Analysis of the findings of a 2019-2020 survey conducted by emerging technology analyst firm, Telsyte.
The pandemic accelerated digital transformation for many Australian small and medium-sized businesses. Almost overnight, SMEs found themselves catering to customers in an entirely online environment for everything from appointment bookings and electronic contracts to medical services and instructional courses.
Remote tools to the rescue
Though this spike in adopting cloud technology has largely been attributed to the pandemic, it's worth noting that the shift to digital technology has been a long time coming. In late 2017, the federal government established the Small Business Digital Taskforce. In collaboration with businesses, the Taskforce made a number of recommendations, including hosting online business events and awards presentations, utilising government web platforms (like business.gov.au) and social media to inform and educate the business sector, and leveraging business and IT university graduates. Since then, awareness of digital tools has been growing steadily across the country. "The ability to access systems, customers, accounts, all types of information remotely has become critical not just for some businesses but for all businesses," Telsyte analyst, Foad Fadaghi told Zoho.
Over the last two years, businesses have developed innovative methods to offer exceptional customer service. With remote work becoming standard, SMEs invested in tools that helped them access critical and often sensitive data—finances, customer details, and operational systems—from wherever their employees were locked down. As most Australians prefer to continue working from home, it's safe to say this transformation will continue to evolve even after we've passed the peak of the pandemic.
Overcoming practical challenges of adopting cloud technology
For a long time, businesses have expressed security concerns over cloud technology. This is now changing—SMEs are developing a deeper understanding of how the cloud works and how it can be used effectively. However, according to Telsyte's survey findings, cost of management and a lack of in-house cloud skills are still significant barriers for SMEs adopting cloud apps. There are no easy fixes for these problems. That said, it's never been more easy for businesses that are largely reliant on offline systems to gradually transition into cloud-based operations. A hybrid model can help businesses develop the technical know-how to operate in a cloud environment without becoming overwhelmed.
Using the hybrid cloud model to transition into digital operations
A hybrid cloud system is typically used by enterprise-level businesses that have to comply with multiple national and international data regulations. These businesses use a combination of on-premise systems, public cloud systems (like email and word processing), and a private cloud system (offered by vendors like AWS, Google, and Zoho). When you're on a private cloud, you don't share online space with others. In the past, only large enterprise businesses considered a hybrid cloud model.
Now, it's becoming apparent that a version of the hybrid cloud model can work equally effectively for smaller businesses. I find myself thinking about how it could benefit J.T., who owns a shop at my local farmers' market. Let's say J.T. uses a PoS system for inventory and a spreadsheet for her accounting. She takes orders over the phone and writes them down on paper. J.T. will greatly benefit from completely digitising her business—and a hybrid model would be an easy first step.
She could implement a bookkeeping software to reduce the manual work involved in updating spreadsheets. She could then set up a cloud-based order management system to capture online orders. If J.T. chose to, she could continue to take phone orders and note them in her software instead of on the back of a Bunnings receipt. As J.T. becomes more familiar with using cloud technology, she can gradually implement more apps with advanced functionality, like an AI-powered system to update orders as she narrates them. For a small, family-owned business like J.T.'s farmers market, a gradual digital transformation would be invaluable.
Telsyte's survey validated this observation. Two thirds of Australian SMEs are using some form of cloud technology, with over half of those saying they've adopted hybrid cloud operations. In other words, they're using cloud apps for some functionalities while retaining offline systems for others.
Unsurprisingly, cloud storage is the most popular application, with documents, invoices, images, and contracts all being stored online. Finance, communication and collaboration, CRM, and customer service apps are also in that list of popular applications.
J.T.'s is only one business. But as more employers across industries facilitate a geographically dispersed workforce, the hybrid working model will contribute to widespread employee productivity and satisfaction in the long term.