Microsoft Survey Forecasts Small Business IT Trends

By Lauren Simonds | Posted March 25, 2009

Microsoft today released its first-annual Microsoft 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 Specialists in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Brazil.

The Specialists surveyed, all local VARS serving small-to-midsized businesses, identified the issues driving small businesses to invest in technology as declining revenue, competition from larger concerns and the overall economy. In the face of these challenges, according to the survey, companies are concentrating on reducing operating costs, improving employee productivity or acquiring and retaining customers.

Further, the report identified the top technology priorities for SMBs for the coming year: virtualization, IT consolidation, business intelligence, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and support for remote workers. Here's how the numbers played out:

  • Fifty percent of the Specialists surveyed chose virtualization or IT consolidation through a small or midsize server as the technology most likely to reduce operating costs.
  • Study participants expect a 20 percent increase this year in the number of small and midsize businesses using 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.
  • Nearly 40 percent expect an increased interest in business intelligence and identified it 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, corporate vice president, Microsoft 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," said Rosini. "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 VAR's 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," said Rosini. "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."

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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