GB Kumar, Senior Vice President, Customer Advocacy, Cisco India & SAARC
India has become a key player in the modern global economy, serving as a significant global hub for knowledge based economic activities, both as an "offshoring" destination as well as through the growth of indigenous firms. Driving this explosive expansion is the growing small and medium business (SMB) sector, which is experiencing double digit growth. According to an AMI Partners report, there are more than 7.6 million SMBs in India and they form a sector that is taking the country’s economy to new pinnacles. SMBs are set to increase their IT spends by 22 percent in 2008 to an astounding US$9.7 billion, primarily increasing their servers and networking technology.
Constant technology innovation - and the resulting benefits in terms of enhanced operational efficiency and business communications - has played a role in the development of both the challenges and opportunities faced today by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Rapidly evolving market transitions, consolidation, competition, and increase in customers’ expectations have dramatically shaped businesses of all sizes.
There is great growth potential for the SMB market (defined as 100-249 employees) as well as the Small Business (5-99 employees) and Mid Market (more than 250 employees) segments. Large IT companies have been known to focus on the larger enterprise segment, and they are now also looking eagerly to the growing SMB and Mid Market segments and their unique needs.
SMBs in India are looking to increase operational efficiencies, employee productivity, customer responsiveness, cost containment, and network security, as well as increase their agility to react to competitive pressures and business changes. Some of the key activities that IT majors would need to take to address the needs of this market include:
Deepening the Relationship
It is a fact that automation has caught on in a large way across industry sectors and sizes, and vendors are seeing the maturing of customers in a serious way. A considerable percentage of the top-up installations are completed, and SMB customers are now looking to more complex installations, Web 2.0 tools for collaboration, and much more. This has opened up avenues for product and solution vendors to don consultative roles and offer services that aim to hand-hold the customer through their journey up the IT deployment curve.
Customised Products / Solutions
SMBs demand products and solutions that have been designed ground-up to suit their unique needs. Their unique situations mean that they need to invest carefully in systems and solutions that would not only meet their current needs, but also be scalable enough to address their foreseeable needs. All this also needs to be in a package that is ‘Plug’n‘Play’ enabled, and with minimal need for monitoring and maintenance.
Growing the Channel
Partner enablement and readiness must always be high on the list of priorities to ensure profitable growth opportunities for companies and their partners. Building a channel capacity, so that they can have a depth and breadth of channel partners reaching not only the metros but also the Tier II and III towns is important. Certification programmes for partners are appreciated and valued by both partner and customer, as this instills confidence in an offering.
Smart financing schemes has been launched to help SMBs progress by financing their technology adoption. Some are offered at below market rates, with some IT vendors even adopting the 0% interest financing route. For instance, Cisco Systems is offering its Technical Services, SMARTnet and Advanced Services offerings through a 0% finance scheme for SMBs in India. SMBs now have a healthy choice when it comes to making affordable investments, and this will be one of the primary drivers for growth in this segment.
Initiatives such as the Network on Wheels (NOW) Van, a mobile showcase of Cisco’s products and solutions to help SMBs, aids the end-users in envisioning the technology before implementation, as they can actually see and understand the benefits of technology to them.
New Sales Tools and Resources
Many innovative tools have been introduced to help partners reach their SMB customers. Partners can create microsites that will be hosted by the vendor, make use of tools such as Sales Accelerator, Mobility Business Advisor, IPC ROI Calculator, Quote Builder and more to enhance their selling strategies.
Technology will certainly provide a competitive edge to SMBs in today’s marketplace and SMB-specific products and solutions will greatly enhance their capabilities. While computing products will still account for the bulk of IT investments, Internet spending is fast increasing as these enterprises embrace IP-enabled business process services. As business enablers, it should be the aim of IT vendors and their partners to play the role of trusted advisors to help Indian SMBs become global players.