06 December 2016
Harald Merckel / Freelance finance and business writer / Europe
Business has gone digital, but many traditional businesses still view this as simply going paperless.
Given the many developments in computing today, there are a number of technologies that can help businesses –even offline ones –become more productive and grow faster.
Take the developments in cloud computing, for example. The cloud isn’t simply about being able to store your files in a distributed server infrastructure. The cloud offers infrastructure, platforms, and applications as on-demand services. The cloud enables you to have a strong digital presence and enables you to digitize and automate your business processes –all without having to setup expensive infrastructure on your own.
Research firm Gartner reported that lacking digital business competence can cause 25 percent of businesses to be less competitive. Basically, if your enterprise is not yet on the cloud, then you are likely missing out on some exciting opportunities.
Here are some thoughts on how you can leverage cloud computing to become even more competitive and how several New Zealand businesses, have managed to do so in order to compete in international markets.
Advantages of shifting to the cloud
In the past, going digital meant hefty infrastructure investments in on-premises IT. Now, you can simply sign up to cloud-based services, where the service provider owns, operates and maintains the infrastructure. This means you can easily scale up or down depending on your needs at any given time.
This can give your business the benefit of better cost effectiveness. Since most service providers operate on a subscription model, you don’t have to spend outright on hardware and software, and you wont have to fork out for maintenance and operations. This way, you can better plan your monthly cash flow and even invest more into core business resources and efforts that actually grow the business.
Since cloud platforms can be accessed anywhere through the internet, shifting areas of your business to the cloud gives you a global reach.A strong digital presence makes it easier for you to do business across borders, whether it’s building linkages, marketing products, sourcing manufacturers and suppliers, or even hiring global talent.
Potential for growth
In the Asia-Pacific region, the e-commerce industry was worth $835 billion in 2015 –a jump of 32 percent from the previous year’s figure. China continues to grow as a promising e-commerce market. New Zealand business are actually already primed for such opportunities, since the top current export destinations already include China, Japan, Korea, India and most of South East Asia.
Planning your cloud migration
There are several business processes that you can easily shift to the cloud, thanks to the many services available that cater to your business needs.
The essential office productivity software like word processors and spreadsheets are now available for free, like with Google Docs.Your data is even stored online, so you don't have to worry about sudden power outages costing you your work. Best of all, you can share these documents with colleagues and staff so you can collaborate on the work. You can even manage and edit documents on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
With the cloud, running a distributed team is now easier, enabling organizations to run teams across cities and even across countries. Job management platforms are now available as cloud services. A good example is the New Zealand-based WorkflowMax, a cloud-based project management software that allows you to manage your entire business cycle covering task and project management, purchase orders, invoicing, and even accounting in one consolidated interface.
If your business relies on reaching out directly to customers, you can turn to cloud-based marketing automation and analytics tools, which allow you to track customer activities and customize campaigns based on user interests. Such platforms include Ubiquity, another New Zealand-based firm offering cloud-based solutions that personalize the marketing experience.
If you run a retail business, a cloud-based inventory and point-of-sale system like Vendenables you to optimize the retail experience across online and offline channels. Many of these tools enable team access and online collaboration. This means you or your staff can work on any task even if you’re out in the field using your mobile device.
That said, not all cloud-based services are equal. Keep in mind that once you shift parts of your business to the cloud, you will rely on the service provider to deliver the applications and ensure a seamless user experience. Always choose an established and highly-recommended service provider that can provide you with great service, support, and reasonable costs.Many services provide free services or no-risk trial periods. Feel free to try out their services and call their support teams to see how they perform. They will, in effect, become your business partners and it’s always best to partner up with someone that treats your business right.Always check their track record for uptime and security as well. While one of the advantages of keeping things on the cloud is faster disaster recovery, you will need to ensure near 100 percent uptime, and failover capabilities that ensure uptime for your business processes no matter what.
The cloud offers plenty of advantages that can help your business. Having an online presence gives you access on a global scale. Your business can always just be one search away from potential customers. Shifting your workflows online also allows you to be more productive through automation and collaboration. But it’s that uptime and availability that can give your business the competitive edge.
Essentially, cloud services ensure that your business is always on. If your customers can always reach you and you can always work on your business, then you can be the one to serve their needs anywhere and anytime and export your product globally.
Harald Merckel is freelance finance and business writer, and has featured in Social Times, BusinessVibes, and entrepreneurmag.co.za