Shared computing services, whether applications or platforms available over internet, have granted small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) unprecedented access to technology sophistication. The potential inherent in information technology has been immense and the possible impacts are only getting more pronounced. Technology not only bolsters efficiencies but also influences fundamental changes in the business models themselves. But getting technology to work for a particular business has traditionally been arduous, requiring significant expense, effort and skills. As such, access to 'enterprise-class' has been limited to large businesses that can invest in application and operational support.
Cloud, however, allows access to technology without worrying about deploying, operating, maintaining and investing. Thus, businesses can focus on what technology can deliver, rather than delivering technology. Let's see how this is beneficial for SMBs:
Choice: The sheer ease with which businesses can explore, assess and select various options on cloud is breathtaking. Be it messaging, collaboration, accounting, CRM, or any other application, businesses have enormous choice. Compared to the traditional on-premises technologies, cloud has the ability to offer this at much lesser costs. A vibrant community of users can also be quite helpful.
Costs: Cost savings could be a big advantage to SMBs as they adopt cloud. These savings accrue primarily because cloud services are charged based on usage thus saving on the costs related to idle resources or over-capacity. Further, as cloud involves mostly op-ex rather than cap-ex, it can be much more cash-flow friendly for an SMB. On-demand nature of cloud services means that the business won't need to carry the costs of computing resources that are not in need.
Speed: Cloud reduces the time taken to set up services, making applications available for SMBs. Cloud also absolves businesses of intensive efforts required to upgrade to the newer versions. System patches and upgrades typically happen in the background with user impact reduced to the minimum.
Access: SMBs also need 24x7 access to their applications and data regardless of location or device, a reason why businesses rely on their mobile devices (phones or tablets). While cloud applications are available 24x7, growing consumerisation and democratisation of internet access are driving cloud application providers to be more accessible. Thus, cloud applications are much more likely to be available for a variety of devices and operating systems.
Scalability: It is one of the more fundamental promises of cloud. Vast computing resources shared across a variety of users enable scalability, availability of computing capacity (be it computing power, storage, number of users etc.) on demand. From a business perspective, usage-based pricing allows valuable flexibility leading to a dynamic IT environment that can respond to the ever changing business and customer needs.
Performance and support: Most cloud service providers are set-up to certain standards for reliability, availability and performance. In contrast, IT infrastructure and set-up at many SMBs, grown organically, are difficult to manage. Most cloud providers offer service level agreements, which can include parameters such as application performance, availability, data centre uptime, host failure, migration etc.
Standardisation and integration: Increasingly, cloud services are adopting a common standard, be it for data representation, application interfaces or for identification and authentication. This allows SMBs to leverage technologies to suit their needs.
Skills: Managing IT, even in an SMB, is effort-intensive. As numerous applications, users and complexity grow, a diverse set of professionals, including administrators, database experts, network administrators, application developers etc are needed. Cloud enables a business to focus on the purpose and direction of IT with cloud service providers managing operational and support aspects.
Security: Cloud applications are secure given that applications need to be continuously monitored and maintained. This requires expertise. Similarly, issues like power or network outages, simple human errors, hardware failures etc are better addressed when specialised cloud service providers bring together scale, skills and investments. Moreover, reputable cloud application providers have invested significantly in compliance to security standards, operational best practices, infrastructure redundancies and people preparedness.
Technology innovation: Much of the new technology development is happening in the realm of cloud. Companies like Microsoft, Google and Amazon are, in fact, focusing primarily on cloud offerings. No business, regardless of its size, can afford not to consider these technologies.
While there are several compelling reasons for cloud adoption by SMBs, there are important caveats. Not all cloud applications have achieved functional parity with their on-premises equivalents. This is especially true with applications involving high levels of customisation and integration, like business process automation involving legacy applications. Other considerations could include regulations, bandwidth and quality of connectivity, application performance needs etc.
It is also important to appreciate that cloud adoption can take many forms. While at times a cloud application might not fit the needs, cloud hosting with dedicated deployment may still be the right choice. Variants of cloud services infrastructure, platform or application can bestow a valuable choice and this highlights the fact that cloud does not preclude the need for IT and architectural expertise. As such, with right expertise and adoption assistance, SMBs have quite a lot to gain from cloud.
Founder & CEO, Advaiya Solutions