SMEs Failing to Take Advantage of Cloud Technology
Small businesses in the UK have been accused of talking a good game, but not investing enough in technology that could help grow their business. A report out from the Federation of Small Businesses claims that while nearly 60% of SMEs claim technology investment is “important”, only 26% are actually investing.
These claims come on the back of research from Nucleus that contact centre investment in cloud technology comes at a fraction of the cost of on-premise technology.
Even more worrying for the UK economy was the emphasis on an IT skills gap, with just 37% of people in small businesses having above-average IT skills. This all adds up to a potentially harmful mix of under-preparedness and under-achievement during turbulent economic times.
Why the cloud makes business sense
When people refer to “the cloud”, what they’re really referring to is the internet – or at least, part of it. Instead of hosting software in-house, installed by CD and maintained by an IT department, cloud technology enables companies to access software through their browsers, over the internet, without the need for IT installation and maintenance.
And there’s the first cost – and potentially one of the reasons some businesses have been hesitant to take on cloud technology – it puts IT departments out of business. In some cases, an IT department voting for cloud technology looks like turkeys voting for Christmas. This is why a move to the cloud has to be led from the top of an organisation.
The benefits post-installation revolve around licensing – without on-premise software, there’s no need for licences and maintenance contracts. On top of this, companies benefit from constant upgrades, which is particularly useful if the software depends on legislative updates. For example, payroll and HR software constantly has to evolve depending on the latest legislation passed by government – without the cloud, there would be constant re-installation.
Following the customers
The world has changed significantly over the last 5 years, to the extent that customers no longer rely solely on one single method to get in touch with businesses. They tweet, they e-mail, they use Facebook, they call at all hours of day, and they almost always expect an instant response. Apparently, 42% of consumers who complain via social media expect a response within the hour.
The cloud allows businesses to bring all of these channels together into one interface so that they can give their customers better service. Warren Butler, Marketing Director for Microsoft Dynamics Gold Partner, Preact, calls this the “multi-channel opportunity”, and told us that “when a customer calls you, the last thing they want to do is explain their situation to a new person every time. It’s frustrating. What they want is a seamless operation, and cloud technology is enabling this. Customer Relationship Management systems these days give customer service representatives a full 360-degree view of the customer – all tweets, all e-mails, all phone calls, all complains, every single interaction in one screen. This shortens the call, improves resolution, and helps businesses reduce frustration and improve customer retention.”
The UK needs investment, though…
40% of those surveyed claimed that better infrastructure would encourage more investment in technology, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why there is a gap between “talking” and “doing”. George Freeman MP claimed that poor broadband availability was giving rural companies a bad deal, but this only goes part-way to explaining the lack of investment in the cloud.
The need is growing more urgent. With workforces becoming more mobile, if not remote, and customers using a wider variety of channels to get in touch (or to complain), the cloud ultimately provides UK businesses with the ability to gain 24/7, anytime, anywhere access to client data. That could be at home, at the office, on the train – and in order to do so, businesses require the infrastructure first, before making the investment second.
The case is there – significantly reduced costs, better customer service, better employee experience – but if we’re to significantly drive growth in the UK economy during these difficult times, small businesses need both to push themselves into the cloud, and they need a push from government to improve the infrastructure.
Gareth Cartman is a business blogger with a background in digital, direct and data marketing, HR outsourcing and technologies.