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Embracing digital technology to drive growth

From streamlining costs to accelerating business growth, the cloud is transforming the way small businesses operate. In the first of a three-part series exploring how small business owners can unlock the full potential of the cloud, Bree Freeman, examines how the cloud has played a major role in redefining the workplace environment.

Patterns of working today are so different from how our parents worked; we live in a largely work-anywhere world, thanks to the cloud and mobile tech advancements. These technologies, affordable software platforms, and increasingly seamless collaboration over the Internet are having an enormous impact on the freelance economy as well as the small business owner.

I recently found myself having my brains picked by a close friend of mine who, being sick of working for other people, had made the decision to walk away from a very respectable regular pay check and go it alone… to enter the unpredictable world of the freelancer. Dun, dun, dun!

To some, the move away from financial security simply beggars belief, but to others, like myself included, the move means greater flexibility, more control, and being able to sit in your PJ’s whilst working on your latest blog!!!

And it would seem that I am not alone, as the latest employment figures show far more people are self-employed in the UK than ever before – 4.59 million to be precise. So what is fuelling this work for yourself, migration? Well, I don’t know why the rest of my fellow self-employees have gone out alone but without a doubt the cloud is powering the migration.

For SMBs, the cloud is far more than just the latest technology trend, it has evolved to become a tool that is fundamentally reshaping how they run their businesses and the results they are able to achieve.

But it is not just the self-employed that are reaping the benefits; for SMBs, the cloud is far more than just the latest technology trend, it has evolved to become a tool that is fundamentally reshaping how they run their businesses and the results they are able to achieve.

With new UK business numbers swelling by more than half a million in 2013, I don’t know if it’s fact but I can’t help think that cloud technology is playing a pivotal role in this entrepreneurial explosion.

A recent report by IDC says that SMB cloud spending will grow by nearly 20% over the next five years. “We’re predicting record worldwide SMB IT spending for 2014 – US$560bn – with exceptional gains in key regions and across key technologies,” says Raymond Boggs, vice president of SMB Research at IDC.

Another recently published report by Google and Deloitte – Small business, big technology: How the cloud enables rapid growth in SMBs – paints a very uplifting picture. According to their findings small and medium businesses are using cloud technology to overcome growth challenges and scale and grow faster. (I knew it!!)

The research explores the operating practices and strategies of businesses in the US and Europe with up to 750 employees, and suggests that SMBs should move tools and applications to the cloud in order to free up time, capital and resources, and to establish a platform for sustainable rapid growth.

Interestingly, some 85% of SMBs reported that cloud technology enables them to scale and grow faster, while 66% said that the cloud allows them to outperform against their competitors. It’s this ability to leapfrog other companies and scale rapidly that makes cloud an essential part of any small business’s strategy. Well I believe it does.

And it’s not just start-ups that use the cloud as a tool for fast growth: 79% of relatively mature companies — those older than 5 years who are growing at less than 10% per year — believe cloud technology enables them to access new markets and revenue streams. This will become even more important as organisations adopt more digital tools in order to expand into new regions or product areas.

There is no doubt that demand is growing for reliable, scalable and flexible IT systems that can support the rapidly changing needs of today’s small and growing businesses. The great news is that there are a number of technology platforms and services that take care of SMB’s day-to-day needs such as web hosting and hosted email, which are early examples of cloud computing that were fully embraced by many SMBs prior to the popularisation of the term ‘cloud computing’.

The secret to unlocking the full potential of the cloud comes through understanding. As always, knowledge is power; knowing what cloud technology can do for you and your business is key to deciding how and where it best meets the needs of your organisation. In part 2 of this series I will look how you can do this.

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Bree is a technical writer with 15 year's experience. She specialises in cloud computing, finance and energy and has been published across a wide range of B2B, consumer magazines and newspapers. Bree was the editorial and production driving force for the UK's first cloud computing magazine as well as a number of other B2B magazines. Today, she splits her time between being Creative Director for Be Free Creative Ltd and as a technical writer.