If you have every wondered what a cloud based business really means and whether it could be in any way for your own business, then the following is for you.

The whole idea of ‘the cloud’ often seems to me to be designed to specifically turn off those who do not work in the IT industry, or have an internet centered business. It really does seem to have an ‘otherness’ about it that seems to say to practical businesses that make, or repair things – this is not for you.

server-in-cloudHow wrong that is and what a crying shame that a word or phrase can create a conceptual barrier that stops many business owners from taking important practical steps to cut costs, improve productivity, create a platform for future growth and secure their business against future disasters.

Perhaps it is time to de-bunk the cloud and outline exactly what the missed opportunities are – and will be.

Basically ‘the cloud’ is the location of a resource or application that can be reached in the same way no matter where you are: in the office, at home, in the field of business.

At its simplest level a website can be regarded as a cloud service. A website can be reached in the same way pretty much anywhere in the world where there is an available internet connection. Better still these days, websites can be accessed from a range of devices from desktop to mobile phone. It is this freedom of access in any location with any device that really is the derivation of the ‘cloud’ term. As light as air, this free and easy access to information is transformative – as we know.

However, if we strip the website down to its basics, we simply have an information resource sitting on a server computer which is connected to the internet. This allows other computer machines to connect to it over the internet.

If this is possible for general, public marketing, or sales information then why should it not also be used for other information, or resources such as support, or other services? A pretty good example of this extension is with computer manufacturing businesses that not only sell their machines over the internet, but also provide support resources for download, such as manuals or drivers.

This added dimension to the website means that this cloud based service is not just handling sales, but also supporting the customers. This can mean the customers never have to deal with a human being at any point from initial feature research all the way through to maintenance as the machine approaches end of life. While from a philosophical, or social standpoint there may be much to consider here, from a business perspective the case is clear: if you can improve customer service and satisfaction while at the same time reducing manpower and other costs – why wouldn’t you?

Well, one reason you wouldn’t is perhaps the perceived up-front investment cost, or (and we often encounter this) the ‘doesn’t apply to us’ one.

To take the first reason first, the cost need not be so great. The cost of putting resources and applications on an internet server to improve the efficiency of operations, customer service and reduce costs has been coming down pretty rapidly in recent years. Often even custom solutions can be implemented on a monthly fee basis that spreads the cost over time, but brings in benefits immediately.

The ‘doesn’t apply to us’ reason rarely stacks up under any sort of serious scrutiny. Often the reason this perception is there is the dead weight of past experience. Spending too much time looking backwards, often means that new realities are not recognised and taken advantage of, or defended against. It is a bit like driving a car by only looking in the rear view mirror. The growth of mobile technology into both the business and consumer world in the last 5 to 7 years has been breathtakingly fast, so much so that in 2015, searches on the internet using mobile devices now outnumber those made by desktops, or laptops. To see both the opportunities and threats this new reality presents, it is necessary for the primary focus to be forward rather than backward.

Just to be clear on this, cutting costs need not necessarily mean redundancies, but it might mean refocusing or re-deploying some employees to deal with a larger business that is now growing more quickly.

Here are some service options to put on the cloud that could save your business time, cut costs and improve your customer service.

Name What It does Expected Benefits
CRM A Customer Relationship Management system is a way of managing both customer and prospecive customer, relationships. Placed online, access is easy from the office and remote support locations and mobile workers alike. It also makes working form home so much easier. All employees granted access can obtain and give up-to-date information on customers, or prospect requirements – no matter where they are. Ensures sales opportunities are not lost and good relationships can be easily maintained over time, further boosting sales. It can also significantly cut the customer acquistion cost and increase the return that comes from each customer.
Customer Area A secure area where customers can obtain information about their account, status, charges, future billing plus other services available to them with prompts to buy, or enquire about. This approach not only can cut down a significant amount of overhead associated with administration such as customer queries, etc, it can also act as a silent salesman inroducing new product, or service offerings as they become available.
Customer Support This can be part of the secure area, or more generally available. It can work especially well with highly technical product offerings where manuals or other support information is required such as drawings, or parts lists. Implemented well, this not only cuts down administrative customer service costs it can also improve the customer service overall by making it easier for customers to find the infomation they need. Especially useful for 24 hour service requirements, or where the customer base is overseas/in another time zone.
Customer Service This is switching the service provided to customers into an automated, or semi automated online version. This can be providing information such as delivery information, or making support requests. However more advanced solutions such as ticketing can also come under this heading. This supports the process from request to solution for both the customer and the deliverer. Used well this can enhance the service to the customer and increase customer satisfaction and retention by allowing customers to place requests and get information back on their own terms. In-bound call staff can be reduced, but the service can be there 24 hours and the customer does not have to wait in a telephone queue.
Online Storage A secure cloud based file store that can be used for general based access and/or a backup to the main file store. A centralised resource that can be used by anyone granted access from anywhere. This has an added benefit of being location independent therefore providing substantial resilience against disaster situations such as fire, flood, or burglary.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means and we could also add basic accountancy and email services as well as additional highly custom functions that may only apply to one or two businesses.

The key thing to recognise is that at present, the opportunity is bigger than the threat and this is because early adapters have been mainly larger businesses and technology businesses where the budget, the savings and the technology have been available for some time.

With mobile technology now almost ubiquitous, the increased penetration of 4G and the widespread availability of high speed broadband, the time is ripe now for smaller and none technology centred businesses to take advantage of the opportunities and steal a march on their competitors.

TTMG Internet is offering free no obligation initial consultations on cloud based business operational and service solutions which includes business case / return on investment projections and calculations. If you would like more information please get in touch.