Analysis of the findings of a 2019-2020 survey conducted by emerging technology analyst firm, Telsyte.
Almost two-thirds of small and medium-sized businesses use some form of cloud technology, with cloud storage being the most popular. While specialised cloud apps were once used mainly by large businesses with big budgets more SMEs are now turning to the cloud for finance and bookkeeping solutions, communication, CRM, and more.
Democratisation of cloud technology
Today, business technology is more affordable and user-friendly than ever. This shift has enabled small and medium-sized businesses to invest in high-value technology like artificial intelligence, business intelligence, and low-code/no-code application development. As these increasingly affordable solutions hit the market, SMEs need to be careful to vet their options before choosing a cloud vendor, says Telsyte's principal analyst, Foad Fadaghi.
When selecting a vendor, it's important to consider:
Data and privacy policies
Many businesses aren't aware of what happens to their customers' personal data once it's collected and stored. If you're using a third-party tool to maintain customer details, can the third party access and process your customers' data? Do they have the right to use your customers' data to run ads? Before you commit, read the fine print and make sure you understand what the vendor can and can't do. If you operate overseas, ensure your vendor meets international data protection guidelines.
The best apps will do more than consider customer preferences—they'll also take action accordingly. Say you signed up for an email campaign manager that pulls customer details from your CRM. Can recipients opt out of future emails? If they opt out, the software should automatically remove them from your list. It sounds like common sense, but apps don't always work as they should. That's something crucial to consider when you're evaluating a cloud app.
Built-in security features
Think about where your data (and your customers' data) lives when you use a cloud app. Most vendors have secure servers that store and process your data. Although your data is more secure in the cloud than on premises, cyber crime is a potential threat. Question your cloud vendors about what they're doing to ensure your data isn't compromised in a security breach.
Learning and onboarding experiences
Most SMEs don't have dedicated software developers, programmers, or IT executives to solve tech problems as they arise. That's why it's important to try the products beforehand. This way, you can assess the learning curve involved, the educational material the vendor offers to new customers, and how well the vendor communicates. If you sign up for a trial and don't hear from the vendor for three days, you'll know that vendor isn't particularly attentive. Similarly, if you contact customer support with an issue, do they respond promptly? Do they offer workable solutions to your concerns?
Ongoing customer support
The first few weeks of trialling a product should give you a good idea of how well the vendor supports its customers. But you'll learn even more in the months after your trial. Even if you contact customer support five times in one month, they should always take the time to address your concerns and provide a good experience. That's how you'll know they value long-term relationships with their customers.
Perhaps the most important factor small businesses should consider before investing in technology is how much it'll cost them—cumulatively. So many businesses today justify investing $20 per month on an e-signature tool, forgetting that they also spend $30 for an invoicing app, $50 for CRM, and another $25 for an accounting app, exponentially increasing their monthly spending. Foad calls this cloud sprawl, where multiple cloud providers store and use data without automatically syncing. Using multiple cloud apps for various operations spreads out your data, and if these apps aren't integrated, you'll waste a lot of time copy/pasting and importing/exporting data from one app to another. Instead, shop around and find apps that offer maximum business value with minimal time and monetary cost. Hint: Zoho One offers 50+ apps for a single price tag. Try it out for free.