Cloud applications can streamline and transform your SMB’s business processes.
Just because it’s “in the cloud” doesn’t mean you don’t have to manage these applications properly, but when you do and you choose the right cloud apps to support your business, the impact is truly transformative.
I know, that sounds like just another over-hyped technology promise. This one is true.
Who Uses Cloud Apps?
The short answer: nearly everyone.
Cloud apps have been used by business for two-decades now (they were called software-as-a-service in the 90s). As everyone turns to a consumption model, the pace of cloud adoption is only going to increase. Research from Gartner
, an IT research and analysis company, says that 60% of business owners will rely on the cloud for hosting data by 2022, that’s double the numbers from 2018. S&P sponsored
research found that 60% of the surveyed organizations expect that a majority of their IT will be off-prem within two years.
While it’s too early, there is some evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is speeding this transformation to a consumption model of IT provisioning.
New Technology ALWAYS Transforms Business
Before going further, a word of caution about any technology and the idea of transforming your business. One of the most overused and over-hyped phrases you’ll see around technology is “digital transformation.” There is a tech hype-cycle. Gartner even has a “hype cycle” chart. Below is their hype cycle for 2019 technologies.
Don’t get lost in the hype. Cloud-apps will transform your business processes, but technology always transforms business processes. The typewriter changed clerical work. The fax machine changed communication (and the telegraph radically sped communication before that). Email changed it further. There are new examples every year of “game-changing” IT. Sometimes the promised change happens, sometimes not.
There is no product category called “digital transformation.” Any piece of software or hardware, properly used, can “digitally transform” your business.
The key thing to remember is that any IT you invest in, either in-house or as a cloud app, must address a business problem. Even the best application won’t work if misaligned with your IT strategy.
Good? OK, on to cloud apps.
Two Aspects of Cloud Business Process Transformation
Because process transformation is such a huge topic, we are going to focus on two aspects for this post:
- Using cloud-based workflow/BPM (business process management) tools to streamline business processes
- Using cloud-based business apps to acquire the same capabilities as a Fortune 1000 company and to transform how you put together your IT infrastructure.
Workflow and Business Processes
Most companies don’t think about their business processes. Things are done the way they are done because that’s the way they are done. Smart companies take the time to identify their ideal processes and then support those processes with workflow tools. Simply stated, workflow software (cloud or on-prem) passes work through each step of a business process until completed.
A common example is accounts payable. Rather than relying on email to route approvals, a simple workflow can take an invoice, capture the data on it (either from a paper copy with a scanner and recognition software or entirely digital capture), pass the invoice to a staff member for approval (and if that staff member is on vacation or sick, route the invoice to another employee), once approved, the invoice is routed for payment and archival/storage. There can be rules for exceptions (invoices above a certain threshold, for example) as well as holds on payment if terms of the contract aren’t complete.
These automated processes take the thought out of “what’s next” for staff so work flows freely through a company.
While this can sound daunting and complicated (and, in truth, large BPM implementations ARE daunting and complicated) for many SMB needs, processes are often straightforward. There are a few principles to keep in mind — the most important is to identify your end goal.
You also need to map your processes, which can be done with sticky notes on a table or on a whiteboard to keep things as simple as possible. Identify every step — especially the ones outside of any “official” step. Look for inefficiencies. It also helps to understand redesign principles:
- The focus is on outcomes, not tasks
- Minimize the time it takes for work to move through a process
- Checks and reviews should be minimized to the essentials
- Use the minimum number of people possible for each process
- Find and eliminate bottlenecks, which could be staff-related
- Standardize processes as much as possible
- There are exceptions for every process, have a process to handle them
This barely touches the surface of the possibilities of using workflow to transform your business processes.
Research from information management non-profit AIIM shows that while many businesses show cost and efficiency as two main benefits of process automation, 55% of survey respondents said that value and improving customer service were the driving forces behind automation (from The Ultimate Guide to Improving Your Business Processes
Digital transformation via cloud-apps is bigger than workflow. Except for highly niche needs, there probably isn’t an SMB software functionality need that can’t be found as an app:
- Data backup and recovery
- Email security and hosting
- Customer relationship management
- Network security and management
- Help desk support
- Productivity apps
Microsoft’s productivity suite is available as an online service, Office 365. So is Adobe’s entire suite of design products. Like the Apple ads said, “There’s an app for that.”
Heck, you can even host your phone system as a cloud-based service.
Understand Your Business Problem
Let’s reinforce a point I made early in this post: you must understand your business issues BEFORE you choose a technology. The technology works. It won’t do you any good, however, unless you invest the time to understand which business processes you want to transform.
Accounts payable is a common business process that can be improved with workflow. Automating AP processes returns an ROI in 6 to 18 months (Digital Transformation: It’s Not Just for the Big Guys) by ensuring payments aren’t missed (and allowing you to take advantage of early payment incentives), freeing up employees to do more value-added work, etc.
Human resources is another document-intensive process that can be streamlined with process automation and digitally transformed. Opportunities here are huge:
- Creating employee onboarding workflows, including welcome emails and automated processes for IT, managers, and co-workers to provision and orient a new employee during their first weeks on the job.
- Removing paper from the process to streamline communications.
- Creating an employee portal for access to all HR-related information, forms, requests, etc.
There are cloud-based apps that can take over your HR management (you can outsource your HR function for that matter). For larger needs, SMBs can implement process automation tools in the cloud to speed HR.
Technology doesn’t solve business problems or digitally transform your business. It’s only an enabler. True digital transformation starts with planning and understanding what business process you want to improve.
Cloud-Based App Benefits
There are many benefits to using the cloud, a few are listed here. For more detail as well as busting a few cloud myths, read my article – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-ways-cloud-apps-help-smart-smbs-focus-business-technology-reddy/
One of the biggest benefits, especially in today’s world, is the ability to work from anywhere. That once meant coffee shops or the beach. As COVID continues to affect business in America and elsewhere, the ability to continue to work from home is a crucial business advantage for companies with employees that can do so. Employees feel safer (and are often more productive) and the business can stay in business.
We’ll explore the benefits of the cloud relative to work from home in a future blog post. Stay tuned.
Other benefits include:
- Lightening the burden to manage the IT stack of your IT department (or possibly not even needing IT staff)
- Improved agility because you can have an app running in minutes, hours, or days; rather than weeks or months.
- Improved security
- Easy to use software
Why Transform Business Processes?
Smoother business processes improve customer service, increase efficiency, and eliminate productivity-killing roadblocks.
To Cloud or Not to Cloud Isn’t the Question
One final point, no business has to make a choice between the cloud or in-house software. It’s not an either/or choice.
You can source your entire IT stack in the cloud. On the other end of the spectrum, you could implement, manage, and upgrade everything in-house. Many companies opt for a mixture, outsourcing some apps to the cloud, while maintaining control of others in-house.
There’s no 100% perfect answer, there’s only a perfect answer for your SMB’s business objectives and needs.
If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.