In the hands of most SMBs, distributed, cloud-based solutions are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, these solutions level the playing field for small businesses. With technical and cost barriers out of the way, SMBs can finally take advantage of the same technology that their larger competitors use. These solutions can play a huge role in an SMB’s growth and long-term success, and quite frankly, without them, some SMBs wouldn’t be able to exist. On the other hand, the very nature of these solutions, which put a lot of critical data in a cloud environment that requires a more complex IT structure to secure, leaves SMBs even more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats that they are ill-equipped to protect against. A cybersecurity incident originating from one of these solutions and the resulting costs can put an end to a smaller business entirely.

cybersecurity hack

The SMB cybersecurity problem presents some dealers with both an excellent opportunity to differentiate and grow and others with a challenge that threatens their business. It all depends on those dealers’ business models, and whether they currently offer or plan to add managed IT and security services — essentially, whether they are able to take on the role of MSP to partner with SMBs and offer solutions to their cloud deployments and resulting cybersecurity concerns.

The SMB cybersecurity problem

IT departments at SMBs are often overwhelmed because of problems related to cybersecurity. Sharp Electronics Corp. recently commissioned a study by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) that looked at some of the challenges these SMBs were experiencing. Researchers surveyed 250 IT/information security decision makers at organizations of between 20 and 500 employees, 77% of whom said their IT environments had become more complex over the last two years. The No. 1 reason why? The increasing and/or changing cybersecurity landscape — 52% selected this as the reason (the need to use both on-premise and public cloud data centers came in fourth). This is not ideal for SMBs, most of whom are not staffed properly to deal with cybersecurity problems in the first place — 49% of respondents only have one cybersecurity professional on staff, while 36% said their IT staff had multiple responsibilities, of which cybersecurity was just one. In other words, most SMBs are ill-equipped to deal with their biggest problem.

These conditions are a recipe for catastrophe, because one cybersecurity incident can seriously maim or flat-out bankrupt a business. Respondents from the ESG study said that any one cybersecurity incident has a 23% chance of forcing the organization to close its doors for good. And even if a security incident doesn’t deal a fatal blow, it can still cause a lot of damage. While just 19% said a security incident over the last year had resulted in a financial penalty, and 22% reported a loss of revenue, the most commonly reported results of a cybersecurity incident were lost productivity (55%), business disruption (39%), and significant time/personnel needed for remediation (35%). These, of course, are all areas that can have significant financial ramifications for a smaller business.

And as you might imagine, SMBs are frequent targets of cybersecurity incidents, with 66% experiencing at least one serious incident in the last year and nearly half (48%) experiencing more than one. That overworked IT staff is a primary cause of all those incidents – one in three respondents listed the inability for their IT team to keep up with their workload as a leading contributor to a security incident that they experienced in the last year, topped only by end-user error at 38%

It’s not that small businesses aren’t aware of the security risks that they face. It’s simply that cybersecurity professionals are in high demand – so much so that hiring one can be cost prohibitive, exacerbating the cost problem and preventing SMBs from properly protecting themselves.

Well aware of the catastrophic risk and their own porous defenses, cybersecurity conscious SMBs are looking to the MSP community for a solution. In ESG’s survey, 95% of respondents already work with, plan on working with, or are interested in working with MSPs to handle security. It’s not a surprise, as SMBs also have more confidence in an MSP’s cybersecurity capabilities than they do in their own, with 64% of respondents believing MSPs can provide better cybersecurity than their own staff.

Dealer challenges and opportunities created by the SMB cybersecurity problem

There is a certain trickle-down effect to these cybersecurity challenges faced by SMBs, and it means dealers have to face their own set of challenges and opportunities. For those who haven’t expanded beyond print services, there is some cause for concern.

Dealers must consider how cybersecurity problems will impact their customers’ spending habits. Of the IT decision makers surveyed by ESG, 77% said that they expect to spend more on cybersecurity, with 21% of those respondents predicting a substantial increase in spending. Given often tight budgets, especially in a time of economic uncertainty, this money is likely coming out of another bucket, and could mean decreased spend on print-related products.

That’s not just speculation — when asked how they felt MSPs’ abilities to deliver technology services compared with their own, 65% of respondents believed that their own staff could provide comparable, if not better, print services than an MSP. If they’re looking for cuts, it’s safe to assume they’d shift spend away from the things that they can do on their own to spend more on the things that they can’t. Dealers who offer cybersecurity solutions are better suited to protect their print revenues, as they can bundle the service at a better rate.

Offering cybersecurity solutions also creates an excellent opportunity to expand your footprint in existing accounts and get a foot in the door of others you might have never been able to talk to before. Cybersecurity solutions are incredibly sticky. They provide a solution to a problem that customers cannot solve on their own, and one that isn’t going away. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents said that MSPs reduced complexity in their IT environment (let’s not forget, cybersecurity problems were the biggest reason that their IT environment was becoming more complex in the first place).

Although ESG’s survey found a lot of interest in working with MSPs, SMBs really don’t want to work with multiple service providers: 81% of respondents that already use MSPs, said that they only work with one. In addition, 56% of respondents said they are interested in “working with an MSP that offers end-to-end solutions” and 42% want to hear more about those kind of solutions.

It’s obvious that SMBs are eager to engage in conversations when it comes to solving cybersecurity problems and other managed services. The ability to provide multiple solutions – print, IT, security, and more – puts your business at a major competitive advantage, both in attracting new customers and in retaining old ones.

How can you solve your customers’ security problems?

Easier said than done, you may say. Making the shift from print hardware dealer to a provider of multiple managed services can be difficult and resource intensive, but there are a few ways to get there, and you don’t necessarily need to launch your own cybersecurity business.

The truth is that dealers in the print industry most likely already have relationships with the people and companies that can help them enter the cybersecurity market. OEMs are facing many of the same challenges as their dealers – declines in office print combined with an increased need for software, collaboration and security solutions. The difference is that the OEMs have extensive resources, often with their fingers in numerous high-tech businesses as well as partnerships with leading solutions providers.

Chances are good that at least one OEM whose line you carry offers other solutions as well. Particularly over the last six months as the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the business landscape, OEMs have been hard at work developing new products, packages and solutions. It is easier than ever for traditional hardware providers to add packages that will help meet customers’ additional needs – products like laptops, monitors, and even routers can be packaged together with printers and MFPs to create a complete hardware offering. Meanwhile, using cloud platforms to enable IT infrastructure support and remote monitoring gives you the ability to provide managed IT services through existing partnerships that will help create the end-to-end solutions SMBs are looking for.

We have been talking for a long time about the changes that were coming to office print, and those changes have been accelerated over the last several months. A remote workforce reliant on cloud-based solutions, decreased printing, and constantly evolving and escalating security threats have, more than ever, created a need for office hardware dealers to take on the role of MSP. No, it isn’t easy, but it’s also not necessary to go it alone. With the right partnerships, dealers can work with existing and new customers to provide relief for the area of the greatest concern to SMBs – the changing cybersecurity landscape.

Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at