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Talk about a wide-open sales opportunity for the channel.

A recent online survey designed to measure IT effectiveness at small businesses found that nearly a quarter of respondents scored at grade of “D” or “F.” The IT Effectiveness Index (ITEI) Mid-Year Report 2009, a measurement tool designed and sponsored by a consortium focused on the SMB market, also found that 37 percent of small businesses earned a “C” grade for the management and maintenance of their own in-house IT operations.

This isn’t exactly a surprise, given that most SMB customers (defined as those with 100 or fewer employees) lack a dedicated IT staff of any kind and typically relegate those duties part-time to whomever has some level of technical savvy inside the company. Moreover, since many small businesses are cash-strapped they don’t upgrade to even-close to the latest technology and regularly delay purchasing. Keeping older equipment running smoothly compounds matters for the part-time guy.

And yet, here’s the confounding thing.Two-thirds of the survey respondents said IT and Web commerce were the foundations that enable their business success. Foundations? Getting an “F?” Not so good. The survey results showed that SMB customers with poor or failing grades did not possess ample protection against security threats, were not prepared to respond to network incidents and suffered unacceptable levels of IT availability and downtime.

All this adds up to inefficiency, added costs and an inability to focus on the core business mission. No president or owner of a small business can weather that reality on a long-term basis. Here’s where the channel comes in. If ever a group of customers was ready to turn their IT operations over to an expert to manage at a predictable monthly charge, it’s the sub-100 employee organization. It’s a cap-ex vs. op-ex discussion that every solution provider offering some form of managed services should have with these customers.

One thing to note: These customers need service providers because their situation is a mess. They are not in control of their IT systems or processes. So before taking over their operations and locking into an SLA, make sure to do a thorough IT assessment, mapped to business goals, then remediate as needed before activating the SLA terms.

That will save you a lot of headaches and a lot of money.

Read the full index here iteffectivenessindex