For years, headlines about cloud computing have focused on infrastructure for the enterprise. Stories typically focus on the vendors – Amazon Web Services, Azure, Google App Engine, OpenStack, etc. – or on the benefits such as scalability, reliability, cost efficiency and of course that enterprise buzzword, “agility”.
But there’s an equally large, if not larger revolution occurring in small business where the catalyst is cloud software more than infrastructure-as-a-service. The greatest improvement over desktop or server software is this – the cloud promises easy access to the latest business technology.
What does this mean? In practical terms, a business owner armed with just a credit card and an internet connection can use nearly any cloud program in the world. Often for free on a 30-day trial. The implication of this commonly accepted fact is so enormous that many fail to see the significance.
Think about the hurdles an SME faced in the past if it wanted to trial a customer database or inventory program. A test server had to be ordered and installed by a consultant paid on an hourly rate. The software itself needed to be requested separately and loaded onto the machine, with data exported from the existing application and imported into the new one.
Even a program on a desktop PC still required downloading, installing and configuring before a SME could put it through its paces. Money and time are always in short supply in small business, so why risk both testing out new technology?
The truth was that it was easier to stick with older software, patching its shortcomings with manual processes and workarounds, than to bother looking for a better fit.
The cloud changes all that. A real estate agent in Sydney can test a CRM recommended by a peer in Chicago just by setting up a username and password one evening.
On a global scale, we should see SMEs make an enormous jump in their productivity and efficiency as they move off outdated software and onto the latest cloud programs, matched by a concomitant improvement in business processes.
Take that real estate agency. Imagine if it wanted to boost the number of bidders at auction. It could use an SMS broadcast service to contact all interested parties on auction day to remind them of the starting time and the address. A simple solution to a common problem, solved quickly with a cloud application.
The Rise to Enterprise
The kicker with cloud is that it gives SMEs access to the same tools used by multinationals. There are no barriers to using Salesforce.com, NetSuite, SugarCRM, Office 365, Google Apps, etc. in your three-person startup.
Enterprise concepts and practices go hand in hand with these technology platforms. As SMEs automate their marketing and sales processes, or hire and manage staff in remote offices, or map strategies to KPIs – this digital revolution will create a global army of highly capable businesses operating at a far higher frequency.
I don’t doubt they will be more agile too.