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Small to medium businesses have often not been able to compete with the big end of town because of their lack of large IT budgets and access to the technological advances which power today’s dynamic enterprises. There are now compelling arguments for moving to cloud-based solutions but you should first remodel your business processes.

Your ideas for a local operation can now be powered by cloud to take you to a global marketplace. In assessing your company’s service offering and growth plans, is information integration high on the agenda? The majority of Australian mid-tier businesses are using Outlook, Excel and MYOB to run their operations, yet none of these is integrated with the other, causing duplication and risk of error. If a customer calls with an enquiry, can your staff bring up the client’s details, buying and payment history, current activity and internal communications?

Before any consideration is given to a strategic change in a business technology platform, such as a move to cloud, I cannot stress too strongly the need for a thorough assessment of where you want your organisation to be and what you want it to look like in the future. The more specific the plan, the better you are able to design a technology brief to underpin it. And, vitally, the smoother the transition to that new IT system and the faster the return on investment.

The key benefits of the cloud model – reduced costs and management overheads, flexibility, scalability and accessibility – are becoming increasingly well proven and understood, particularly in the larger organisations that were the early adopters. But recreating your current systems and processes in the cloud won’t address any fundamental issues you have with your operations.

By looking at your core business and identifying the process issues that create difficulties for your employees and limit your business today, you will be better placed to develop an effective cloud-based infrastructure, application and services strategy.

Asking the hard questions

  • Where are the next growth opportunities and can your systems meet those challenges?
  • How can you achieve an integrated, real-time view of business performance?
  • What are your business process challenges across marketing, sales and accounting functions?
  • How should your employees collaborate in the best interests of the customer and the business?
  • How can you minimise data re-entry between departmental systems?
  • Beyond process improvement, do the platforms you’re evaluating give opportunities for evolving your business model?
  • Do the bottlenecks in your business occur in operational silos?
  • Are manual approvals and signatures still required for things that could be handled online?

The advantages of cloud for SMBs

  • Subscription service, scalable monthly billing
  • Integration of core applications
  • Scalability
  • Mobility

Enterprises of all sizes now have access to purpose built, cost effective cloud solutions. Even as a small-to-medium sized company, you no longer fall behind because of budgetary or IT specialist resourcing issues. Two of the greatest benefits of cloud for SMBs derive from ‘multi-tenancy’ and subscription services.

‘Multi-tenancy’ provides the power of scale, with many sharing the cost load. Cloud-based vendors of infrastructure, business software, and backup and disaster recovery systems ensure you are always operating with the latest version, to the highest levels of security and availability.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service, the provision and delivery of your core business applications, are sold on a monthly subscription basis, so there are no hefty upfront bills and all upgrades are the responsibility of the vendor in the cloud. Plus there are significant savings in the expense of internal IT staff or external consultants and the maintenance of physical servers and equipment.

It is now possible to have access to sophisticated and affordable cloud-based accounting, CRM and even eCommerce all in a single, fully integrated suite: one business suite which works the same way no matter what application you use, and a single system for all your staff to learn.

Opening a new office, creating a mobile workforce, providing a customer portal, coping with a shutdown from a natural disaster – all are made more manageable with your entire IT system in the cloud. It frees management and sales teams from the constraints of being in the office – you can log in from anywhere to get an up to date view of your business and customer requirements. You can even go on holidays, log in to see that everything is running smoothly and return to the beach.

Efficiency and innovation

Businesses looking at a cloud strategy should quiz potential suppliers of IT solutions on how their technologies can power entirely new ways of doing and running the business.

Where a company might previously have kept a large inventory, it might be able to pass orders directly to its suppliers in real time, cutting out the cost of keeping stock whilst maintaining high levels of responsiveness to its customers. If your accounting, eCommerce, customer and finance systems are unified it’s easier to experiment with multiple sales channels – both online and offline – leveraging the same central warehouse and investment in stock.

A services-based business might provide the ability for consultants to submit time and expense sheets directly for approval in the system – improving the project tracking process and speeding up the billing cycle – or, indeed, publish project status updates and other collateral in a secure customer portal online, and thus improve customer communications.

All enterprises are now able to transform their customer communications by monitoring and engaging with them directly from their business management platform via the media that matters to them – from Twitter to Facebook and back.

To ensure you remain competitive and thrive, it’s vital that in evaluating these new technology platforms you don’t replicate in the cloud what you do now. Look to embrace the opportunity to do things differently.

–Mark Troselj is APAC MD and VP of Sales for NetSuite, a leading cloud solutions provider

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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