RealTime IT News

SMBs to Spend More on Virtualization, SaaS

While much of IT's enterprise customer base is cutting back on tech spending to cope with the recession, small to midsized businesses (SMBs) might be going the opposite route.

Microsoft today released its first-annual SMB Insight report, a study designed to look at the challenges and technology priorities facing small businesses. The study surveyed more than 600 of its Small Business Specialist value-added resellers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Brazil.

The survey found that small to midsized businesses are concentrating on reducing operating costs, improving employee productivity and acquiring and retaining customers.

But that might not necessarily mean putting IT projects on hold. Instead, the report said the top technology priorities for SMBs for the coming year include investing in virtualization, IT consolidation, business intelligence, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and support for remote workers.

Fifty percent of the VARs surveyed chose virtualization or IT consolidation through a small or midsized server as the technology most likely to reduce operating costs. Additionally, respondents said they expect to see 20 percent more businesses this year turning to SaaS.

More than 50 percent of those surveyed considered Customer Relationship Management (CRM), virtualization, or IT consolidation as the best investment for maximizing business growth in a down economy. Almost as many -- nearly 40 percent -- said they expect an increased interest in business intelligence, and identified the technology as a critical tool for helping to improve customer experience and increasing loyalty.

More than half the study participants anticipate an increase in the number of remote workers, and nearly 60 percent expect that will also lead to bigger role and more responsibilities for those individuals working remotely.

These technologies, along with the support of local VARs, will allow small business owners to address their goals, said Eduardo Rosini, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's worldwide small and midmarket solutions and partners group.

"Virtualization is cost-effective because it lets small business owners expand the capabilities of their existing servers, while business intelligence and CRM can help them to better attract, retain and service customers," he said.

He added that SaaS applications such as CRM and document sharing give small businesses better ways to exchange data with customers and employees.

The study highlighted the growing trend in remote workers, which gives small companies a lot of flexibility. "Not all companies have the infrastructure to allow it," Rosini said. "The study showed that Small Business Specialists are seeing a high demand for SharePoint, Windows servers, MS Office, Windows Mobile and SaaS applications, too -- technologies that let you access your data no matter where you're located."

Rosini noted that two-thirds of all small businesses do not have an IT staff, which, he said, makes the local VARs role in planning and implementing technology for small businesses absolutely critical.

"Different scenarios require different solutions. Local VARs can customize an IT environment so that it works technically and financially," Rosini said. "Small business owners are reaching out more and more to re-engineer their IT efforts and actively working with local VARs to figure out what they need and how to do it better."

A version of this story originally appeared on SmallBusinessComputing.com.