Upscaling smaller businesses with optimised ICT

How Intel vPro brings enterprise class IT within reach of SMBs

Sponsored Feature Smaller organisations everywhere are reappraising and upgrading their approach to the provisioning of their information and communications technology (ICT) systems post pandemic.

In the UK for example, Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) are more than an important part of the national economy – they the UK economy, say some analysts, making up around 99.9 percent of all the nation's legitimate businesses.

The 'SMBs Driving Economic Recovery' report indicates that, despite ongoing economic turbulence, growth in turnover for UK SMBs is projected to outperform the growth rate for all businesses from 2023-2025, with the number of small UK firms expected to rise by 342,000 over the same period. SMBs' financial turnover is forecast to increase by £160 billion in the same period – outperforming the expected growth rate of turnover in larger businesses in each year.

SMBs' IT trials

Yet despite this pervasive economic importance and growth prospects, SMBs' IT needs stand in marked contrast to those of larger organisations. Smaller companies have generally favoured a tactical approach to IT investment, constrained by revenue priorities and financing difficulties. Which sometimes meant that traditionally, SMBs' IT deployment strategies, such as they were, remained relatively diverse, fragmented and inconsistent, with a predilection for piecemeal-built multi-vendor environments.

SMB's technology refresh cycles – how often they upgrade their core hardware and software – are also longer than those typical to larger organisations, leaving workers stuck with last-generation productivity tools that function, but do not allow for performance improvements and innovative usage.

The sum of these downsides can also leave these companies struggling to defend themselves against cyber threats – another resource blind spot – and slow to recover when hit by malicious attackers who target them as weak links in partner supply chains.

Many of these challenges also come down to the fact that so few SMBs are disposed to appoint fulltime IT leaders, according to Rajita Kaundin, Senior Program Manager for Commercial Client Segment at Intel.

"Understanding the key trends that shape the SMB landscape is absolutely key to understanding what drives its IT requirements," Kaundin says. "Intel has long made a concerted effort to understand this market and where it is being underserved, so that we are better able to meet its needs."

Wary SMB bosses can also incline toward muddling through and sticking fast to the 'ain't broke/don't fix it' principle. But this constrained approach to IT utilisation was upturned by the COVID crisis when a seismic shift in economic and operational necessity broke all the rules. Abruptly, like all businesses, SMBs were faced with three interrelated disruptions that repercussed through organisations of all sizes: the rapid shift to hybrid working models, accelerated Digital Transformation and heightened cyber threat levels.

SMBs' IT expectations are changing

The outcome is that, gradually but inevitably, the way in which SMBs are now provisioning their workforce IT is shifting toward a model that reaches for the same levels of performance, manageability, stability and security that are customary to larger enterprises, reports Kaundin.

For instance, when it comes to deciding new PC platforms, SMBs are moving beyond basing tech procurement decisions based on a simplistic speed/price appraisal. Rather, they are looking for a solutions where the core processor is open to fuller integration with the entire technology stack, Kaundin avers.

One of the start points for the shift is the question of how IT in SMBs is operationally managed. "We see three broad categorical models at play across SMBs," Kaundin adds. "At the more mature end we have SMBs with 'Managed IT' – meaning that it is either Formally Managed by businesses with at least one full-time IT professional on staff – or they might be Partner Managed, with SMBs relying on external IT consultants to take care of the IT for them."

SMBs with 'Unmanaged IT', meanwhile, are those where the operational IT is not actively managed, so likely informally managed – firms with either part-time IT staff, or non-technical, full-time company employees who manage IT on a part-time basis, in addition to their main job responsibilities.

Across these categories, the situation is not really propitious for innovation and growth, says Kaundin: "The new IT reality is that in managed SMBs especially, they tend to have the same aspirations and expectations that are commonly found in larger enterprises. They want reliable stability and resilience, ease-of-manageability and enterprise grade security. And they want solutions that are less complex, do not require a lot of set-up, and because of extended hybrid working, can be managed remotely as easily as if they were together on the same premises."

In addition to these factors, SMBs need technology that enables them to keep pace with the cloud-based systems that increasingly support their core line-of-business and support SaaS applications, Kaundin explains.

Market-watcher Analysys Mason reckons SMB spending on SaaS-based business applications (and collaboration tools) worldwide will grow to $291 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 17 percent over the forecast period. SMBs' share of total spending on SaaS-based business applications will reach 63 percent in 2026, driven by their ongoing Digital Transformation initiatives.

Greater reliance on SaaS hosted applications and services, allied to extended hybrid working, has altered the way workers use applications on their PCs and laptops, leading to parallel changes in the specs, features and functions required.

