The Second Revolution for SMBs

Carl Weinschenk
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The needs and desires of SMBs became more of an issue for vendors and service providers with the emergence of IP networking and broadband. The granularity and flexibility of IP-enabled companies of any size-even the very small-allowed them to be serviced on an individual basis in a way that was economically feasible for those suppliers. It also enabled an SMB to look like its enterprise counterparts.

A similar thing may be happening in the smartphone realm. In this case, it isn't the technical difference between legacy protocols and IP that is unleashing SMBs and putting them on more of an equal footing with enterprises in the eyes of vendors and customers. It is the idea of downloading very specific applications without the need for custom development or sophisticated IT departments.

AMI Partners released research suggesting that SMBs , at least those lacking IT departments, are being driven in a bottoms-up approach by employees to handle mobility in a way that is significantly different than the traditional enterprise approach. The popularity of the iPhone and the App Store-and other smartphone/online marketplace combos-provides a level of functionality that small businesses lacked in the past.

The research firm also found that SMBs are more likely to use more than one smartphone vendor. The pros and cons of multiple types of mobile devices make for an interesting debate. Whereas enterprises generally focus on BlackBerrys, smaller companies-especially those displaying the specific success factors AMI lists in the release-have decided to use both the RIM and Apple devices.

It is interesting to think of smartphones (and tablets) and IP as the two great equalizers between SMBs and enterprises. The SMB Group, via a feature at IT Director, offers a detailed breakdown in SMB mobile spending trends. The firm found that companies with less than 1,000 employees spent about $26.1 billion on mobility last year. The growth rate will be an impressive 17 percent annually for a period of several years, though the piece doesn't specify a term.

The article breaks down where the money is going: 69 percent is spent on voice and data, 12 percent on applications, 11 percent on devices, and 8 percent on device and app management. The data in this story is very useful in developing a feel for the rapid evolution of SMB mobility and certainly validates the idea that there are differences between how enterprises and SMBs approach the sector.

The announcement earlier this month that Verizon will carry the iPhone will shake things up further. Paul Korzeniowski, writing at InformationWeek, suggests that the placement of the Apple phone on what many consider the best mobile network could encourage more SMBs to take the plunge. He also writes that the move, coupled with the expected focus on lower-priced Android-based phones, could make smartphones more attractive to SMBs.

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