Clouds Come in All Different Sizes

“We don’t have an IT department to manage it.” “We can’t afford it.” “The cloud is for large enterprises.”

I’ve heard small business owners cite all of these reasons and more for their reluctance to adopt cloud computing. And then I’ve challenged them on each and every point. You truly don’t need much in the way of resources – IT, capital or employees – to get a cloud strategy up and running. The cloud, especially when married to its soul mate (mobility), is a powerful resource from which even the smallest firms can benefit.

In fact, Forrester Research, Inc. identifies smaller companies as potential early adopters of mobile cloud technology. “Small and medium-sized enterprises are the initial target market for mobile cloud services because these firms do not have the internal resources or infrastructure to support the complex mobile device, OS, and application landscape,”[1] wrote Michele Pelino, Principal Analyst at Forrester.

Let’s take a look at how one company harnessed the capabilities of the mobile cloud. This healthcare supplies business has just 20 workers, but they’re able to act like a much larger corporation because of the cloud-based solutions they use.

When the company first decided to look into mobile solutions, they lacked a system for managing the office after working hours. Paying for an answering service was out of the question… but so was ignoring the calls of customers who depend upon their products.

The answer? AT&T Office@Hand, cloud-delivered business phone system that operates on employees’ office lines and mobile devices. The solution features an auto-receptionist, multiple extensions, voicemail, call handling, faxing and more. Now, customers can reach the company at any time by dialing a single number and selecting the department they need. Employees can pick up from home or on the road and address their clients’ concerns, right then and there.

And because it’s a cloud solution, the company’s owner (not an IT expert) was able to set up the phones in a matter of minutes and didn’t have to shell out a fortune for an on-premises system.

That same small business also tackled the paperwork monster with the help of a cloud-delivered mobile forms application. The company’s technicians previously used paper forms for everything they did – surveying customers about their needs, jotting down product specs and noting repair deliveries. Then, the information was manually entered into the computer system at the end of every day.

Time consuming and subject to inaccuracies, this system needed a complete overhaul. The company used ProntoForms from AT&T to deploy the forms on technicians’ smartphones – and ditch the paperwork for good. As soon as the technicians fill out these mobile forms, the information flows into the cloud, immediately goes online and can be accessed by those who need it in real time. The result: cutting process times by about 75 percent.

Did the company stop there and pat themselves on the back? Not a chance! They added two more products – an asset tracker for delivery vehicles and an enterprise paging system – to their arsenal of efficient, cost-effective cloud solutions.

In the end, the business spent around $1,500 upfront and less than $500 in monthly subscription costs. Just three to four years ago, that same level of automation would have involved buying $800 to $1,000 PCs, tens of thousands of dollars of enterprise software and a phone system – not to mention an IT staff member to set up and manage it all.

So for the skeptics out there who think cloud computing is designed for enterprises, consider how that small company jumped on the cloud opportunity and saved upwards of $100,000 while completely transforming their operations. Score one for small business!

What have you seen and experienced with small businesses using cloud services?  What would you like to see in the future? In my blogs to come, I’ll be highlighting other small and medium-sized enterprises that have deployed not just one but several cloud-based mobile solutions to completely transform their business processes. Stay tuned for a future posting on “SMB Does the Mobile Cloud Part 2”.

[1] Forrester Research, Inc., Vendors Seize Emerging Mobile Cloud Service Opportunities, May 2, 2011.
Abhi Ingle Big Data and Advanced Solutions Senior Vice President AT&T About Abhi