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Survey Says: Midsized Businesses Hyped on Digital Transformation

Midsized businesses are surprisingly enthusiastic about digital transformation, even as they face distinct challenges in the process, according to a recent survey of 250 midsized business IT professionals sponsored by CenturyLink.

Early adopters, in particular, had very positive attitudes, with 88% reporting enthusiasm and even 65% of "laggards" saying they were also enthusiastic about the benefits of digital transformation. Those numbers even surprised Vernon Irvin, president, government, education, medium and small business, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL). A little more than half (53%) of those surveyed said they are engaged in or planning a digital transformation process.

"What was really surprising was the enthusiasm of people who are embracing the fact they have the opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity leveraging the stuff we have the opportunity to position with them," Irvin says in an interview. "It's not just the age-old 'I've got to spend money on IT,' it's 'This is the way we are going to do business going forward.' And that's very exciting."

On the flip side of that upbeat view, however, is the reality that 47% of those surveyed fall into the "laggard" category and are being passive about the digital transformation process, the survey noted. Irvin sees those businesses at risk for multiple reasons, including facing the kind of disruption that companies such as Lyft and Airbnb have brought to the transportation and travel industries.

He also notes that IT professionals at midsized businesses must work to stay ahead of "shadow IT" and the continued consumerization of the digital technologies businesses need to transform themselves. People accustomed to the convenience of shopping through Amazon Prime want that same experience with what they consume at work.

"Consumers will go and buy solutions that are easy to use and easy to buy and then they come into the enterprises and want that same experience," he notes. "IT professionals need to make sure they are working very closely with marketing, finance and sale groups to help with this digital transformation to insure these new technologies get deployed in those organizations and the transformation work gets completed and you see the upside in the business. That is going to be a challenge."

CenturyLink has been working with its own sales engineers to try to help coach its IT professional customers on how to be "the center of excellence" on digital technologies for their businesses and get ahead of the curve, recognizing their employees as customers for what IT can provide, Irvin says.

The survey showed significant anxiety around security in the digital world, with 40% of early adopters saying they feel "vulnerable" and 59% of laggards citing security as a concern. But 72% still said digital transformation is either critical or very important to their business future.

Many of these midsized firms, defined as having between 11 and 500 employees, lack the resources of larger firms but feel driven to compete with them, Irvin says. More than half of those surveyed cited budget constraints and limited time/staff as major constraints on their ability.


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The challenge for service providers is being able to serve these midsized businesses cost effectively, Irvin acknowledges, since they have varying needs but don't represent the business volume to justify customized services or products.

CenturyLink's approach has been to develop turnkey managed services that are sold in bundles which can be adjusted to meet specific business needs, he says. CenturyLink gains insights from SpiceWorks, a community of IT professionals -- and the company that conducted the survey -- to help design and deliver service packages that include connectivity, connections to top cloud providers and security, he says.

"We are also working hard to make it easier to do business with CenturyLink," Irvin notes, including easier on-demand service ordering and single bill options.

The full results of the study can be viewed here.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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