workspace, and improves IT manageability and efficiency.

A significant collaboration technology shift is SMB's use of a cloud-based communications platform with integrated telephony (audio/video/web conferencing), IM/chat/presence, unified messaging, and mobility. Techaisle data shows that today, just under a third (27%) of SMBs are using integrated solutions, while over a third (35%) plan to adopt the platform in the coming year, a likely adoption growth of over 100%.

The Webex integrated collaboration platform

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Cisco Webex democratizing collaboration regardless of the workplace, work environment, and workspace

As the world turned to Zoom, I switched to Webex. I have been using Webex for the last ten months. I have experienced nothing but delight with the Webex collaboration application suite, including Webex Teams, Webex Desk Pro, and Cisco Webex headset.

I first met the founders of Webex in 2001, one year after its IPO and six years before its acquisition by Cisco. As quickly as Webex became the default web-conferencing software offering, its popularity started eroding with an onslaught of solutions, especially Go-to-meeting and Skype. In the intervening years, Microsoft Teams took off, primarily because of its integration with M365, further pushing Webex into the background. However, years spanning 2019-2020 has been an inflection point for Webex. After yielding the everyday video conferencing lexicon to Zoom, Cisco Webex has just begun its steep rise in its innovation curve and has no intention of pausing and letting the curve slope down into the trough of disillusionment. The triumvirate leaders - Jeetu Patel (Senior Vice President and General Manager of Security and Collaboration), Javed Khan (Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco Collaboration), and Aruna Ravichandran (CMO & VP, Cisco Webex Collaboration) - are on a mission to deliver collaboration experiences that are 10X better than in-person. Perhaps naively, I have yet to understand its enormity. Still, so far, new releases and enhancements are continuing to blend physical and virtual workspaces to deliver similar immersive and authentic experiences: the latest being gesture-recognition, white-boarding, and the pending integration of Slido for polling. The next steps in delivering similar experiences are ad-hoc conversations and serendipitous interactions. Since September, Cisco Webex has released 400 enhancements with AI and security as the Cisco collaboration strategy foundations. IMImobile acquisition will enable Cisco to incorporate expanded digital channels and flow builder capabilities for contact center and customer engagement.

The future of work has become very complex. Collaboration is more important in complex, interconnected digital transformation work environments. 58% of SMB and midmarket employees (1 to 5000 employee size firms) expect to continue to work from home post-pandemic. As a result, mobility, cloud, and collaboration are important trends in today's market, and they are tightly interconnected. This interconnection empowers collaboration. Collaboration is most potent when connected, intuitive and pervasive, so deeply ingrained in the employee's infrastructure fabric that its use is a natural extension of their work environment. At the heart of Cisco's collaboration strategy is its collaboration application suite bookended by its platform, devices, and specialized experiences. The vertical integration from platform to devices promises to be a one-stop collaboration shop for mainstream businesses.

Collaboration represents a significant investment for most mainstream businesses, and collaboration platforms become a central, everyday resource touching all users within an organization. Collaboration is pervasive and critical to SMBs (1-5000 employees). Our most recent SMB survey looked at collaboration as a discrete category and found that it is the second-most prominent SMB solution area, behind cloud and security. There is a wide-ranging trend towards seeing collaboration as part of the fabric of business activity, rather than merely a means of enabling connections between discrete tasks. It is a core component for digital transformation, and innovative businesses embed it in their organizational DNA. Collaboration is a top IT priority for 96% of SMBs, 79% of innovative SMBs are using collaboration organization-wide, and 74% of digitally transformed leaders are using collaboration solutions. Therefore, it is natural for these businesses to invest in agile, adaptive, transformative, magical, and empowering collaboration solutions. Cisco is getting there. Perhaps, this is what Cisco leaders mean by delivering experiences that are 10X better than in-person.

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