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Far too many leaders of small to medium businesses (SMBs) still don’t appreciate the strategic role IT can play in the success of their organizations. However, a survey of 250 business executives at organizations with $5 to $50 million in revenue published this week by Logically, a provider of managed services, suggests some of those attitudes might finally be changing for the better.

Conducted by Wakefield Research, the survey finds two-thirds of survey respondents (66 percent) agree their companies’ investments in IT are not keeping pace with their needs. More than a third (34 percent) specifically identified lack of IT skills in emerging areas such as cloud, mobility, and security as being among the biggest challenges facing their IT staff.

Those same business leaders also acknowledged they have difficulty retaining IT staff (59 percent), difficulty recruiting and hiring IT staff (57 percent), and lack the time to focus strategically because of day-to-day technology issues (46 percent). Nearly half (45 percent) also agree their company does not have people with the right skills to get to where they want to be in terms of cloud adoption.

On the bright side

The good news from a managed service provider (MSP) perspective is a third of the respondents (33 percent) said they already outsource some of their IT activities, with another 40 percent saying they have plans to do so. The top two reasons cited for relying more on external expertise are improved data security (58 percent) and a reduction of system downtime (57 percent), followed by reduced operation costs, improved customer experiences, enhanced productivity, and increased revenue.

Nearly half of survey participant (46 percent) also admitted it has taken three or more days to resolve an IT-related issue, due in part to the lack of specialized staff and deficient IT processes. The survey also finds more than half of the survey respondents are concerned about cloud security, while 50 percent are worried about how viruses and malware might impact their organizations.

The challenge MSPs face is identifying which half of the total IT market is predisposed to relying more on managed services. Obviously, marketing is going to be key to any effort to identify prospects. However, as John Wanamaker, founder of a now defunct chain of department stores, observed last century: “half of all advertising dollars are wasted; trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Areas for improvement for MSPs

Most MSPs are reasonably adept at closing a deal once they line up a prospect. However, most MSPs are not especially good at, for example, setting up local events that would entice local business leaders to attend. The issue is local business leaders are always pressed for time. As far as time allocation is concerned, something business leaders perceive to be an IT event is not likely to drive them to change their priorities.

MSPs are far more likely to convince business leaders to attend an event when other business leaders are speaking or an author of a book on business issues is on tour. Most local colleges are only too happy to host such educational events, so finding a venue isn’t typically a major issue. Most localities have at least one firm that specializes in the setting up these types of events.

Savvy MSPs distinguish themselves by becoming business thought leaders in the markets they want to serve. The assumption is the MSP already understands IT. The unanswered question is to what degree does the MSP understand the business opportunity to apply that IT knowledge in a way that drives both additional revenue and profits.

Reducing the size of the IT budget by a couple of percentage points isn’t really a top of mind issue for most business leaders. Their real focus is on identifying digital services those business leaders could implement today that would not otherwise be possible without IT. Anything short of that promise is largely going to be ignored — not because business leaders don’t care, it’s that they just have more pressing matters on their minds.

Ready Set Managed

Photo: Atstock Productions / Shutterstock

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Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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