Last year, to mark our 10th anniversary, ITBusiness.ca began surveying the IT strategies of Canadian businesses. This year, we marked Small Business Month by delving deeper into the habits of small businesses around the country in the second annual State of the Canadian SMB survey report. What we discovered by studying 300 businesses is that although they vary in size and scope, they have some telling views on IT and its role in their businesses. From smartphones to social media, what are small businesses saying?

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  • Racing to keep up

    From virtualization to social networking, technology continues to speed ahead without rest, so is it any surprise that when asked about the biggest challenges to managing their IT infrastructure, nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadian small businesses pointed to the difficulty of staying current and competitive with technology. At the same time, one-fifth say that maintaining legacy hardware and software is a challenge.

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  • Self-managed, multi-vendor

    Despite the management challenges, and a wealth of consultants, vendors and VARs eager to turn to, the vast majority (84 per cent) of Canadian small businesses manage their IT infrastructure using in-house resources. Still, at the same time many do turn to consultant firms and vendors for assistance (19 per cent each). And of those vendors, nearly all deal with multiple suppliers, with the majority (36 per cent) dealing with more than five.

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  • Flat budgets, hot techs in 2012

    Budgets aren’t growing in 2012, with most respondents (56 per cent) telling us tech budgets will remain flat—up from 2010 when slightly less than half (49 per cent) expected a flat budget. The good news: last year nearly one-quarter (23 per cent) of small businesses expected IT budgets to drop in 2011, while only about one-sixth (16 per cent) do this year. Virtualization topped the list of technologies respondents said would help grow and improve their businesses next year (at 47 per cent), followed closely by CRM (45 per cent). Ferreting out new opportunities for growth, a third of small businesses will also be looking to business intelligence next year.

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  • BYOD

    Canadian small businesses show mixed feelings about the Bring Your Own Device movement. While nearly one-third (32 per cent) are encouraged to use their own devices at work, many (23 per cent) are not, and another near third (32 per cent) currently have no policy nor plans to implement one in the near future. Still, a few who don’t yet have it nailed down are working on developing a policy in the next 12 months.

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  • Cloud concerns not cloudy

    Although many small businesses are eyeing the cloud as a potential technology to promote efficiency and growth, it’s not without concerns around adoption. A majority (56 per cent) has not yet deployed any cloud technology, and security and cost and pricing structures seem to be the main reasons why (at 36 and 26 per cent, respectively). Concerns about data being located outside Canada and ownership and access to that data were also top of mind with many.

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  • Social media wariness

    There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day for many Canadian small businesses to deploy social networking. Lack of time and resources tops the list of detractors from small businesses in taking the social media plunge (with 34 per cent of respondents), but security and privacy concerns loom large, with more than one-quarter (26 per cent) citing it as the main reason for anti-“social media” behaviour. Also many either can’t qualify its impact (11 per cent) or don’t see it as worth investing in (17 per cent).

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  • Smartphone stats

    Smartphone features are getting good play say respondents, with an overwhelming majority using them for e-mail (88 per cent), and most using them for instant messaging (55 per cent) and Web browsing (65 per cent). Even productivity apps are getting a fair share of use in Canadian small businesses, with more than one-third embracing them (39 per cent).
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  • Wireless ways

    Only about one-tenth (11 per cent) of Canadian small businesses don’t use wireless Internet technology, with the vast majority using wireless LANs (82 per cent). More than one-quarter (28 per cent) also use USB sticks and more than one-fifth tether to their smartphone (22 per cent)—adding even more function to their devices. A majority (70 per cent) say they use wireless cellular Internet for mobile workers, while a fifth of respondents also use it to back-up their landline Internet.

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  • Migration methods

    Many Canadian small businesses have already migrated to Windows 7 (43 per cent), but about half of those who haven’t (25 per cent of those surveyed) are planning to this year. Others are using Mac OS X or at least planning to, or are planning to skip Windows 7 straight or Windows 8 (8 per cent, each), while others (15 per cent) have wildly different OS plans.
    Most of Canada’s small businesses either upgrade OS with the one on new purchased PCs and laptops (38 per cent) or buy OS licences and internally deploy them (34 per cent), while about one-fifth (21 per cent) upgrade ad hoc as needed.

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  • Sticking with known tech

    Despite the adoption of new technologys like smartphones and tablets, nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadian small business respondents have no plans to drop any current ICT technologies over the next five years. Those that do will be mostly give up traditional phones (28 per cent), netbooks (26 per cent) and PDAs (21 per cent), but for some PCs and laptops will join them on the chopping block (12 and 6 per cent, respectively).

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