Although some small businesses might be laggards in cloud adoption, many likely already use cloud-based services for tasks like email, productivity and collaboration — oblivious to the fact that they are using the cloud. Such tools can help small businesses streamline their operations, expand their sales reach and boost productivity.
As National Small Business Week wraps up, with the Small Business Administration and companies around the country highlighting the role small businesses play in the U.S. economy, it’s worth noting the extent to which cloud applications and services can improve small companies’ return on investment.
The best way for cloud service providers (CSPs) to think about small businesses is to visualize how the cloud can solve business problems and provide companies with a path to better manage their operations. David Smith, vice president of worldwide SMB sales at Microsoft, says CSPs and those who work with small businesses “need to do a better job” at “demystifying what the cloud is for small and midsized businesses.” The focus, he says, should be on cloud uses cases and the practical effects they can have for small businesses.
“How can they spend more time growing or expanding? How can they lower costs?” he asked. “How do they boost productivity? How can they expand their customer presence and their marketing?
Traditionally, Smith says, only large enterprise customers “have had access to secure ways of leveraging and accessing data from any device.” That includes the ability to access large files, expense reports, invoices or other business data, he says. Those kinds of solutions have long been costly. However, Smith argues that small businesses have the right acquire those same kinds of cloud applications, and that they should “have a right to spend more of their time growing their business and less time spent managing their IT.”
Since many small business owners and their workers are usually on the go, between locations and doing business on the road, they need the mobility and flexibility that cloud services provide, Smith argues.
Using tools like Office 365, small businesses can get secure email offerings built on Microsoft’s Exchange Server, Smith notes, or they can get web versions of Office applications like Word and Excel. Microsoft’s SharePoint cloud offering also lets small companies access large files through the cloud. And Skype for Business offers cloud collaboration tools and real-time document sharing.
Office 365 also allows for group collaborations on files so that small businesses with remote workers can get the most up-to-date files for presentations on the road and access them on smartphones or tablets. Additionally, using Windows 10’s “Continuum” capability for phones, and the Microsoft Display Dock accessory, users can connect new Windows 10 to a monitor and add a keyboard and mouse. This will allow it to work like a PC with Windows 10 apps like Microsoft Office, while simultaneously taking calls or performing other tasks on the phone.
Smith notes that through the cloud small businesses can get continuously updated software for their critical business applications, whether it’s a customer relationship management system or other line of business applications. He adds that most small businesses do not have dedicated IT staffs and that business owners often perform the role of IT administrators. Cloud-based software that is always updated removes headaches for small business owners, and CSPs like Microsoft can offer continuous service without downtime.
Another benefit of the cloud for small businesses is added security. Cloud offerings can provide services like mobile device and application management, Smith notes. As more workers bring devices into the workplace, the chances increase that one of those phones could be breached or that sensitive information could be compromised. Being able to use the cloud to remotely lock or wipe a device is an important tool for small business owners, Smith says.
Microsoft has recently partnered on cloud services with a small business called Bounce Foods, a healthy snack company based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 2003, Bounce Foods saw sales take off in 2010, according to COO Gary Smith. He notes the company has been expanding into retail and sells its products in the UK, United States, Europe and Australia, and has seen an average compound annual growth rate of 53 percent over the last five years. The company sells Energy Balls (think energy bars, but round), and aims to sell 10 million units in 2016.
Bounce’s Smith joined the company in 2013, and he was employee No. 6. He was charged with doing an audit of the company’s business applications so that they could be professionalized. The company had been using Sage 50 applications for accounting, but he says the platform “wasn’t really cutting the mustard” and needed to be upgraded. It took Bounce a long time to get information and the firm wasn’t sure if it was accurate.
Smith says Bounce was attracted to Microsoft’s cloud offerings because they were all integrated and worked with each other. Working with UK firm Technology Management, Bounce chose Microsoft Dynamics NAV and CRM solutions. Bounce uses CRM for lead generation, complaint management and other customer relationship management uses; it uses NAV for inventory management, and sales order/purchase order processing.
The company licenses the software on a monthly basis and enjoys the Software-as-a-Service model. In July, Bounce plans to launch SharePoint in a move to make its workforce more mobile, Smith says.
Bounce liked the value it got for its money, Smith says, and was able to spend more money on implementing the software and training employees than on the systems themselves. He also notes that the software is continuously updated, which fits with the company’s vibrant culture and emphasis on continuous improvement.
Bounce has been using Microsoft’s services since July 2014 and is a member of Microsoft’s Technology Access Program, allowing it to test beta versions of Microsoft’s cloud products and get new versions quickly.
Before utilizing cloud services, Bounce’s sales and stock information was tracked on separate spreadsheets, and the disorder sometimes caused the company to make duplicate orders. Thanks to all of the tools, Smith says, Bounce has achieved greater visibility into its sales orders and stock, and has been able to boost shipments from 200,000 units per month to around 600,000. “That visibility allows us to make fantastic decisions,” he says.
Bounce also uses Office 365, which has allowed its workers to be more mobile and access documents more readily. “It’s revolutionized how we work at Bounce,” he says.