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Unlock the potential of the cloud for your small business

Article provided by Westcon

Microsoft recently celebrated the first anniversary of opening its two Azure data centres in South Africa. This has already started bringing about a change in how businesses approach the cloud to identify new opportunities for growth. But if you are still one of those not sure about going this route, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. The cloud is here to stay

Recent times have seen companies of all shapes and sizes across industry sectors, turning their attention to digital transformation. This integrates technology into all facets of the business to deliver increased value to an increasingly fickle customer base.

“People want to access information from any device, at any time of day, and from anywhere they have an internet connection. If a company is unable to deliver on those expectations, they can easily turn to a competitor. Having a cloud strategy in place to service the needs of customers is critical to remain relevant,” says Prebashini Reddy, Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) and Product Manager at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.

But it is equally important to address the needs of employees who have become used to the cloud in their personal lives (for example, storing photos and important documents online). Businesses must be able to use innovative technologies to create a cloud-friendly environment that drives collaboration across the workforce.

“Microsoft Office 365 is a case in point. This cloud-based subscription service brings together the best tools for the way people want to work today. It combines well-known productivity solutions like Word and Excel with cloud services like OneDrive and Microsoft Teams to let anyone create and share anything on any device,” says Pete Hill, executive director at Greendata.

2. Technology is becoming integrated

In the move to drive collaboration, small businesses are finding themselves stuck between using the latest technology but still being reliant on older solutions. This is resulting in trying to embrace a digital environment, but not wanting to lose out on the investments made in other software and hardware.

“It is understandable that business owners want the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, this has exacerbated the traditional silo approach that sees companies having separate solutions for teams and job functions. Not only does this add to the complexity of the work environment, but there is a lack of alignment to the overarching corporate strategy. Instead, options must be examined how best to integrate all the systems and processes to deliver a more unified way of working,” says Reddy.

Hill agrees.

“This is where having access to trusted partners becomes essential. They will be able to provide an independent audit of the systems currently in place and identify how a company can integrate these with cloud-based offerings. This does not mean reinventing the wheel. Rather, it is looking at ways to improve operations for a more successful business.”

3. The importance of cloud solution providers (CSPs)

To this end, CSPs will be instrumental in working with businesses to understand their needs and manage the entire cloud customer lifecycle. For example, Microsoft has an extensive worldwide partner network in place to do just that. These partners use dedicated tools to provide, manage, and support their customer subscriptions on solutions such as Office 365 so that the companies can remain focused on their core business.

“Microsoft CSP partners have the skills and expertise across industry sectors to deliver tailored solutions suited to the requirements of any company irrespective its size. It also means the typical way of simply buying software licences for the business is a thing of the past. Thanks to this initiative, partners are more actively involved in their customer’s business to deliver significant added value,” adds Reddy.

Opting for this managed service approach ensures a company can realise the full potential of solutions like Office 365 and OneDrive instead of using only limited functionality based on how things ‘have always been done’.

“A CSP can advise the business on all aspects of the Office 365 suite and provide the training required so employees can fully embrace a cloud-first world without being bogged down with complicated processes and systems. For example, setting up Office Web Apps will enable employees to have online viewing and basic editing on the likes of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote from the convenience of their mobile device,” says Pete Hill.

4. Cloud delivers business improvements

The cloud brings with it significant advantages for small businesses. And because it is geared for an online experience, users will be able to leverage the high computing powers of the local Azure data centres to derive even more value.

This sees them able to use things like artificial intelligence to automate repetitive tasks and focus on delivering more strategic value to the organisation. Office 365 has integrated Editor, Designer, and Smart Lookup to empower employees with access to user-friendly editing tools to take their documents, presentations, and budgets to the next level.

“Because it is cloud-based, Office 365 is a completely online environment that always has the latest version of the software running on computers and mobile devices. It also has built-in privacy and compliance tools to ensure companies meet the compliance requirements of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA). And unlike on-premise solutions, Microsoft provides a guaranteed 99.9% uptime with round the clock online and phone support,” says Reddy.

The cloud is about bringing people together in a more digitally-efficient way to become more productive, work smarter, and have the peace of mind that their data is safe.

“With Office 365, it has become easy to host online meetings and share screens to deliver a more collaborative space. No longer are people limited to sitting in front of their computer screens but can access these sessions from any device. The cloud brings people together in more innovative ways and improves work performance through digital means,” says Hill  .

Ultimately, any company looking to remain competitive and deliver employees with the tools needed to stay relevant must give serious consideration to the cloud. Its customizability is a far cry from the fixed systems of the past. Having more flexibility to work the way people want to will result in an enabling environment with more opportunities for business success.

Westcon is a proud Partner of the NSBC