The Clout of the Cloud: The Tech that Helps SMEs Punch Above Their Budgets

This excerpt comes from an in-depth article featured in the Guardian as part of their Work Smarter series – a collaboration between SAP Concur and the Guardian. For more great quality content and advice on ways to introduce greater efficiency into your business, visit the Work Smarter hub.

 

Cloud-based services have levelled the playing field for smaller businesses by bringing them the kinds of tools that typically only larger corporations could afford. We take a look at some of the most useful

 

In the early days of the web, even the smallest and most niche businesses found themselves able to discover customers who had previously been out of reach. But capitalising on the new opportunities still required time, money and person-power. Sure, some once-small startups have succeeded in disrupting entire industries and grown into corporate behemoths. But for companies that have remained small, the web didn’t quite refashion them as digital Davids winning against Goliaths.

More recent developments, however, have allowed small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to genuinely punch above their weight when it comes to back-office functions. Cloud-based software services and management and finance apps have empowered companies by giving them access to the kind of tools and top-notch computing powers that have typically only been affordable for larger corporates.

 

This revolution for SMEs has crept up on us so gradually, though, that it can be easy to lose sight of just how transformative it has been.

“Technology has changed everything and today small firms can compete with larger ones by making use of powerful applications and platforms,” says Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, a network of small businesses and business advisers who mentor emerging businesses.

 

In 2019, you can take virtually any aspect of running a business – customer service, purchasing, recruitment, HR, accounting, marketing, analytics – and find a technological solution that streamlines the process. We’re even seeing total automation of some of those repetitive labour-intensive admin tasks that can get in the way of the more important aspects of running a business.

 

AI chatbots respond to customer enquiries, while smart replenishment software systems cut the time needed to order supplies – as well as helping companies forecast what to order. Employee self-service software helps reduce the HR burden, and e-learning portals make it possible to roll out training programmes to staff faster, onboarding new starters and upskilling the workforce with a less hands-on approach.

 

“When firms really make the most of the digital world, they can reap benefits by controlling and capturing the time they spend on each client,” says Jones – who recently helped to launch Heads Up!, part of the government’s Business Basics Programme to test if encouraging small businesses to embrace existing digital technologies can make a positive impact on productivity levels.

 

Web-based or app-enabled solutions also extend into SMEs’ financial engine rooms, with accounting services to help companies keep a closer eye on cashflow and take the pain out of managing expenses and payments. The result is an environment in which managers and entrepreneurs can spend less time on soul-draining back-office admin and more time running their business.

 

Automating financial processes, for example, by using software packages such as SAP Concur, can help ensure that everything you need to know – for instance about your invoices, expenses and travel costs – automatically flows into one system, making it easier to manage, analyse and figure out how to improve your business’s cashflow. Another part of the software package, Concur Budget, takes a holistic view of employee spend, enabling companies to make cost-saving and purchasing decisions in the moment, which is particularly relevant for SMEs who have to be nimble.

 

Moreover, SMEs are increasingly better placed than big companies to benefit from the innovative solutions that are hitting the market. Without the constraints of legacy systems to transition away from, it’s often easier for more nimble businesses to test out and adopt these new systems.

 

This is just a snippet of the whole story. Read the full Guardian article here.

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