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Top 15 Small Business Network Support Opportunities

Top 15 Small Business Network Support OpportunitiesDo you own or manage a company that provides network support to local small businesses?

If so, you may realize that a lot is changing right before your eyes – but at the same time wonder where you should be making the big strategic bets for the next several years.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the top 15 small business network support opportunities that will provide the greatest growth in the coming months and years:

Apple Mac

While there’s a very noticeable overall slowing demand for PCs, the growth rate of Apple computer sales is doing substantially better than the growth rate (negative) of Windows-based computer sales.

One factor behind this: runaway sales of iPads creating demand for Windows defectors. Another factor is the overwhelming success of the Apple Retail Stores…that Microsoft desperately wants to clone. And even one-up.

Bear in mind that relatively few SMB networking providers can support both Mac and Windows. If you’re looking to pursue network support opportunities surrounding the Mac platform, Apple offers a four-pronged channel program: Consultants network, Resellers, Service providers, and Training centers.

BDR/Backup

BDR, or Backup and Disaster Recovery, is victim to a tremendous amount of market hype.

Is the demand there? Yes. But is it really an easy sale? Not really. Why? Because you’re essentially selling preventive IT medicine for earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cyclones, security breaches, hardware faults, and utility failures.

With BDR, you’ll find premised-based solutions (that look a lot like modernized versions of what’s existed for decades), managed services, and cloud-based solutions (XaaS).

If you’d like to add BDR to your line card of small business network support, consider some of the leading vendors in this space such as CA, EMC, NetApp, StorageCraft, and Symantec.

Big Data/Analytics

Just as with BDR, there is tremendous hype surrounding Big Data.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this opportunity is all about helping clients get a handle on their mountains of data and silos. At least in the small business segment, some of the most obvious implementation opportunities center on marketing-- selling to CMOs (chief marketing officers) and LOB (line of business) managers.

Big Data and Analytics are great for technology providers with business intelligence and data mining expertise. Recently both Inc. Magazine and IDC have identified that big data is growing about 7x faster than the overall IT market.

If you’re trying to figure out who to partner with, expect change ahead. But as of now, you’ll find many big players making acquisitions. This includes Hewlett-Packard/Vertica with analytics, IBM/Netezza with data warehouse appliances, and Oracle/Endeca with enterprise search.

Cloud Computing Services

While many in the cloud industry would like to have you believe that cloud should be this entire list of 15 opportunities, i.e. nothing else matters, that’s really not the case.

That said, cloud is a huge generational opportunity for network support providers in the SMB space. But there is a reason for the cloud industry to enjoy an oversized ego as cloud computing does cross over into and overlap with many platform categories.

There are big needs to fill in the public cloud, what most SMB decision makers will be familiar with, as well as the private and hybrid clouds. Gartner sees BPaaS (business process as a service) as the largest segment, with IaaS (infrastructure as a service) being the fastest growing segment. As a starting point for partnering, consider CRN’s rankings of the top 100 cloud vendors in categories such as data center, infrastructure, platform, security, and software.

Digital Signage

Defined by Wikipedia as an “electronic display that shows television programming, menus, information, advertising, and other messages,” digital signage can include designing solutions around media players, PCs, displays, and LED video arrays.

Even simple digital signage installations can be a great foot in the door for small business network support companies across many different verticals. IMS research is currently forecasting an 8.5% CAGR for digital signage. To learn more, distributors Ingram Micro, SYNNEX, and Tech Data all have excellent training programs for this vertical.

Managed Services

Just as with cloud computing services, managed services crosses over into and overlaps with many platform categories.

And just as with cloud computing, the managed services industry has its own cheerleaders that preach how the entire future of the IT industry will be centered on MSPs and managed services. Within this broad category, most managed services offerings can be classified as applications, security, storage, or tech support.

Managed service providers typically offer more than just managed services.

Just as with cloud computing, the choices can seem overwhelming at first. As a great starting point for shortlists of popular channel programs, look to both the MSPAlliance trade group and MSPmentor online publication.

Managed Print Services (MPS)

As a subset of managed services, MPS is defined by Wikipedia as “managing hardcopy device fleets (copiers, printers, multifunction devices, and fax machines) in a unified fashion.”

Even though the industry has already roughly doubled in size during the past few years, InfoTrends still projects double-digit CAGR increases in managed print services.

For small business network support companies looking to branch into MPS, look to the CompTIA Managed Print Services Community, as well as HP, Lexmark, and Xerox.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

Fueled by the surging interest in BYOD (bring your own device), the consumerization of IT, and the explosion of tablet and smartphone sales, MDM is a very hot area for network support firms that work in the SMB space.

If you’re new to mobile device management and wondering where to start, consider market-leading platforms and tools from AirWatch, Good Technology, MobileIron, and Zenprise.

Networking

Although networking is one of the most mature opportunities on this list, there’s still a big need for installations and upgrades of twisted pair, fiber, Wi-Fi, switches, routers, and servers – the bread and butter profit centers for small business network support firms like yours.

To deliver the complete solution that clients need, be sure that your organization can provide needs assessment, network design, implementation, integration, optimization, maintenance, security, and support.

