Cloud-based applications can fill critical needs for small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). With the help of the cloud, SMBs can not only level the competitive playing field with larger companies, but they can also afford important business applications that they wouldn't be able to support internally. Here are ten great cloud app choices ideally suited for SMBs:
1. Healthcare and wellness management
In a small company, it is difficult to find time in HR or administration to fully administer all aspects of a healthcare or health management program—yet small businesses want their employees to have this. Insurers and medical providers understand this, too. This is why many of them now offer portal-based healthcare options, tutorials, and program self-management for employees at client companies. The next time you search for a healthcare insurance provider, check into their online options for employees as part of your RFP (request for proposal) process.
2. Online training
Whether it is for products you sell, services you provide, or IT or other technologies and safety practices that you need, small companies want to provide employees with training just like their larger counterparts. But unlike large companies, many SMBs lack budget for an internal training staff. Fortunately, the abundance of online training from both private companies and universities can address many training needs in a hurry—and inexpensively.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been adopted by many smaller companies that are looking to reduce their software licensing fees for the office—as well as the time that they spend on individually updating users' desktops with new versions of software. Many VDI implementations are fully completed and then supported by the outside vendor, too.
4. Back office services
Software as a service (SaaS) companies now provide an assortment of software and automation for "back office" functions that include payroll, accounts payable and receivable, and even inventory management. Especially in administrative areas, the cloud can handle tasks that free up SMB employees so they can focus on the end business.
5. Sales force management
One of the most popular cloud-based applications is Salesforce.com. It allows a company sales force to track leads and sales activities. It also gives sales managers visibility of field sales efforts in the cloud. For SMBs with field-based sales, having a cloud-based sales application also enables salespersons to log in their activities at any time and from anywhere.
6. Video and teleconferencing
Cloud-based video and teleconferencing facilitate collaboration and save travel time and expense. They are invaluable for small organizations with small budgets and are a perfect fit for many SMBs because most of their payment models are "pay-for-use."
7. Application testing
You'd be amazed at how much computer processing and disk are consumed in application development and testing. For this reason, both enterprises and SMBs are taking a hard look at going to the cloud for on-demand compute resources that are deployed for application development and testing—and then deprovisioned once apps are all tested and ready to be moved into corporate production in the home data center. Some companies have even been able to avoid building new data centers by going to the cloud when they needed extra IT resources!
8. On demand computing resources
Similar to going to the cloud for application development and testing, some organizations also now go to the cloud during busy times of the year when they might need extra computer processing and storage. A good example is the holiday season, when sales (and transactions) might be up—but not to the tune where they warrant a permanent expansion of IT resources. Instead, many SMBs choose to pay for temporary IT resource augmentation from a cloud provider—returning to their internal data centers for all processing after their heavy sales periods have wound down.
Every company, regardless of size, is striving to be more customer-centric. This makes having a CRM (customer relationship management) system invaluable, since with CRM, anyone in the company who interacts with a customer can see everything that has transpired in the customer's experience in the system. The trouble is, CRM systems are historically not easy to implement or to fully exploit. This can make a cloud-based CRM an excellent choice for many SMBs, which can go to a cloud services provider that already has expertise with CRM best practices, and that can also provide both CRM and CRM support.
10. Document management
Managing documents and ensuring proper archiving procedures are real headaches for many SMBs. Especially if they have already chosen to implement virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), SMBs can attain additional leverage from this strategy by moving all of their documents (and management ) to the cloud. Before doing so, however, the SMB should carefully review the cloud provider's governance and information protection standards to ensure that they meet company expectations.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.