With cloud lowering the barriers to innovation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are starting to pose a bigger threat to the business prospects of larger enterprises than ever before, according to Salesforce.com Europe director Steve Garnett.
Speaking to Computer Weekly at the Salesforce Tour event in London on 21 May 2015, Garnett said cloud technologies have made it faster and easier for smaller software houses to get their wares in the hands of overseas users.
“Could you imagine trying to do that with on-premise software? If you’re a small company and set up a business with two or three people, and the first customer wants the application in Australia, South Africa and Europe, you can’t do it,” he said.
“The infrastructure complexity that may have held them back in the past has been taken away, and these small businesses are cash-break even quicker and can now compete with the big software companies. In the old world, they couldn’t have done that,” he added.
It’s not just companies that are in the business of making software that are benefiting from the speedy app-deployment times cloud offers, said Garnett.
“Business leaders are appreciating the need to innovate more quickly than before, and asking for apps they can put in front of their customers that will let them connect with them in new and innovative ways,” he said.
“Traditionally, if you went to IT and said you needed to launch a new app in three months, you would have been laughed out and the response would have been ‘come back in two years.’”
This sentiment was echoed by Sage CEO Stephen Kelly, who said cloud technologies are fuelling the rise of the digital economy, which SMEs are playing an increasingly important part in.
“This is the time of the SME. In the US, 12 million new jobs have been created in the past five years, and 66% came from SMEs. In the UK, these guys are the powerhouse of job creation, with 2.2 million new jobs generated and almost coming 77% from SMEs,” he said.
“The digital economy has shrunk the barriers. Customers of ours have set up new product lines in three months, when historically it would have taken two years. They’re selling overseas to Australia, continental Europe and America in three months.
“In the UK, 30% of these small businesses don’t even have websites. In 10 years’ time they all will,” he added.
Helping SMEs help themselves
Kelly’s firm has recently embarked on a joint push with Salesforce to make it easier for smaller firms to run their businesses entirely in the cloud through the launch of its Sage Life system, which is built on the Salesforce1 platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering.
According to the two firms, deploying Sage Life allows SMEs to run their business from any mobile device, including a smartwatch, and effectively acts as a centralised hub for them to access their customer, accounting and payroll data.
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Kelly said the offering is designed to “break down the walls between the front and back office”, with Sage taking care of the accountancy and finance side of what SMEs need, while Salesforce takes care of the customer care and engagement side of things.
The system is being tested by SMEs ahead of its eventual roll-out later in 2015, and Sage is now in the throes of recruiting third-party independent software suppliers to write apps that could extend its functionality further.
“There’s a very fragmented marketplace for business systems. So typically most of the small businesses we encounter have between four and eight apps to run their business,” Kelly said.
“What this enables us to do is unify and have it on the Sage Life platform and introduce rich vertical apps.”
The business agility advantages cloud offers users was a recurring theme at the event, which saw Saleforce announce a revamp of its Community Cloud collaboration and business process platform.
The offering, which was first announced by Salesforce in August 2014, now uses algorithms to ensure Community Cloud members have access to content created that’s most relevant to their interests.
It also integrates with Google Drive to make it easier for users to share and collaborate on documents housed within the search giant’s cloud storage services.