With 2014 right around the corner, it is probably a good idea to try and look down the road a bit to see what’s coming, and to make some preparations for the New Year. The future is both bright and exciting, featuring evolutionary technological advancements that would have been purely the realm of science fiction a decade ago. With that in mind, here are some of the key technology issues to keep an eye on – and to take advantage of – in 2014.
Managed Everything Offerings
Equipment vendors who currently offer Managed Services solutions to their customers can capitalize on technology convergence and expand their offerings to meet the growing demand for technical expertise. On the other hand, equipment vendors who do not presently offer Managed Services solutions might want to carefully consider doing so. The implications for Managed Services during 2014 are huge.
As multiple technologies continue to converge on the customer’s network, equipment vendors that can help customers manage the convergence will have access to tremendous growth opportunities. Devices across the spectrum of technology are not only getting smarter, but are now also communicating with other dissimilar devices.
All of this convergent technology requires significant expertise to organize and manage, which many business customers simply do not have. The more such expertise an equipment vendor can deliver and incorporate into a Managed Services offering, the more value the equipment vendor provides to the customer.
One of the primary drivers behind the development and evolution of Managed Services is the close bond that a Managed Services provider builds with its customers. As technologies continue to converge and Managed Services footprints expand within a customer’s environment, the value of Managed Services as a recurring stream of revenue and as a relationship builder will scale as well.
Mobilize For Success
Mobile technologies are exploding. Equipment vendors should be aware of this not only in terms of go-to-market offerings, but also in terms of how they structure their own internal business operations. A rapidly expanding concept is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), where employees gain full access to the enterprise network and computing platform from whatever device they happen to be using. This includes smartphones, tablet devices, laptops and virtually any other device that connects to the Internet.
BYOD presents a number of technical challenges that many business customers cannot address. Compatibility, security, and technical support must all be in place in order for a BYOD solution to work. Helping customers implement a BYOD installation is an excellent example of how a typical Managed Services solution could be expanded.
From an internal perspective, mobile technologies should also be addressed. Expecting customers to navigate a website without optimizing for mobile technologies is a mistake, particularly if an equipment dealer offers services through its site. Additionally, the cost of developing mobile applications (apps) is rapidly decreasing. A unique mobile app is one of the most innovative ways to build and promote a brand while building customer loyalty in the process.
Get Your Head in the Cloud
Cloud computing is here, and it is huge. According to a recent study by IDC, a global provider of IT market intelligence and the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation, it is estimated that by 2015, spending on cloud technology will exceed $32 billion . Clearly providing a hungry market with $32 billion of hardware, software and services represents an opportunity of the highest order.
Many customers are still trying to decipher exactly what computing in the cloud means to them. Some of these customers are already using cloud-based applications such as Salesforce.com. Others have deployed intranets and are pondering how to expand existing infrastructures into a private cloud environment. Regardless of the approach, customers are looking for answers, preferably in the form of expertise from an already trusted advisor or service provider.
Disaster recovery is another area ripe with opportunity. Most companies realize the need to back up critical business data. However, cloud based applications can yield a false sense of security, since remotely hosted cloud applications do not require a client to back them up. Regardless of what is done in the cloud, users still maintain a tremendous amount of data locally, all of which needs to be backed up. It is even more important to realize that backing up is actually the easy part.
Recovering data when a disaster strikes is just as important as a reliable backup. Manually backing up to disks or tapes is only the first step in the process. The problem is that not only can these media be unreliable, but restoring from them can take days, weeks or even months. Vendors who can provide a reliable cloud based backup and disaster recovery service – even if they actually outsource it – can find even more opportunities for revenue in the cloud.
Furthermore, the expansion of the cloud will create even more demand for Managed Services. Most businesses simply do not possess the high level of technical expertise to provide comprehensive internal support for increasingly sophisticated hybrid cloud solutions. Advising customers on how to acquire and deploy cloud technology is one of the first steps in actually selling it. Equipment vendors should be able to rapidly obtain the expertise necessary to help their customers develop and deploy cloud computing solutions. From there, it is a short leap to selling, installing and supporting the cloud infrastructure, including hardware, software, and related services.
Internally, equipment vendors might also want to consider how cloud computing can benefit their own operations as well. Cloud computing is completely reinventing IT for a reason—it is a tremendously efficient, cost-effective model for business computing, on par with the personal computer itself and the advent of the Internet. Progressive equipment vendors are making significant investments in cloud-based CRM and ERP systems for a reason. By using the cloud to integrate diverse systems across both the enterprise and the value chain—with a financing partner, for example—a business becomes more efficient and therefore more profitable.
By now it is pretty clear that a well-defined and properly executed social media channel should be an integral part of just about every marketing communications plan. In much the same way that Internet marketing does not simply refer to putting up a website, leveraging social media means much more than launching a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile.
Social media is reinventing the way in which we connect. This has a tremendous impact on traditional marketing by changing the ways in which a business not only attracts prospects and customers, but how it interacts with them. Best practices for social media are still in the formative stages, however. Equipment vendors should recognize this as an excellent opportunity to gain a competitive advantage while building stronger customer relationships in the process. An equipment vendor can easily turn internal social media expertise into another offering to customers.
It is now arguably more effective to reach out to one’s own social networks for information about a needed product or service, than it is to search for it on Google. Once a business connection is made, the prospect or customer can dig deeper into the business by following it directly via social media, or simply by reading the reviews and comments available on various social media platforms of other non-paid users.
Here is the golden opportunity for equipment vendors. First, not all social media efforts are equal. By mastering the medium, a progressive equipment vendor can turn its social media channel into a formidable competitive advantage. Second, social media expertise can become a very valuable service that equipment distributors provide to their customers to build loyalty and drive additional sales.
Needless to say, 2014 is filled with opportunities. The recovery is over and the economy is back on track. This is indeed an exciting time to be in business.