According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Australian businesses using commercial cloud computing services rose from 19 percent in 2013/2014 to almost one-third over the following 12 months. In February 2017, IT research firm, Gartner, predicted that cloud market would reach A$6.5 billion, up 15 percent from the previous year, predominantly due to a boom in adoption of software-as-a-service. As cloud offerings continue to mature and expand, this trend in the rise of cloud technology usage is looking to continue unabated through 2018 and beyond.
As a business owner, how you choose to leverage the cloud requires careful consideration. Which cloud services will be the right fit for your business, and provide the most bang for buck? How will you manage the migration to the cloud, and how will you choose the right IT partner to help get you there?
Whether you are just getting started with the cloud, or are already taking advantage of it in some way, a useful exercise is to observe what your competitors are doing. Read on for the top five ways that your competitors are already using cloud computing to disrupt your industry and power their success.
1. Your competitors are utilising Software as a Service (SaaS)
In cloud parlance there are 'cloud services', and then there is 'Software as a Service', otherwise referred to as SaaS. So what's the difference? One common element is that both cloud services and SaaS are usually subscribed to on a monthly or yearly basis, rather than purchased upfront. Beyond that though, you could ask ten IT people and you'll likely get ten slightly different answers. For the sake of this discussion, we will work with the following:
A Cloud Service is a service that you consume that may previously have been delivered out of your own servers in your own office. Email is a great example of this and, for many of your competitors, was the first step towards the cloud.
SaaS on the other hand is a software application delivered from the cloud, that previously you would likely have purchased upfront and installed on your personal computer. SaaS applications are also often (but not always) accessed via a web browser such as Google Chrome, rather than an application installed on your computer. A great example here is Microsoft Outlook, which you use to read your email. In pre-cloud days you would have purchased a copy of Microsoft Outlook to install on your computer. In a cloud world, the Microsoft Outlook application would either be accessed in a web browser, or installed and updated locally on your computer from the cloud.
So how are others in your industry taking advantage of Software as a Service? By moving software costs away from an upfront capital expense and onto a flexible monthly operating expense, organisations are far better able to smooth cashflow and adjust their software costs either up or down as business needs change. These business are also no longer at risk of being stuck on old, outdated versions of software purchased years ago, because with SaaS you will always have access to the latest version of software, including the latest innovations and features. SaaS applications are also far more likely to offer easy integration with other applications and services, presenting infinite opportunities to automate and streamline business processes.
2. Your competitors have data access anywhere, anytime, and on any device
One of the major advantages of the cloud is the ability to access your applications and data from anywhere, at anytime, using any device. Whether it be email, your accounting package, file sharing or any other business service, with cloud computing your staff will have the information that they need at their fingertips, no matter where they are.
Smart businesses are seizing on this and using it to their advantage, reshaping the very way in which they operate. With staff no longer dependant on a central office, many businesses are now attracting and hiring the best staff, irrespective of where they live, as well as being able to offer staff a level of job flexibility previously unheard of, thus engendering staff satisfaction and loyalty.
Other businesses are adapting long-held methods and bringing significant levels of process efficiency to their operations. Consider, for example, a sales person that has access to everything they need on their tablet to take a client from browsing a catalogue, to customising the product, to digitally signing a purchase order and even processing payment, all while onsite at the client’s office.
3. Your competitors can Collaborate in Real Time
With cloud technology at the core of business operations, real-time collaboration is no longer a pipe dream, but is rapidly becoming the standard. Within Grassroots IT we have significantly cut down on email volume, and increased team interaction and knowledge sharing through the use of team chat tools (currently Slack, but with Microsoft Teams being trialled) and frequent video conferencing using Skype for Business. Although we have a workforce spread across three countries, by using these cloud services we are able to operate as a single, unified team.
The ability to collaborate in real time extends to almost all cloud based services, simply due to the nature of their design. Numerous companies are now using cloud based accounting systems such as Xero for their financial management. Being a cloud based application, multiple staff can access the system simultaneously from any location, instantly seeing changes and updates from others. This alone is revolutionising how accountants and bookkeepers are able to work with their clients, no longer needing to work from the client's office, or transfer data files laboriously back and forth to share updates and information.
4. Your competitors are ahead of the game with Business Intelligence
As a business, we collect data each and every day – such as what sales are made, where are customers and from and other demographics. But most of this data largely lays dormant until we convert it into information – maybe we create a pie chart from an Excel spreadsheet, for example. But where business data becomes really powerful is when it's transformed into Business Intelligence and used to make better decisions for your business. And the cloud makes that so much more achievable.
Power BI is one program that can connect to hundreds of data sources to help business owners visualise their business analytics and gain meaningful insights from their business data. Being part of the Microsoft suite, Power BI easily integrates with other Microsoft files, such as Excel, but can also connect to on-premises data sources and big data. Programs such as Power BI enable business owners and analysts to prepare data and create reports in minutes, and then utilise that data to make more informed decisions for the business. As one example, if an online store owner discovers that the majority of sales are made by women aged 25-34, then they can choose to focus on supplying more products to suit this age range. Or if they discover that most of their orders are coming from a particular region, perhaps a deal can be done with a freight company in that region and reduce costs.
Having so many data sources available in the cloud and programs, such as Power BI, to create insights from that data makes Business Intelligence so much more accessible. It is an incredibly powerful tool for your competitors, and they are using it to driving change and business growth.
5. Your competitors are in control of their Backup, Recovery and Business Continuity
As a business owner, you understand the true cost of an IT outage. It's far more than just an annoying disruption - it's real money down the tube every minute that your business can't trade. You also know that having complete and effective backup, recovery and business continuity measures in place for non-cloud systems can be a complicated and expensive proposition.
Risk averse companies are hyper aware of this, and are actively migrating to the cloud to better protect their data and their uptime. With services in the cloud their data and ability to operate are secure – irrespective of what may happen to their office or computing hardware.
For those situations where systems have not yet been fully migrated, organisations are still leveraging the cloud in a powerful and cost effective way to protect their data and uptime by backing up on-premise systems to the cloud, thus enabling rapid recovery minimising downtime.
Cloud technology has well and truly changed the business landscape and more and more businesses are embracing what cloud services have to offer. Whether it be utilising SaaS, data access, realtime collaboration, business intelligence, or being in control of their system security, your competitors are leveraging cloud technology to build and grow better businesses. The big question is, are you?
If you're considering moving your business to the cloud, you might like to download our handy checklist below.