Jennifer Kent, vice president of research for the firm Parks Associates, notes in Parks’ recent session “Smart Products – Serving the SMB Market” that small and midsize businesses had four big issues to deal with during the pandemic: new office health measures (including layouts), use of outdoor spaces, health checks, and the biggie, especially for CEDIA’s interests: the explosion of remote work and commerce.
That last topic – and all of its implications – made for pretty compelling research. Employee accountability was on the list, but the need for secure, connected devices – with proper internet access – was equally important. “The employees’ IT needs at home were critical issues in the survey,” says Kent, noting than more than half of the SMBs employees had shifted to all-remote situations, even though many of these businesses still required some on-premise employee presence. The top issue: “Our research tells us 52% of SMBs are concerned about the security of employees home networks,” notes Kent, with only a slightly smaller segment expressing concern over their employee’s home bandwidth. It’s a massive segment of the economy: there are 30.7 million small businesses in the United States, per the Small Business Administration.
Christian Nascimento, vice-president of product for Comcast Business, weighs in with a fascinating data point on this subject. “Our data tells us that our business clients, although they were trying to cut costs overall, wound up spending more on technology. They had to become more tech-savvy, given the sudden nature of this disruption – and a lot of them realized there’s ROI there.” A little bit of investment in proper broadband vastly outweighs the cost of a key employee’s workday grinding to a halt over connectivity issues.
Razvan Todor, director of connected home security for the firm Bitdefender, notes the timeline of the shifts in worry for SMB owners and managers. “Five years ago the big concern was viruses,” he says. “In 2019 we saw a massive shift to identity protection and privacy – protecting data. But it was all in the company’s IT space. In 2020, we saw more attacks on residential networks than before. We had to figure out ways to combat all manner of threat – for example, suppose an employee’s webcam is part of a DDOS attack. There was a time when the ISP would just pull the plug on that connection altogether. Now we can go in and surgically take that device offline while preserving all the other functionality to that employee.”
Andrew Goldberg, vice president of strategic planning and analysis, Cox Communications, points out that the sudden adoption of work-from-home strategies put a unique strain on the network. “With the advent of the wide adoption of video conferencing, we saw more pressure on the uplink aspect of those connections than ever before,” he says. “We’ve also seen mesh solutions taking off as people hang more and more devices on their Wi-Fi systems.”
There’s another interesting change addressed by Peter Suica, director of national and strategic accounts for Johnson Controls: “It used to be that business owners and executives needed to be able to check on their homes remotely. Now that’s flipped – they need to check in on their businesses remotely.”
All the panelists believe that the silver lining in all of this is that we’ve learned new skillsets for coping with disruption. And even when we get back to “normal,” we’ll still find ourselves in a hybrid work-from-home/work-from-premise world. “Broadband and elegant solutions are the key to everything,” says JT Taylor, product marketing lead for Synamedia. “There’s going to be a big demand for the IT guy who can make things efficient.”
“The key to tech is simplicity; when it’s not simple, people don’t want tech.”