SPECIAL FEATURE STORY: Tech innovations to drive your business

Led by an arsenal of pioneering Cloud-based solutions and apps, business technology that boosts productivity and profitability is now more powerful than ever. By Justin Grey.

Led by an arsenal of pioneering Cloud-based solutions and apps, business technology that boosts productivity and profitability is now more powerful than ever. By Justin Grey.


Technology has always been an important tool for business owners. These days a shudder runs down the spine at the thought of running a business, God forbid, without access to the internet…or a computer…or the trusty old telephone.

But now more so than ever, emerging technologies are enabling business owners, particularly in terms of increasing their productivity and profitability. There is now a growing arsenal of apps and Cloud-based solutions designed to take some of the daily pains out of running an SME business and putting time back in the hands of the business owner.

For the last four years Melbourne-based Chris Ridd has been the driving force behind the incredible growth of Cloud-based accounting solution Xero. Prior to that, Chris clocked up 15 years with Microsoft. The IT industry veteran believes that we’re currently seeing a revolution in technology solutions for business like nothing that’s come before.

“The whole industry is on fire with new providers, often start-ups in their own right, that are building Cloud-based apps for every walk of life known to man in small business,” Chris enthuses. “Point of sale, job costing, project management, CRM, you name it. Every vertical industry is starting to see an emerging Cloud provider – or you’re seeing the big, incumbent desktop players having to transition and build Cloud-based software.

“Where the rubber hits the road is where you can provide a compelling business application and all of the other apps that service the nuts and bolts of the business. There’s a huge shift going on, and small businesses are benefiting. Some of this stuff costs 10-15 per cent of what it used, so massive benefits all round for business owners.”

Daniel Barnett, whose business Work[etc] offers an all-in-one online business management solution, calls this, “the consumerisation of tools that were once exclusively the domain of very large businesses”.

“We’re seeing the consumerisation of [business] apps down to small business level, where it’s affordable, useable and actually offers a tangible benefit to small businesses,” he explains. “There’s so many apps out there, but there’s so many that position or sell themselves as entirely a self-service solution. So they’re expecting the business owner to find time to sign up and to teach themselves and to roll it out in their business. We’ve seen that that’s not really working because it’s just another thing that a small business owner needs to do. The really good products in the market are the ones that are doing that, but then there are literally thousands that are just self-serve.”


EASY & BEAUTY
Going back even only a couple of years, it was purely only the early adopters that were taking a punt on emerging Cloud-based business solutions. But that’s all changing now with more and more business owners testing the waters with Cloud solutions and apps.

“It’s easier for those in the owner/operator space to try out a new online solution and be up and running in a day and kicking the tyres on it and seeing if it actually helps them with their business,” explains Vaughan Rowsell, CEO and Founder Vend, a POS Cloud solution for retailers. “The technology is there, but now there are vendors out there that can use the technology in a way that helps retailers grow their business. Now it’s how soon can they make the transition. And it’s going to become more and more compelling as time goes by.”

Hand in hand with their wider adoption, developers of Cloud solutions and apps are now focusing on improving and beautifying the user experience. Many business apps now boast the kind of streamlined user interaction we’ve long been used to with consumer apps.

“You’re seeing how consumer software is now moving its way into those business principles,” suggest Chris. “We’re used to using business applications like Twitter Facebook, Spotify, eBay and PayPal. With a lot of these Cloud-based consumer apps, you get used to dealing with a really bright user experience. And that’s what happened in small business software with Cloud solutions. And why shouldn’t business owners have that same look, feel and delightful experience in using the products?”


EDUCATING ON INNOVATING
While the attractive benefits of new apps and Cloud-based solutions are there for the taking, it’s still up to the service providers themselves to educate small business owners and to ensure that their solutions offer as seamless a transition as possible.

“It’s always easy for service providers to point the finger at SMEs and complain that they’re risk averse and they don’t like change,” admits Stephane. “And being a business owner myself, I understand. If you’ve got something that works – it not’s perfect, but you know it and you know how it works – you don’t want to take the risk of jeopardising everything that you’ve built. So it’s up to the service providers to do their part.”

Chris from Xero adds that while the transition to the Cloud is happening at pace, there’s still a lot of businesses not embracing new technologies. “Small business owners are very busy and they don’t often take the time to re-evaluate. I think there’s a lack of real education out there, which is what we’re trying to address. More than ever you’re going to have those businesses out there that turn away from technology – and there’s a lot of them. And the ones that embrace it – particularly with this revolution around Cloud – are going to have enormous competitive advantage.”

Daniel says that encouraging SME business owners to adopt these new tech tools could start with them taking the smallest of steps. “The first step might be that they started using Dropbox to share documents between their team. So it’s kind of an evolution – they start with Gmail, a Cloud-based email, then move across to Dropbox, then they move across to perhaps Cloud-based accounting, and then they start to move into the CRM/business processes phase. That’s the evolution that we’re seeing happening.”


WHERE TO START
So, if you’re keen to get on the tech train and leverage apps and Cloud-based solutions to boost your productivity and profitability, where do you start? The combination of a business owner at wits end and a massive array of would-be saviours means that it’s very easy for someone that has no intention to help a small business to claim that they will solve all of your issues with a snap of their fingers for a very small amount of money.

“Like everything else, SMEs need to be very careful about the phonies out there,” Stephane warns. “There’s lots of technology and people who claim they can help. My best advice would be to look for credentials, look for testimonials and feel the genuineness of the offering. When you sort out the genuine offerings from phonies, you’ll realise that there is not that many offerings at the end of the day.

“What we always say to our small business customers is go for trials. Nowadays online, everything has free trials. A key indicator of a scam or of something that would harm one’s business is if there are no free trials. If you don’t know exactly where to start and don’t have the capacity to evaluate what’s good from what’s bad, go for something with a free trial – something where you’re not locked into a contract and see how you go.”

This feature was originally published in the March 2015 print issue of My Business. To read more in-depth features for SME business owners immediately upon publication, subscribe to My Business magazine now. 

 

Like My Business on Facebook now to get involved in the SME community discussion. Follow @mybusinessau on Twitter for breaking stories throughout the day. 



promoted stories