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Cloud as an enabler of strategy

The most forward-thinking small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are now going beyond simply embracing the cloud. Working with the right IT partners, they are building a cloud strategy to drive growth and productivity, and give them a competitive edge in the market.

Cloud is not a new technology solution; out of its infancy and adopted by a majority of companies, however, the impact it is having on the business world, in particular the SMB sector, has become apparent more recently.

The almost overnight success of startups such as Uber, Netflix and Airbnb, and their transformation into global brands is unprecedented, and largely the result of cloud. At the heart of the sharing economy is the phenomenon of crowdfunding, a viable alternative source of business finance where growth has also been driven by the cloud.

Success stories like these have inspired SMBs to not only implement cloud technology solutions within their own organisations, but to become more strategic about how they use it to gain a competitive advantage.

As a master cloud service provider, working with a portfolio of leading cloud vendors such as Microsoft and a community of value-adding resellers, Ingram Micro is at the leading edge of the cloud revolution taking place in the SMB arena.

“Cloud has turned everything on its head,” says Apay Obang-Oyway, director for cloud in Northern Europe at Ingram Micro. “It is no longer about big organisations eating small businesses; now it’s small eating the big, because with cloud, small can be so much more innovative and agile. Greater opportunities now lie with SMBs. It’s important to realise the potential of cloud; you can be sure your competition already has and is leveraging it to accelerate their growth or is well on the way to doing so.”

A recent IDC Worldwide IT Industry Predictions report illustrates the scale at which this is happening. It found that by 2018 at least half of IT spending will be cloud based, reaching 60 per cent of all IT infrastructure and 60 to 70 per cent of all software, services and technology spending by 2020.

Indeed, the pace of technological change, particularly around cloud-enabled solutions and software, has meant that forward-thinking SMBs are not simply moving to the cloud, they are raising their game and seeing cloud as a strategic enabler.

“One of the big changes we have seen is cloud becoming part of the boardroom conversation,” says Mr Obang-Oyway. “Senior executives now want to know how cloud technology helps and empowers their employees to become more productive.
How does it empower managers and leaders to better manage talent? And how does it drive innovation, acquire new customers and retain existing customers?”

The key lies in leveraging cloud in the right way to ensure it delivers strategic strength to your organisation and that means bringing in the right technology partner.

Ben Gower, chief executive at global Microsoft Office 365 partner Perspicuity, which works with many SMBs, says: “Customers have always wanted to have cloud conversations, as far back as 2009. Now they have a much better understanding of why cloud is so important to them.

Thanks to cloud technology, a single, small high street coffee shop can have a loyalty card scheme, customer wi-fi and a social presence

“For example, a modern approach to technology is now pivotal to being able to attract and retain the talent that companies need within a very competitive market. New recruits who are used to using the very latest technology on their own devices at home, will not be motivated or engaged by being asked to work with PCs and systems that are several years old.”

Another major business benefit of using cloud is that it allows teams to collaborate from almost anywhere in the world with services such as Office 365 and mobile security solutions. Companies with mobile and distributed workforces can collaborate on documents, attend meetings and brainstorm new ideas simultaneously and instantly.

The effect on output and productivity is immense, as transport and travel issues, both time and cost related, are practically eliminated.

“The things that once seemed trivial and minor have become incredibly empowering, even for micro-businesses,” says Mr Gower. “Today, thanks to cloud technology, a single, small high street coffee shop can have a loyalty card scheme, customer wi-fi and a social presence – a big ask just a few years ago.”

So cloud can clearly have a positive effect on boosting the UK’s flagging productivity figures. And according to a study by Deloitte, it is also driving growth. Their research found that SMBs using an above-average number of cloud services grow 26 per cent faster than those that use no cloud tools and are also on average 21 per cent more profitable.

These are results that no business can afford to ignore and, slowly but surely, IT decision-making within organisations is shifting upwards and becoming more senior and more cross-functional, and SMBs are becoming much smarter about the power of the cloud.

Mr Gower adds: “By the time the customer is contacting us, they’ve made up their mind they need to buy, what they want is a plain-speaking specialist to help them migrate their data to the cloud and create a long-term strategy that will deliver a return on their investment.”
While there is a compelling business case to embrace a cloud strategy, as Mr Obang-Oyway points out, there are concerns that can become barriers to implementation, particularly around data security and compliance.

“Data management, security and compliance are important considerations in any decision to invest in cloud, but the important thing is not to let them become barriers to your strategic thinking and development,” he says.

Businesses can avoid many of these barriers by having the right external cloud partner on board and understanding what they need to bring. They need to know how well an IT partner understands their industry, their business model and their customers, what commercial competence they have, and how progressive they are in their thinking.

“Businesses need to be clear on how that partner will leverage the technology megatrends we are seeing in a way which will benefit them as a modern organisation and empower their customers to do business with them,” says Mr Obang-Oyway.

“Our role at Ingram Micro is to spend time helping and enabling our community of reseller partners to deal with the transformation taking place in the market, and be the right strategic IT partner for each end-customer. We are here to help our reseller partners move from being the IT infrastructure deliverer to being the enabler of strategy through the cloud for the SMB market.”
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