Phil Simon’s 2010 book, The New Small, foretold the story of how an emerging breed of small businesses were poised to take on the big boys by harnessing the power of disruptive technology. Its central proposition has proved highly prophetic.
Seven years later and we’ve all seen the PowerPoint; the world’s biggest cab company owns no taxis, the largest phone companies have no telecoms infrastructure and the biggest movie house on the planet doesn’t own a single cinema. You get the picture. Ambitious start-ups have, with the help of now-familiar technology, unseated the giants and established a new normal. David has slain Goliath, with the cloud rather than the catapult providing the metaphorical knock-out blow.
But you don’t have to aspire to be the next Netflix to exploit the value of technology. It’s there for all of us – and it’s changing the game. Traditionally, evaluating the technology infrastructures of large and small businesses was generally akin to comparing apple with pear. Now, thanks to cloud computing, every SME can compare with Apple.
Independent research has found that almost half of SMEs believe technology ‘levels the playing field’ between small businesses and large corporations. Furthermore, the study suggests that the agility that comes with being smaller often gives SMEs the edge, enabling them to take advantage of digital innovation more quickly. The dynamic of modern business is changing. Small is becoming the new big – and cloud computing is helping to put it there.
However, despite the undoubted benefits, some SMEs are yet to move to the cloud. Many persist with legacy systems, or rely on server upgrades to solve their needs. Too often, technology is viewed as a tactical consideration rather than a strategic enabler. It’s a missed opportunity that’s holding companies back.
Cloud computing is the transformative technology of our time. Fundamentally, it gives even the smallest businesses access to enterprise-grade IT infrastructure – the very same infrastructure, in fact, that the world’s biggest conglomerates are themselves deploying. It’s this transition that levels the playing field, giving SMEs a platform to future proof their businesses and flexibly align for growth.
The benefits of cloud computing are many but the most resonant boil down to advantages in four key components of the drive for digital transformation; flexibility, resilience, security and the development of the digital workplace. Primarily, the cloud gives small businesses the ability to scale their IT platforms based on the needs of their business today, rather than having to invest in infrastructure based on estimates of where it might be tomorrow. Instead of forking out significant up-front capital investment for functionality they may not need, the cloud allows companies to pay for services as and when they need them.
IT becomes a utility – you simply turn the tap on when you need a little more, and turn it off when you don’t. This gives SMEs flexible access to transformative technologies such as Internet of Things, machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as powerful tools and software that may have previously been out of reach. The ‘utility’ approach breeds an operational agility that helps small companies evolve infrastructure in line with business needs.
Another major consideration in the digital transformation journey is the need to maintain business continuity. Resilience is imperative. Typically, smaller businesses have relied on RAID storage, using multiple drives to protect their data in the event of hardware failure. The best cloud systems are more robust; data is stored not on drives but in industrial-strength data centres. In the rare event that an entire centre fails, businesses continue to function via remote data centres. This provides a level of resilience that’s unparalleled in most large organisations, let alone SMEs.
Perhaps the first question that’s asked about cloud computing is around security: how safe is my data? It’s a perceived barrier that often prevents businesses from considering it. But security is not a barrier to the cloud – it’s a reason to move there. Without doubt, a cloud deployment is more secure than any on-premise system – both physically and digitally.
Physically, most on-premise systems are ‘secured’ behind a locked door or in an alarm-protected room. Data centre environments are typically protected by CCTV, perimeter fencing and biometric access controls. Similarly, digital security for on-premise systems is often just a firewall. The major cloud providers invest hundreds of millions in data security each year – and their users reap the benefits simply by using their platforms. This means that small businesses can enjoy the same resilience as global giants like BP.
Moreover, with a cloud deployment, organisations always benefits from the latest operating system, security updates and patches – further minimising risks. In an era where ransomware and data protection breaches present significant threats, companies need to do all they can to reduce vulnerability. The cloud, underpinned by good governance and good practice from a trusted IT partner, helps take care of it.
Across all industries, there’s much focus on the need to create a digital workplace that meets the needs of the modern workforce – providing mobility and connectivity and supporting collaboration. Cloud computing not only enables this, it can also unlock efficiency gains and help SMEs align for growth.
For example, start-ups can facilitate remote working or open regional offices without the need for expensive infrastructure; with the cloud, everyone works off the same system and has access to the same tools and data. The benefits can be practical too. For instance, in companies that have migrated to the cloud, the removal of unnecessary hardware can free up office space and reduce the costs of outsourcing IT.
There’s little doubt that a move to the cloud can transform SMEs. It’s no surprise that many are making the journey. But it’s important to exercise caution: not all clouds are equal. Some ‘cloud providers’ offer little more than storage space on locally hosted servers. This provides no resilience and few of the scalable benefits associated with fully-managed services. It’s therefore essential you ask the right questions.
Where will your data be hosted? Is it a credible data centre? What’s the physical and digital security of that facility? Where will data be replicated to if there’s an incident at the primary site? Can you actually operate from that back-up site, or will you need to restore your systems elsewhere to get up and running again? These are just the base considerations. The most effective partners will understand your business requirements and work with you to develop the best strategy.
In the era of digital transformation, having a flexible, robust and secure IT system is a clear business advantage. If you haven’t got the right infrastructure, whether that’s on-premise or cloud, you won’t be able to run your business effectively in the modern world. In truth, that world is marching relentlessly down a one-way street towards the cloud. Those that wait will get left behind.
The journey doesn’t need to be difficult. With the right IT partner, ideally a specialist in cloud deployment, it’s possible to manage a seamless transition that will have a transformative effect on your business. What’s more, it will give you all the benefits the big boys get, whilst retaining all the advantages of being small and nimble.
Cloud computing has levelled the playing field. It’s time to think big.