When Small Becomes Big and Big Becomes Global
Pramodh Menon, President, Partner Business Group, Cisco India & SAARC
The rising prominence of SMBs in India is a sign that the segment is a key growth driver across all industry verticals. As they continue to grow and expand, SMBs are increasingly becoming part of a global ecosystem and leveraging technology is a means to achieving scale. However, most SMBs looking to expand globally pay more attention to the cost of acquisition compared to the return on the investment over the lifecycle of the solution.
Many SMBs also find the perceived complexity associated with implementing technology very daunting. The issue gets further complicated due to the dearth of relevant industry specific solutions. Most IT solutions are not customized to address specific problem of SMBs but are offered as scaled-down versions of the ones offered to large enterprises. This adds to the increased reluctance on the part of the SMBs to adapt to the technology.
UC as a differentiator
Although serving international markets can add significant costs and complexities to an SMB’s operations profile, technologies like unified communications (UC)-voice, video, and data all running over an Internet Protocol (IP) network– can help to overcome these limitations. UC can help businesses reduce costs by enabling employees collaborate across geographic boundaries and be more productive irrespective of timelines. UC helps SMBs to reach out to offshore customers, suppliers, and partners using the communication method they prefer and also respond more quickly and effectively.
Rich media conferencing can be a convenient, cost-effective alternative to international travel. SMBs can use it for sales presentations or online seminars. This makes it easy for global teams to work together and collaborate online to view the same video or documents at the same time, review them, and collectively make changes to documents in real time.
A UC system can also give the SMB a sales and marketing advantage. SMBs can link the UC system to a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, giving any employee who answers the phone an instant access to a caller's customer file. The employee might notice there are products the caller hasn't tried, for example, and immediately offer the customer a 10 percent discount or other incentives.
Offering round-the-clock customer support can help build positive customer relationships, which in turn lead to more customer signoffs, improve productivity and bring cost savings for business. Newer technologies like Social Miner allows businesses to measure and monitor their brand’s online profile and leverage newer social networking and crowdsourcing trends for business benefit
What vendors must do
Most SMBs make the purchase decision for a technology or solution based on the guidance and advice of a trusted channel partner. In spite of numerous high-profile launches or availability of online portals, the average SMB prefers to route his purchase through a channel partner whom he can trust and hold accountable. As the SMB strategy gains significant traction, vendors need to closely align with their channel partners to provide SMB customers with the freedom to focus on IT strategy while reducing their costs and investment risks.
To cite an example, Cisco places huge focus on enabling its partners serving SMB markets by helping them build capabilities in understanding advanced technologies. This helps the partners to assist their SMB customers in designing, installing, and managing a UC system. Through its partner network, Cisco is enhancing the technological assistance that it can provide to SMB customers across India.
In order to woo their SMB clients, vendors across the board have to also provide financing models which reduces the initial cost of acquisition of the technology and also provide significant protection from obsolescence. Vendors would also need to evolve their service business models so as to meet customer needs and devise options which offer the customer the ability to “pay by the drink” while consuming technology.
Two business models that most vendors are currently focusing on are scaling distribution and managed services. As vendors embrace customers' transition to managed services, they need to develop managed service programs that are based on a robust and flexible service portfolio. Inherent in the evolution of the services business models are the evolving roles of partners who work together with the vendor to enable customers increase capacity, capability, and profitability.
In the future
Devoting time and financial resources for technology acquisition can be a challenge for SMBs. This challenge is also an opportunity because many SMBs are still at basic levels of IT infrastructure and stand to benefit by leapfrogging to technologies virtualization, open source, mobility and SaaS. SMBs with a clear vision on leveraging technology to achieve global scale and an understanding of technology trends will have a distinct competitive advantage as they grow and expand in the domestic and international markets.