What is behind small businesses having an edge over larger ones, given small and medium sized enterprises’ (SMEs) traditional disadvantages with regard to financial resources, people and infrastructure? One major factor is a little thing called cloud computing.
Now, you might be perfectly familiar with cloud computing, with the capability that it gives organisations to access vital applications and software via the Internet, instead of having to depend on maintaining their own software and applications on their own computers or servers.
However, you may not have been so aware of the scale of its adoption to date, or the considerable impact that it has already made in ‘levelling the playing field’ for small businesses and start-ups.
While large enterprises (the Goliaths) have long dominated the world of business, in recent years, they have been given many more bloody noses by progressively stronger, leaner and faster SMEs (the Davids) in large part thanks to the cloud.
Cloud services have transformed the business landscape
Things weren’t always like this. Once upon a time, it was simply accepted that even a small firm with brilliant products and a well-thought-out business plan had little chance of competing with pretty much any business boasting more cash, people and sales; those firms that had the resources to provide higher quality products and a better service.
That’s no longer the case to quite the same extent now that cloud computing has truly permeated the business landscape, according to the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), the UK now has an 84 per cent overall cloud adoption rate, with 78 per cent of cloud users (almost four in every five) using two or more cloud services.
As a matter of fact, cloud adoption in the UK has risen by some 75 per cent since 2010, and there’s little sign of this growth relenting any time soon, as shown by the half of all respondents that expected to eventually move their entire IT estate to the cloud.
How has cloud migration made such a big difference?
To understand how cloud technology has come to turn the business world on its head, one needs to understand that new start-ups have traditionally been held back by two factors; cash and capability.
Historically, a new business’s need to invest a huge amount of capital into technology to have even a faint chance of competing with the ‘big boys’ has often deterred many from even thinking about it.
Small firms not only used to have to purchase a lot of hardware and software to even get started, but also the necessary security and maintenance and even the space within which to house it all, putting them at a disadvantage before they had even begun.
Now, though, small businesses are in a drastically different climate, one in which, with the right ideas and execution, they can be almost expected to out-muscle the big boys.
Below are some of the areas in which the right cloud services, ranging from Microsoft Office 365 to Xero Accounting, can be instrumental in helping your small business to grow.
No small business can survive or thrive if it fails to keep track of its finances, which is why the right accounting solution will always be crucial.
Unsurprisingly, then, there has been an upsurge in the number of cloud-based accounting services on the market, all promising to keep your data secure, up to date and constantly available for whenever you need it.
One of the most renowned of these is Xero Accounting, an application that allows you to see the latest financial information about your business at any time, from a PC, Mac, tablet or phone, perfect for monitoring such vital data ‘on the go’.
Not only does the mobile app included in this cloud software make it easy to keep on top of your firm’s finances, but Xero Accounting offers so many of the same advantages as other cloud software solutions, such as the need for only minimal upfront capital expenditure and no additional hardware.
Xero Accounting’s system of monthly fees per user allows you to easily manage your company’s spend, not least as you also won’t need to pay for upgrades. Even backups are done for you!
Email and documents
These are among the most important applications for any business, and again, certain cloud services, such as Microsoft Office 365, help to give small and medium-sized enterprises that crucial extra agility needed to compete with the major players.
There is no more complete email and document solution for cloud-based SMEs than Office 365. The ability that this application provides to ‘mix and match’ per user to ensure they only use the aspects of the program that they actually require helps you to minimise costs.
Furthermore, the storage of your Office 365 data in the most secure data centres gives you the peace of mind of knowing that only you can access your email and documents.
Big Data has been widely trumpeted as the next big frontier for company growth, with many technology observers suggesting that firms failing to embrace it will simply become another Kodak or Blockbuster.
Data is certainly useful for unlocking insight, but it can also become a commodified asset to be sold or used in the generation of better business opportunities.
Historically, the most ambitious companies wishing to extract the most value from data were required to plough millions of pounds into a supercomputer taking up half their offices.
Today, however, we are in the era of High Performance Computing (HPC), whereby you can much more efficiently and cost-effectively compete with the biggest industry players, thanks to such products as Microsoft’s Power BI.
While there will almost certainly be resistance to this transition from companies that fear it or simply do not see any business benefit from it, it is almost certainly those firms that elect to invest their resources into Big Data to supercharge their business that will be on the right side of history and reap the rewards.
Line of Business
A Line of Business application is also crucial for the running and management of many small firms, typically taking the form of a database like a CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
Again, there are many fine cloud-based solutions for this purpose on the market, with many recruitment companies, for instance, using Bullhorn, which helps them to run a much more efficient business through its retention of information about clients and candidates alike.
Every part of the recruitment cycle, in fact, from candidate sourcing, submission and placement to the creation, completion and signing of onboarding documents, can be made more efficient with Bullhorn.
Applications like Bullhorn can be used straight away, quickly giving you a capability on a par with, or even surpassing ,the world’s largest companies in your sector.
Seize the advantage while you still can
However, it isn’t necessarily the individual merits of these cloud-based platforms that make them most effective in helping to power forward small business growth, but instead the seamless way they integrate with each other.
Simply taking a few seconds to configure these programs appropriately may be all that you need to do to get them natively speaking to each other and helping to create workflows that maximise your organisation’s efficiency at the same time as minimising human error.
This isn’t an advantage that many of the Goliaths presently have. They may have already invested thousands, even millions of pounds into the development of IT systems that use fundamentally ‘old style’ technology, requiring their own hardware, backups and private data centres in addition to a 24/7 team of IT experts.
Over time, these bigger businesses are sure to make the move to fully-fledged cloud services. But in the meantime, your small firm has an invaluable opportunity to steal a march on them with solutions that take away the need for you to manage any of the associated hardware, hosting or applications.
This has the effect of greatly reducing infrastructure and people costs, at the same time as boosting reliability, which will help to keep your actual employee end-users happy.
Is your small business ready to take on the world?
The old excuses about your company simply not being able to match the resources of the bigger players are becoming increasingly non-applicable, and it’s fair to say that cloud migration has played a fundamental part in that.
Now, you can start a small business with very little capital expenditure, and yet within a few hours, have a capability rivalling that of world-leading large enterprises.
As a matter of fact, your use of the cloud may even enable you to offer a slicker, faster and less staff-intensive service than those larger corporations can hope to provide.
Rarely have we seen such a profound shift in the corporate balance of power as cloud technologies have brought, and the evidence suggests this trend will be sustained over the coming years.
It has been estimated that 86 per cent of UK-based organisations may now be using at least one cloud service, with the applications that respondents to the aforementioned CIF research most anticipate switching to the cloud in the near future ranging from CRM and disaster recovery to data storage, email and collaboration services.
Don’t miss your chance to get your small or medium-sized company on the cloud in the coming months in order to realise significant growth benefits for many years to come.
The cloud has truly become viable for businesses of any size or age, with the result being that the corporate David is slaying the corporate Goliath more often than ever before.