Guest written by: Haider Salloum, SMB Director, Microsoft Gulf
Technology has had an undeniably profound effect on the way business in the Gulf region is conducted. Artificial intelligence, machine-learning, 3D-printing, big data, virtualisation, mobility and cloud – all have helped shape a bright new landscape.
These technologies have been around for many years, but as they have become more affordable, they have become even more pervasive. Businesses of all sizes, from all industries, at every point in the supply chain, are using such tools to reinvent operational models, products, services and delivery methods.
While internal efficiencies and cost-effectiveness have certainly been boons in the era of digital transformation, customer care has arguably been the greatest beneficiary. Enterprises are now able to delve deeper than ever before into what makes their customers tick, devising all-new ways of personalising experiences.
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by smaller companies is the delivery of 100% uptime, as this goes hand in glove with transformative customer experiences. A survey conducted by industry analyst firm Techaisle, among IT and line-of-business decision makers, showed 87% of midmarket managers believed cloud solutions would help with growth. But researchers also discovered that a massive 94% of SMBs regard backup and disaster recovery to be of key relevance to their business.
The very nature of cloud allows small businesses to add value very quickly. It is easy, for example, for a hometown retailer to leverage the cloud’s cost-effectiveness and flexibility, to create apps for e-shopping, to complement their brick-and-mortar operations. Customers benefit from time saved travelling and hunting for parking spots.
With the right service, products and price, previous adopters of this kind of setup have seen sales increases of up to 400%. Digital transformation thus enables smaller, nimbler companies to rethink their go-to-market strategies and tweak cost and operational efficiencies to enhance market share, while larger enterprises can use the new framework to predict and tackle disruptive trends.
Growth vs Unexpected Interruptions
However, to make good on these growth promises, firms must consider the all-important elements of business continuity and security. Small and medium-scale enterprises are especially vulnerable to unexpected interruptions, data loss and security threats.
For them, a welcome side effect of cloud computing is the automation of backup and security from their provider. The ability to restore data in case of failure or accident is vital to a small business, whether it is a product pioneer or part of a hyper-competitive, pre-existing market.
Even before the time of cloud, almost every business used IT systems that were mission-critical. An airline’s ability to track flights; an insurance company’s ability to manage policy applications and claims; and the financial systems relied upon by accountants in all businesses – if any one of these points fails, operations grind to a halt. It is only prudent, therefore, to consider the operational and financial impacts of downtime and plan for a don’t-panic contingency.
For critical workloads, disaster recovery systems and regular backups act as a kind of insurance policy against the lost business opportunities and mega-dollar costs that can arise in their absence. Disaster Recovery and data backup packages can cost SMB owners as little as a few hundred dollars per month, and ensure they can get back online in minutes if an outage should occur.
The Cloud Economy: More with Less
The global decline in oil prices, along with currency fluctuations, and their impact on regional revenues, has led to a renewed focus across the GCC on optimising operational costs. If serious about competing, no business leader will consider cutting staff, because this will lead to a decline in service. Instead, the focus has been on doing more with less.
The cloud economy is made for this challenge. On-premises infrastructure, such as storage and servers is very expensive to install, configure, operate and maintain. SMBs can hand over all that equipment, and the daily personnel burden associated with it, to trusted cloud providers, which run them in scale-ready data centres. Business costs can drop by 20 to 30%, as clients benefit from providers’ economies of scale.
The economies lie in providers’ use of virtualisation technology. Expensive physical hardware is consolidated into banks of powerful servers running countless virtual machines. SMBs see a marked difference in their IT costs, providing the same systems to employees using less expensive hardware, with a reduction in operational overhead, and with security and business continuity baked in. At the same time, they enjoy enhanced agility and access to the innovative measures delivered by digital transformation.
In other words, they can do more with less.