A lesson in understanding your customers

Allowing small businesses to benefit from the latest technology without the need for specialist skills is important to the economy - but some vendors forget this

While many industry analysts (arguably most) are focused on the leading/bleeding edge of the IT industry, we at Freeform Dynamics are more concerned with what we call the mainstream marketplace. If you imagine a bell curve with extreme risk takers at one end, and extreme conservatives at the other, it’s the bulk of organisations that fall in between that make up our primary audience.

With this in mind, I had a very refreshing briefing with D-Link recently, a company I hadn’t spoken with directly for quite a while.

Unlike a lot of the presentations from IT vendors, the message from the outset was that the company is not interested in being first to market with bleeding-edge technology and standards. 

D-Link generally waits until new developments stabilise, then incorporates them into mainstream-friendly products and services so they can be exploited in an easy and cost-effective manner. The aim is to be first (or at least very early) into the game with solutions suitable for the masses.

From what I can see, this philosophy comes through in the D-Link product portfolio pretty well. Its offerings generally tick all the right the boxes from a future-proofing perspective, but the incorporation of advanced technology doesn’t appear to translate to complexity when it comes to implementation, use and management. 

The upshot is that in practice, D-Link solutions might not always be to your liking if you are a technology guru that likes tinkering with lots of options to customise and tune your equipment. But if you just want stuff to work in the scenarios you are most likely to encounter in a normal everyday environment, then the approach is a breath of fresh air. 

Many IT vendor representatives appear to know the theory of delivering solutions to non-specialists, but seem not to have a feel for what this translates to in practice

A good example of the approach in action is D-Link’s latest range of wireless kit based on 802.11ac. For those who are not familiar with this latest Wi-Fi standard, it basically works in the higher (less noisy) part of the spectrum and uses a range of clever techniques to deliver not just faster speeds, but a lot more capacity in a given wireless network. 

While comms specialists will undoubtedly cringe at my dumbed-down description, it doesn’t matter because all you really need to know is that you can support more users doing more things at higher speeds via a single wireless router or access point. And why is this important? Well in a home setting it’s because we are already seeing a lot more media streaming and other types of volume data transfer, and this is only going to increase.

In an small business environment, it’s more about keeping everything working smoothly as richer applications demand more bandwidth, while at the same time being able to handle the influx of personal devices onto the network as BYOD (bring your own device) takes hold in its various guises.

Even if you are only giving employees guest access, when everyone has one or two devices constantly polling and retrieving stuff from service providers, not to mention employees streaming everything from cat videos to cricket highlights, your old Wi-Fi network can easily become maxed out.

Coming back to D-Link, in addition to the hardware piece, it has thought through the level at which it’s best to pitch management capability for looking after a home or small business network. This includes a cloud-based portal that presents essential configuration options and basic monitoring data in a manner that doesn’t require you to be at all comms-savvy to understand it. D-Link is, of course, not unique in providing cloud-based management software, but some solutions out there are clearly overkill. Again, we see the “less is more” principle in action.

One of the other reasons that prompted to write about D-Link apart from the mainstream focus is because the importance of making advanced technology more accessible came through strongly in a recent Freeform Dynamics research study. Based on interviews with 500 European SMEs (10 to 250 employees), it was clear that smaller businesses in particular usually have little or no dedicated IT resources in house (see the diagram below, which is taken from this report).

IT skills in small businesses - chart by Freeform Dynamics

Allowing such businesses to benefit from the latest technology developments without the need for specialist skills is extremely important to the economy. In this respect, vendors like D-Link who have a foot in SME and consumer camps sometimes have more empathy with smaller companies than vendors who start with enterprise solutions then develop variants for the lower end of the business market.

Quite a contrast to many of the other discussions with IT vendor representatives who appear to know the theory of delivering solutions to non-specialists, but seem not to have a feel for what this translates to in practice.

Dale Vile (pictured) is research director and CEO at analyst Freeform Dynamics.

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