Do you remember when the Blackberry phone arrived? A phone that did email! It had a keyboard too, and, for the first time allowed the busy executive to instantly reply to an email without having to unpack the big slow laptop that was lurking in the boot of the car. Suddenly email was accessible, any time, anywhere – it was a huge boon to large companies, but this boon was denied to the smaller businesses simply due to the costs and technology involved, the barriers to entry were insurmountable.
In 1999 I was involved in the Microsoft Exchange Server email roll out to the EMEA entities of a multi national corporation. This was cutting edge stuff! For each business unit in every country there had to be a minimum of four servers to allow for Blackberry use. Even for large corporations this was a significant outlay in terms of up front costs and ongoing licensing, and not one that could always be justified even at this level.
Fast forward to today’s world. The barriers to entry have been blown away by the mobile and internet revolution, and yet far too many SMEs are still using email@example.com as their email address. Want another email account? Add firstname.lastname@example.org! It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t work for your business either.
Because of the proliferation of free email accounts and the lack of awareness among the SME sector there is a huge under takeup of modern business collaboration tools. And yet cloud computing has not only come of age, but it has also come to the rescue of the SME. As a small business the purchase and maintenance of significant server hardware and software was prohibitive, but now getting your own corporate email is a simple as signing up with one of the cloud providers and setting up your domain name to connect to their servers.
The surprising thing is that the smaller the business the cheaper it is to get going. A freelancer can have corporate style email for between £3 and £5 per month. For a small business just multiply this by the number of users – this is much more accessible and affordable than setting up a low end Microsoft server in your broom cupboard! Instantly your business can share calendars, files, contacts across multiple devices, all for a small monthly fee.
What is lacking at this end of the market is simply a little bit of advice on how to go about setting it all up, and a knowledge of the benefits to the business. Which provider you choose may depend on what existing services you have and use. These range from a simple hosted Exchange product available from many sources. This provides corporate style email services provided using Microsoft’s email server software – this is what Outlook was primarily designed as a client for. If you are hooked on Microsoft you can sign up for a version of Office 365 which at base level provides email and online versions of its Office products. Pay more per month and get the full products for your desktop. If you’re not tied to Microsoft consider Google Apps for Business – there’s the same low entry point and a similar range of features but designed to work better with the Chrome browser and Android tablets and phones. For a lower TCO you can even purchase Chromebooks or Surface tablets rather than full PCs for mainstream use by staff.
What does the SME need to compete with the corporates? It needs access to business class collaboration and communication tools for all of their members of staff. It needs to be able to rely on these tools to be available 24/7, to add and remove users with ease, and most of all it needs to be able to do all of this without having to install and maintain costly hardware and software. Businesses must become more and more flexible to adapt to the modern working environment, and cloud collaboration and communications services allow the SME to do what they do best – adapt and grow while the larger corporates are still signing their approval forms.
If your business is at the small end of the SME sector then this is even more relevant as cloud services give you instant access to a wealth of high end resources that you just can’t afford otherwise. When the internet began to impinge on the business world one of the axioms was that ‘no-one knows how big you are on the web’ – this idea was founded on the growth of web sites as the shop window for your business. Nowadays the same is true in a much broader sense – there’s never been a better time to start or grow a small business or to take advantage of the incredible tools for communicating with customers, clients and business partners. With a few simple steps you can present your business as a modern collaborative organisation, no matter how small your business is.