The coming year will be the year that tablets go from niche to normal in small and midsize business environments, as the improving functionality and uber-portability of the devices make them a viable, reliable computing option for business users. With Microsoft joining Apple (and its rumored second-generation iPad), Samsung, Dell, and other key players in the market, the tablet wars will likely get vicious and put downward pressure on prices -- music to the ears of cost-conscious SMBs.
The popularity of SMB as a buzzword in its own right will grow with a certain amount of irony, too, as its definition blurs and the market becomes increasingly segmented. As owners and IT managers gear up for what many feel will be a better overall year for businesses of all sizes, here are 10 forecasts for the next 12 months.
CES Tablet Extravaganza: Motorola, RIM, Toshiba & Asus Stand Out
Smartphone adoption among consumers and businesses alike will continue to rocket ahead, and as both user pools grow more sophisticated, so will location-based marketing. Services such as Foursquare, Yelp, and Gowalla have already been joined in the fray by players with deep pockets like Google and Visa. SMBs will embrace the marketing channel in mainstream numbers in 2011.
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The now-widespread options in both hardware and applications will usher in the mainstream reality of the mobile business, especially among smaller firms. Smartphones, tablets, maturing business applications, and cloud computing mean companies are no longer tied to a physical location and make SMBs more agile than ever. 2011 is the year when mobility morphs into standard business operating procedure.
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To be sure, expect to see the cloud in heavy rotation in marketing and advertising by vendors. But for SMBs, cloud will stop being a buzzword and simply be a routine part of getting things done. This could prove especially true for the software as a service (SaaS) industry, where smaller companies have driven adoption at twice the rate of their big business counterparts.
Cloud Security Pros And Cons
Speaking of buzzwords, expect to hear "SMB" and all of its variations -- small, medium, smaller, midsize, etc. -- early and often in 2011. The term will be an increasingly used by vendors, marketers, government -- and, yes, the media -- in the New Year as the economy continues its return from the dark days of recession and business spending picks up. The SMB label comes with malleable definitions that can suit an equally wide range of interests, good and bad, making it a favorite to drop into sound bites and sales pitches.
SMBs Do Software Different
Expect SMBs to set out on the potentially rough road to Windows 7 en masse in 2011 -- especially those businesses that skipped Vista (In other words, most of them). The clock is ticking on XP's support lifecycle, which ends in 2014. With migration projects likely to run long-term, the calendar -- and fear of its rapidly turning pages -- will spur action, with Office 2010 deployments to follow suit.
Top 10 Microsoft Stories Of 2010
The recession was declared over in 2010, but it didn't often feel that way in the trenches. 2011 is shaping up to be a better year for everyone -- in other words, the year when theory meets reality in terms of economic recovery. Smaller firms will begin investing more in their IT infrastructures; though don't expect a gold rush. SMBs know better than to begin partying like its 1999, and will make smart, methodical spending decisions, and so expect a deliberate uptick over the course of the year.
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Smaller companies will move in larger numbers toward virtualizing their hardware needs, particularly for servers and storage. SMBs will continue to drive the shift, as virtualization helps them achieve their IT goals -- from budget to mobility to security, and everything in between.
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Figuring out the different segments of the SMB market can be a lot like figuring out drink sizes at a coffeehouse, only with a lot more at stake. The distinction between small and midsize businesses alone, for example, will become increasingly harder to detect in 2011. That might produce some interesting inconsistencies in the IT marketplace -- one vendor's small might be another's enterprise -- but that may not be a bad thing for true SMBs, as access to technology and related services continues to grow in their favor as a result.
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Social media moved from sidelines to midfield in 2010, but SMBs were still just dipping their toes in the water. They'll dive in head-first in 2011, achieving greater comfort levels with the various platforms and beginning to truly unlock the cost efficiencies and marketing upside that drew them to social sites in the first place.