Flexibility and adaptability: Preparing for what’s next in SME IT Chase is a principal strategist at JumpCloud, designing authentication strategies and evangelizing customer solutions. He has been working in venture-backed startups across identity, security, integration, and DevOps for the last decade. Chase is a frequent speaker on topics from evangelism, systems, and identity. He’s based in Colorado and is a mentor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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After moving on from lockdowns and supply chain shortages, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now face entirely new challenges: layoffs, recession fears, and a different kind of economic uncertainty.

Recent research from McKinsey found over one-third (37%) of SMEs consider inflation to be their biggest challenge, the highest it’s rated in four decades. The same survey highlights that SMEs are preparing for more tumult: 20% expect slowed growth, 50% say it’s hard filling open positions, and nearly 90% believe few or no qualified candidates are available.

If IT teams within SMEs have internalized any lesson over the last few years, it’s that modern IT management demands flexibility and adaptability to balance complex current needs while keeping the organization ready to respond to new developments and growth. Effectively managing new workplace models requires a relentless commitment to securing employees and to prioritizing a friction-free digital experience no matter what external factors arise.

A biannual survey, commissioned by JumpCloud, gauges the state of IT in SMEs. This most recent edition reveals the acute challenges and opportunities faced by IT practitioners in SMEs, how they’re responding to a rapidly evolving digital landscape while facing economic uncertainty, and best practices for how others can embrace flexibility, ingenuity, and innovation to establish a new IT norm.

The changing IT landscape

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation across businesses of all sizes. Three years later, the trend continues. SMEs in particular experienced a shift from single device-type environments to a mix of devices and systems. On average, SMEs’ device environment is now 64% Windows, 20% macOS, and 16% Linux. SMEs are looking for alternatives to legacy systems: of the 63% of SMEs who use Microsoft AD or Azure AD, 62% would replace it with something more flexible and user-friendly. The line between corporate-owned and personal devices is blurrier than ever, as 62% of SME admins use personal devices for work-related tasks. Legacy systems and wired machines have given way to SaaS applications, virtual servers, and wireless networks. To meet tomorrow’s needs, SMEs are seeking a tech stack that embraces an open, cloud-based model capable of supporting their evolving requirements.

The role of IT admins

Often serving as the engine that powers entire organizations, SME IT admins are digital transformers within their organizations. Their critical insights shed light on the path forward for organizations grappling with economic uncertainty, complex IT environments, and a broad range of responsibilities. The present survey suggests that today’s IT teams wrestle with major security concerns and complicated IT environments. To tackle these challenges, IT admins are increasingly turning to managed service providers (MSPs) for help with a broad array of services, from help desk support and disaster recovery to system management and cloud storage.

Some key findings:

          Security remains a top concern: As external threats grow in sophistication and frequency, security remains paramount: 59% of SME IT admins rate security as their biggest challenge. External threats loom large: network attacks topped the list of concerns (38%), followed by ransomware (33%), software vulnerability exploits (27%), and use of unsecured networks (25%).

          Tooling is complex and costly: A plurality of admins (44%) need between three and seven tools just to do their job. An unlucky 5% need more than 19. As IT admins respond to the changing landscape of devices, identity, and access management, licensing costs are increasing. Nearly one-third (31%) spend between 25–50% of their budget on it.

          A complicated tech stack leads to worry: Most admins are managing a device landscape that includes Windows, macOS, and Linux devices, requiring a security approach that adequately covers all. Nearly half of IT teams (49%) report being more concerned about their organization’s security posture than they were six months ago; 68% fear that any cuts to their security budget will increase their organization’s risk.

MSPs are increasingly important and valuable: In light of today’s IT reality—the growth in different types of devices in the workplace, the accelerated sprawl of applications and resources employees need to access, the increasing sophistication of hackers—many SMEs are seeking support from MSPs. Nine in 10 (90%) of SMEs are either working with or considering working with an MSP. For 27% of SMEs, an MSP manages the entire IT program. And MSPs are delivering value: 56% of respondents say their MSP use has resulted in better security; 61% report that MSPs are up-to-date with the latest technologies, and 55% say MSPs are providing a better user experience.

Building resilient IT environments

For smaller firms who lack enterprise-sized teams or budgets, IT is the heart of any organization. These findings reveal steps SMEs can take to improve productivity, bolster security, and enable better working environments for employees and the IT teams that support them.

          Listen and let IT lead on spending: IT admins possess a deep understanding of organizational tech needs and value measurement. Organizations should heed their recommendations, whether about cybersecurity investments or MSP partnership considerations.

          Prepare to accommodate diverse device environments: Implementing a mobile device management (MDM) strategy centralizes device management for Windows, macOS, and Linux devices, ensuring robust security measures and policies no matter the operating system.

          Consolidate tools: IT admins overwhelmingly express the desire for a single tool to streamline their job responsibilities. Consolidating tools alleviates the burden on overworked admins, improving user experience, convenience, effectiveness, and security. It can also deliver significant cost savings by eliminating unnecessary or underused tools.

          Optimize operations with an MSP: The benefits of working with MSPs are widely recognized by IT professionals, so it’s understandable why the MSP market is projected to see significant growth. Organizations should consider leveraging partner expertise to enhance security, employee experience, and overall IT operations.

Listening to SME IT teams and their experiences, aspirations, and concerns offers organizations a valuable opportunity to build an IT environment that can withstand whatever challenges lie ahead. By embracing flexibility, adaptability, and direct insights from these IT teams, today’s SMEs can be resilient as they confidently navigate digital transformation and prepare for future growth.

(Editor’s note: This article is sponsored by JumpCloud)

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