The Consumerization of Technology: Are Enterprises Taking the Lead from SMBs?

by Layne Levine
November 19, 2019

Arc3® Gases has 500 employees and 52 retail locations in the Southeastern United States where it sells a range of welding supplies and industrial gases to restaurant chains, medical facilities and entertainment venues. By all measures, family-owned Arc3 Gases is thriving due in large part to experienced leadership and a laser focus on customer service.

There are scores of mid-sized entrepreneurial businesses like Arc3 that succeed due to the hard work of their owners and employees. What often gets overlooked in these success stories, however, is the technology that helped get them there. Conventional wisdom says that small and mid-market companies are slow to adopt new technologies due to lack of experienced personnel, limited capital, and resistance to innovation. The perception is that smaller businesses tend to be years behind large enterprises in adopting new technologies such as SD-WAN.

However, as Arc3 and others like them are proving, perception doesn’t always match reality. In many cases, we are finding that these small and mid-sized companies, not massive enterprises, are the ones at the bleeding edge of today’s telecom revolution.

Consumerization of Technology

Leading the telecom revolution

Historically, market adoption of major telecom shifts—say from Frame Relay to MPLS—was driven by enterprise-level companies that needed to create global, reliable connectivity, managed centrally at vast NOC-like hubs. As network-driven business processes like online commerce, ubiquitous e-mail, 24×7 customer communications and global supply chains became mission critical to enterprise functionality, connecting thousands of people was a convoluted task. Not to mention, one that drained resources through rising costs, increased complexity and skyrocketing customer expectations. Enterprises were demanding cheaper, simpler and more reliable network services just to ensure their massive businesses could function. Innovation ruled the day, and the faster an enterprise could adapt to the newer technology, the more agile and competitive it become in the rapidly globalizing marketplace.

Navigating an app-driven world

While network technology was becoming tightly integrated into enterprise business functions, a new generation of technology was coming online—mainly “app-driven” technology. Spurred by their smartphones, consumers started using apps for everything from managing a soccer team to tracking packages. Consumers became accustomed and demanded the simplicity of an app to interact, manage and conduct their “business.”

This consumerization of technology easily translated into small and mid-sized businesses, where smaller staffs quickly adopted intuitive, consumer‑like applications. For instance, it doesn’t take an experienced network manager to provision an email account and a phone extension for a new employee. Instead, any office manager can easily set one up through web-enabled interfaces. Likewise, it doesn’t take a full e‑commerce network to accept credit cards. Instead small business snap-up Square devices and, presto, they can expand their markets exponentially. Small businesses have been quick to adopt simple, manageable technology that improves business functions because of its ease-of-use and consumer-like interfaces.

Innovating with the times

Enterprises are now wrestling with a telecom transition again. Rather than making the pivot to innovative technologies like SD-WAN and unified communications, many are standing pat with their technology investments from 15 years ago.

As I discuss in a recent podcast with Light Reading, the value proposition for SD-WAN is unquestionable, but it’s been slow to make inroads with enterprises and some network service providers because they are concerned about abandoning legacy technology: its certainty, its functionality, and its cost. This is understandable; enterprises are usually risk-averse, and complex global network operations cannot be managed by a simple smartphone app.

However, much like in the days when traditional landline phone providers resisted wireless phones as competition, we need to recognize the future when it’s staring us in the face. Just as mobile phones were driven by consumers, we can clearly see software-based telecommunications will eventually replace today’s legacy systems, and that’s one of the reasons Windstream Enterprise is not just committed to innovative technologies like SD-WAN but is leading the industry in their deployment. For all the benefits it brings in terms of simplicity, cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency, the consumerization of technology is a trend that businesses of all sizes should embrace.