Computer networking is not exactly the “sexiest” specialization, but there is still very strong demand.

For example in the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook sees big growth. Demand for network & computer system admins is expected to grow by 28% by 2020. And the demand for computer network architects is projected to grow by 22% by 2020.

Networking is a very broad category to nail down for vendors and channel programs. CRN subdivides the networking category into network security appliances, network security software, SMB network storage, and SMB networking hardware. Leading vendors include Cisco, Dell, and Kaspersky Lab.

Security

As with some of the other opportunities on this list, security is once again a very broad category that crosses over into and overlaps with many platform categories.

TechTarget defines security as the “protection of information assets through the use of technology, processes, and training.”

Gartner divides the IT security market into network security appliances, services, and software – and believes the fastest-growing segments are IT outsourcing (managed security services), secure web gateway (appliance), and security information and event management (SIEM).

If your firm is relatively new to security, a great place to start is the CompTIA IT Security Community and SANS Institute. CRN divides the security landscape into client security software, network security appliances, and network security software –with Symantec, Cisco, and Kaspersky Lab respectively taking top honors in each category.

Microsoft SharePoint

Defined by Wikipedia as “a software platform and a family of software products developed by Microsoft for collaboration, file sharing, and web publishing,” SharePoint is currently available in two basic offerings: SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server + Client Access Licenses.

For those network support companies that specialize in Microsoft SharePoint, their clients are typically clamoring for help with a solution for collaboration, document management, enterprise content management (ECM), and social networking.

According to the Radicati Group, “nearly 75% of all businesses cite Document Collaboration as the most often used feature within SharePoint Foundation, followed by Wikis and Discussions.

With 125 million licenses and over 65,000 enterprise customers (source: Redmond Magazine), Microsoft SharePoint has a lot to offer its partners – typically system integrators and ISVs. The Microsoft SharePoint partner program features a Collaboration and Content competency that can be pursued at either the Silver or Gold levels.

Social Media/Social Technologies

At the most basic level, many SMB network support providers manage clients’ social media along with website design and SEO.

But these opportunities extend way beyond that.

While the most basic solutions are more B2C-ish, the real growth resides with enterprise social media solutions where you can tie into CRM and other communication and collaboration tools.

Storage/Cloud Storage

In much the same way that you can’t drive more than a few minutes in most suburbs without passing several self-storage businesses that cater to both pack-rats as well as businesses and residences that lack sufficient storage space, the IT industry has major storage problems too.

And those problems spell big opportunities for most small business network support providers.

Most storage industry experts categorize vendors and solutions into networked storage, storage devices, storage services/cloud, and storage software.

IDC sees the external disk storage market growing on a stable trajectory with network disk storage experiencing 6.5% growth and open SAN enjoying a slightly more brisk 8.0% growth.

Leading vendors in this space include EMC, HP, IBM, and NetApp.

And CRN readers most recently selected Dell as the Channel Champ for both SMB Network Storage and Enterprise Network Storage.

Unified Communications (UC)

Gartner sees UC as “products (equipment, software, and services) that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods.”

For small business network support firms pursuing unified communications, the projects usually involve collaboration, mobile, video (desktop, mobile, cloud), or VoIP.

Leading UC vendors include Avaya, Cisco (the most recent CRN Channel Champ), Microsoft, and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Virtualization

Those network support providers to SMBs that have been selling outsourced Virtual CIO services know that “virtual” is kind of like an alternative, and better, version of something.

In the case of the Virtual CIO, the IT professional that’s time-shared among clients isn’t actually each client’s chief information officer – but is able to approximate many of the same benefits.

Desktop and server virtualization looks to accomplish a similar feat – creating a virtual, rather than an actual, version of a hardware device, OS, network, or storage. (Source: Turban, King, and Viehland).

And according to IDC, the growth rate of the virtualization segment, both virtual machine/cloud system software and virtual client computing, is far outpacing the software industry as a whole.

If your firm is new to virtualization, consider leading channel programs from market leaders such as VMware (most recent CRN Channel Champ), Citrix, Microsoft, and Red Hat.

 

So what’s the optimal mix of opportunities for your firm to pursue?

That really depends on your target market, ideal client, company size, diversity of skillset, and business model. But there is something to be said for balancing your investments to spread across a handful or more of these 15 areas.

For nearly all companies that provide small business network support, you’d need to partner and subcontract with other technology providers who have significant expertise in areas where your firm does not. Look for partners that are similar in size to your firm and that don’t compete directly with any of your firm’s core segments. And ideally, seek out partners who are in a position to refer business your way too.

 

In this article, we looked at the top 15 small business network support opportunities that ought to be on your firm’s radar screen.

Which of these 15 is your firm presently pursuing? And what’s been your company’s biggest value add to your clients? Please let us know your thoughts in the Comments area below.

 

And to follow-through on the tips introduced in this short article, be sure to download your free copy of the special report on How to Start a Computer Consulting Business: 6 Proven Ways to Build Your Initial Client Base

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Creative Commons Image Source: flickr Lincolnian (Brian)

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