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There’s so much talk around SMEs and cloud computing these days and while some people will tell you small business are embracing the opportunities it offers, some of our readers tells us they still don’t really get it and they’re being confused by spin. So we asked a few experts to give us their opinion on the key benefits and concerns.

Jeyan Jeevaratnam, country manager at Avanade ANZ.

Q: What do you see as the main benefits for SMEs?
A: In many instances, the technology can be used for free, or purchased on a pay-per-use model which makes it far more affordable. Purchasing applications rather than software provides them with far more flexibility in managing their budgets and business requirements. In addition, cloud technology empowers mobile workers, giving them access to their work any time from any device and from any location.

Q: What are their most common fears?
A: For many, the thing holding them back is a lack of understanding. SMEs typically don’t have dedicated IT staff to properly evaluate the available options, so they stick with what they know. Another deterrent is the issue of security, which can be addressed by understanding the cloud provider’s security policies and the steps they take to secure customers’ data.

Mark Baylis, General Manager of Digital Business, Optus SMB

Q: What do you see as the main benefits for SMEs?

A: Time is money for a small business, yet many are not taking advantage of cloud and are losing out on potentially being more productive and efficient. Using cloud-based services means SMBs have more flexibility in running their business. It can mean more time to focus on business growth rather than the technology that supports the business.

Q: And do SMEs understand it now?

A: Many of the SMBs we talk to don’t really understand cloud or the benefits it can bring to their business, it’s an ongoing education process. Many may already be using cloud in the form of hosted email, but they don’t recognise it as cloud.

Q: What’s holding them back?

A: The most common challenge is a lack of knowledge and understanding of what cloud actually is. For SMBs who do have an understanding of cloud but haven’t used it, we find they are cautious as they think it will be complicated to set up and manage.

Q: What are the best examples you are seeing of SMEs using cloud computing?

A: Good examples are businesses that use a combination of cloud and mobile technologies to be more flexible and productive. For example, a small plumbing business using cloud to access their business applications while visiting a client and generating a client invoice on the spot.

Adrian De Luca, Chief Technologist ANZ, Hitachi Data Systems

Q: What do you see as the main benefits of cloud for SMEs?
A: The standardised deployment of applications that can provide full feature capabilities allows SMEs to access the same software as their larger competitors, at a lower cost. SMEs typically don’t have large budgets to fund internal IT personnel to maintain systems. Being able to purchase applications in the cloud as a pay-per-use with lower penalties if they decide to opt out is highly attractive in terms of cashflow.

Q: Do the majority of SMEs actually understand the concept?

A: Many SMEs are already using cloud services and probably don’t even know it! For example, Dropbox is a convenient way to share files and is in fact a cloud service. They’re also using hosted email services from their ISP or public cloud providers, such as Gmail. Some are even exploring Microsoft’s Office 365 as an alternative to buying productivity software for the desktop.

Q: What are their most common fears?
A: From an SME perspective, they are not used to renting IT services (traditionally buying cheaper IT devices) so this is a different mindset for them. After some of the highly publicised failures from providers, some SMEs are not at the stage where they will entrust a service provider with the availability and integrity of their information just yet.

Q: What are the best ways SMEs are making the most of cloud computing?

A: They’re are moving to products like Office 365 to get all their desktop software, communications and collaboration products hosted for them.

Richard Ruth, National Sales and Marketing Manager, M5 Networks Australia

­­­­­­Q: What do you see as the main benefits for SMEs?
A: SMEs will be able to do more with less. Cloud technology will unshackle them from the desktop and create enormous opportunities for them to create a flexible, mobile workforce. They will see less capital costs and less IT complications with cloud technology.

Q: Do you think the majority of SMEs actually understand the concept?

A: In our experience, most of them understand the concept, but don’t yet fully understand what to do with it or how to fully utilise it for the benefit of their business.

Q: What are their most common fears?
A: The risk of losing of data, or increased security issues. The thing is, though, if someone really wanted to access your data it’s far less secure in an onsite environment than offsite where the vendor has not only taken on this risk but should have plans to deal with threats and contingencies if a breach does occur. SMEs often fear the loss of control.

Q: What are the best examples you are seeing of SMEs making the most of cloud computing?
A: We see a few companies that put their whole infrastructure in the cloud, because they understand that these companies are the experts at their core business and not IT. There’s no point in being half pregnant with a cloud environment. If you understand what it can do you for your business in one area, then the same principle should apply for all other areas.

Dave Stevens, managing director, Brennan IT

Q. What do you see as the main benefits for SMEs?

A: First, lower costs. Under the cloud, SMEs pay only for the resources they actually use. Thus their IT systems are always the right size – easily scaling up, or down, as required. Cloud services are also managed, meaning that ongoing upgrades automatically provide SMEs with the latest technologies.

Q: Do you think SMEs understand the concept?

A: Yes. But to make the most of the cloud, the next step is finding providers who’ll take the time to understand their business, and not just create a cloud somewhere and hand over the keys.

Q: What are the best examples you are seeing of SMEs making the most of cloud computing?

A: People are doing great things. Both CQMS Razer and the Rendezvous Hospitality Group have their entire infrastructures in the cloud, making it easy to create new sites anywhere in Australia. On the other hand, Count Financial and City Beach are each using the cloud’s scalability to deliver reliable customer-facing websites.

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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