Firstly, let’s debunk the myth of ‘the cloud.’ Put simply, ‘the cloud’ is a network of remote servers that allow you to store, manage and process data online, without the need to store it on your personal computer or a server installed in your office.
Cloud computing has become an increasingly popular phenomenon, and for good reason. Not only does it help to increase the efficiency and productivity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but as Nick Martindale said in his article “Innovation Is As Free As A Cloud,” the “flexibility offered by cloud computing makes businesses more agile and able to innovate, without costly commitments to IT infrastructure.” The cloud introduces endless business possibilities, and allows a single businessman, or woman, to give the impression of a well established and sizeable enterprise, even if they are operating out of their parent’s shed. Whilst harnessing technology in a business is no surefire route to success, it can provide the right toolkit with which to cut costs through automation, more accurately track important data and as a result, make better business decisions.
Why the cloud, and why now?
Ever since the industrial revolution we have been subject to the introduction and development of new technology. What was then the introduction of machinery to replace hand production, is now better utilisation of new technology to replace that which went before. As we have seen in the car industry, once luxury features, such as, electric windows and power steering, trickle down into the mass market when their benefits are established and production becomes more affordable - something that is now happening with the cloud. Kacee Johnson, Founder of the Blue Ocean Principles, said “There is nothing new about Cloud Computing, it’s just finally affordable to where it is being used by the masses.” The ideals behind the industrial revolution and automation still ring true with cloud computing; by making the nuts and bolts of business more straightforward (installation of document management systems, erosion of geographical barriers and facilitating easier intra-team collaboration) much of the stress associated with the day-to-day running of a business is reduced, allowing business owners to spend more time working on, rather than in, their business.
How can the proliferation of technology affect productivity?
As technological advancements have been made through time, they’ve gradually been adapted into our everyday lives. You would no longer consider sending a letter, save in a few circumstances, as it would take too long; instead, you would send an email and within minutes you can have a response to your offer, your question or your polite reminder that your customer has an outstanding invoice. Equally, with the introduction of instant messaging platforms like ‘Slack,’ the use of email for internal communications is gradually being phased out - just think how many unnecessary CCs this might save you a week. Few people carry both a phone and an iPod (if you are still part of the old guard then kudos to you) as the functionality of the latter has been rolled into that of the former - with the added benefit of apps like ‘Spotify,’ you can now also connect with friends and family to share playlists, likes, and dislikes.
So why do many business owners not exploit available technology to help introduce these efficiencies within their business? Despite cloud systems being cheaper, and more readily available than ever before, the cost of many of these systems still remains a barrier for most SMEs. This is largely due to the misconception that spending money to regain otherwise lost time is an unwise investment; especially in an early stage business, when cash flow may be restricted.
However, the adoption of software into your business is the simplest way to increase your efficiency - instead of spending hours doing your own bookkeeping, why not use an app that can help you do it in a quarter of the time? Instead of waiting for for your monthly, or quarterly management accounts, why not be proactive and get a cloud-based financial management system, giving you real time access to your accounts? More regular access to this information will assist you to make more informed decisions, have a better understanding of crucial data and know not only what happened in your business three months ago, but how your business is likely to perform in three months time. A small change in the process by which Pizza Express chopped its lemons resulted in a significant efficiency gain simply by streamlining the process - this is exactly the same as what technology can do for a business, through implementation of more Lean Techniques. By taking advantage of technology that saves you time and makes day-to-day tasks more straightforward, you can unburden yourself with unnecessary duties, and focus on more important business matters making you more efficient and more productive.
What opportunities do technology and the cloud present?
You only need to look at the astounding success of companies like Airbnb, Netflix, Instagram, and Slack to realise the potential that the cloud and the internet offer. With a record breaking 608,110 new businesses registered at Companies House in 2015, up nearly 27,000 on 2014, and over 425,000 already registered in 2016, the appetite for start up business in the UK is growing considerably. With the level of competition increasing, entrepreneurs will need to find innovative and new ways to differentiate their brand and make themselves as efficient as possible. Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is a great example of a company that used technology to promote their style, and twist, on iced coffee at the end of last year, through a simple, informative, and most importantly original music video; again, as a result of the advance in technology, writing and creating your own song and music video is no longer something confined to pop stars and multi-million pound recording studios. With the need to remain agile and adaptive in the current market to survive, and more importantly succeed, Pete Baxter, VP at Autodesk UK, believes “the cloud is enabling businesses to do what they couldn’t do before.”
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