Top tips for SMEs that want to join the cloud revolution

Brid-Aine Parnell

Thursday 19 January 2017

The benefits of the cloud for businesses are becoming clearer, but where should Middle East SMEs start when looking to make the move?

The ability to access top-quality, efficient business resources – whether software-as-a-service (SaaS) or simply flexible storage capacity for data – at a fraction of the cost of in-house solutions has allowed startups to survive and SMEs to scale up.

In the Middle East, cloud adoption was slow until the infrastructure to support it was put in place. Now that data centres are popping up, the region looks set to meet ambitious predictions – technology giant Cisco claims there will be a 41 per cent cloud traffic growth rate by 2019.

In March last year, Deloitte predicted that one of four big trends in technology for the Middle East would be hybrid cloud adoption. Marrying public and private cloud solutions gives a company the best of both worlds: the efficiencies and cost effectiveness of the cloud, as well as the security provided by keeping sensitive information in-house. It also helps firms sidestep any potential legal issues regarding where or how data is handled – particularly important for SMEs without their own legal team.

But despite the appetite for the cloud, many SMEs remain unsure about what they should be moving to the cloud, let alone which cloud computing model they should adopt.

Start small 

Moving to the cloud doesn’t mean shutting down all in-house servers and applications. It can be a staged process of transitioning IT functions, or a piecemeal approach with some functions staying in-house. Email, instant-messaging services, file sharing and online meeting services are all obvious applications to start.

Running email and IM services, for example, can be a huge administrative burden to SMEs. If something goes wrong, the entire business can falter. With email in the cloud, that burden shifts to the provider and businesses can ensure they get service-level agreements to protect against any downtime.

Begin with the new

Rather than looking at existing applications and servers for the cloud, consider new projects and needs. SMEs should source quotes for any new IT demand from a cloud service provider. If someone has a product that will work as well or better than what the company can afford with a package solution, it should be seriously considered.

If in doubt, don’t move it out

There is a general reluctance across the board when it comes to sharing certain types of data with cloud providers. For SMEs, they must not only consider the security of their data, but also data governance and compliance. Many countries in the Middle East don’t yet have specific rules and regulations covering data protection, so knowing how to handle certain datasets can be very difficult.

But small companies can still relieve some of their data burden by using the cloud as a backup. This is cheaper for the firm and reduces the workload for IT workers.

Don’t move apps out – buy them in

Moving to the cloud doesn’t mean ‘stripping down’ the in-house IT department. In fact, it can allow SMEs to use applications that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive to buy wholesale. Most of the software a small business requires – enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, human resources management, business intelligence – is available from companies through the cloud, and the hosting company is usually the OEM, giving the SME the best application at a fraction of the price and the most knowledgeable support team.

Grow your cloud

The cloud gives SMEs and startups the ability to compete with large companies. Once upon a time, no matter how great the products were or how slick the business plan was, a small firm just couldn’t match up against the resources of corporations. The big players had money, staff and resources to scale up at a rate that was far beyond an SME’s abilities. But the cloud has changed everything.

SMEs no longer need to invest huge amounts in hardware and software technology, cybersecurity and server space before they even get started on their business. They can outsource those tasks and concentrate on building the business the best way they know how.

The same is true of scaling up or branching out into new industries or regions. Previously, a business had to invest a certain amount to be taken seriously in a new sector or location – in effect, they were gambling on their own success. In the cloud, they can expand quickly and, crucially, scale back if the timing isn’t right.

Like any business decision, cloud adoption shouldn’t be rushed – every foray into the cloud should have a solid business case behind it. However, those not looking to the cloud at all risk being left behind.