"SMBs won't accept that there should be a trade-off in terms of performance and resilience just because they are smaller business operations," adds Kaundin. "SMB leaders are starting to say, 'as a small business we used to compromise – but why should we compromise? We need IT provisioning that has parity with what larger organisations are accustomed to'. Intel vPro was designed to deliver these high-scale aspirations for low-scale deployment."

SaaS is also a hardware issue

Where an SMB wants enterprise-class applications SaaS presents the most viable option to achieve that aim, says Kaundin, but with all its flexibility and adaptability, SaaS also imposes its own requirements – one of which is the necessity to upgrade the client technology spec.

"There's nothing to be gained from accessing high-performance, data-intensive cloud-based environments with last-generation PCs and OSs that cannot keep pace and hamper productivity and – ultimately – planned ROI," Kaundin points out. Devices based onIntel vPro powered by 13th Gen Intel Core processors enable up to 30 percent faster mainstream application performance compared to the current competitive offerings, according to CrossMark benchmark testing conducted in October 2023 (see the full details here, results may vary). 'And this all is before SMBs start to explore the potential of hosted AI. According to survey data from Techaisle published in August 2023, the use of Generative AI is increasing rapidly within SMBs. The survey found that AI has fast become a priority for 53 percent of small business respondents – up from 41 percent in April 2023.

Kaundin adds: "SMBs want a piece of the AI action – and so they should – but that again calls for highly-performant client-side compute provisioning."

Very vPro

Intel's vPro in conception and implementation has been designed to fully address these challenges. Across its diverse range of integrated hardware and software, the portfolio has solutions to meet the varied and distinctive needs of SMBs seeking to thrive across vertical sectors and industries.

"The Intel vPro ethos, so to speak, is to provide end-to-end support for superior performance, manageability, stability and security features to meet those emergent requirements in a post-pandemic business landscape," says Kaundin.

"It's helpful to broadly scope capabilities, because it can be so many different things to different users," Kaundin continues. "Broadly defined, Intel's vPro is a powerful platform portfolio of hardware and software technologies that are designed to improve the performance and security of business PCs, and to optimize user experiences."

Intel's vPro platform brings together a set of hardware-based components and technologies to deliver professional-grade performance, enabling the productivity, collaboration and connectivity that businesses need for their employees. The platform also includes a range of comprehensive multi-layer security and management features, such as out-of-band remote management, power management, and hardware-assisted security.

For the latter, Intel Hardware Shield comes ready out-of-the-box as a collection of security technologies that defend against threats at multiple IT layers – hardware, BIOS/firmware, hypervisor, Virtual Machines, OS and applications. It reduces the attack surface of the system by locking down system-critical resources to help prevent malicious code injection from compromising the OS, helping to ensure the OS runs on known hardware, and delivering hardware-to-OS security reporting to enable the OS to apply a comprehensive security policy.

Intel Hardware Shield also offers advanced threat protection features that can perform active memory scanning to help improve the detection of advanced threats.

"In SMBs you will find workers who are doing jobs that would be performed by two or more people in larger enterprises," says Kaundin, "yet those SMB super-multitaskers are probably using the same PC platform – and OS – for everything they need to do. Mostly, SMBs will not have budget to afford two or three PCs with different configurations per-user. Intel vPro has the versatility to enable SMBs to address that challenge. There is a device for every kind of professional persona."

Business as usual with remote management

Use cases abound, including agriculture and retail. Graham's The Family Dairy' based in Bridge of Allen, Stirlingshire, for example. It's typical of a small business in that it employs just two people in the IT department, in this case jointly responsible for supporting the technology infrastructure of not just the company's 200 staff, but also 85 partner farms and a global distribution network.

The company standardised its workforce PC and laptop estate on the Intel vPro platform to better handle its workforce hybrid and remote working requirements. It later activated the technology's hardware-based remote manageability tools to improve support and maintenance processes. Enabling Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) and Intel Endpoint Management Assistant (EMA) allowed Robert Graham's two man IT team to respond to technical issues remotely in real time without having to spend long hours driving miles across Scotland's geographically diverse road network to visit individual sites.

Enabling them to manage and monitor the status of all devices from a central point, enhance network and security features and handle device onboarding and update maintenance freed up their time for other tasks, while simultaneously helping to improve employee productivity and reduce disruption to the milk production process by resolving device problems more quickly.

This is just one example of vPro in action which highlights the importance of vPro's integration with Intel Active Management Technology to enable remote management capabilities for small businesses. There will be many more – and given their long history of agility and innovation, it probably won't be long before other SMBs find them.

You can learn more about the 13 generation of the Intel vPro platform by clicking this link. You can also watch our Register Hot Seat interview – What makes Intel vPro good for SMBs – here.

Sponsored by Intel.

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