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Small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are constantly looking for a competitive edge and a better way to deliver better customer service and improve overall efficiency.

Increasingly, cloud-based services are providing the direction to that increased competitive advantage.

According to numbers from research firm Gartner, sales of cloud computing service are expected to reach $9 billion this year, compared to $6 billion in 2012. Furthermore, Gartner is forecasting an average annual growth rate of 41 percent through 2016, which would translate into revenues of $24 billion in 2016 compared to $3 billion in 2010.

This shift in means greater computing power for businesses regardless of their size and will have significant implications on the ability for companies to delivery an enterprise-grade customer service experience without the added challenge of large-scale IT systems or advanced business processes.

The Guardian cites a 2013 study by the Manchester Business School, which found that the majority of businesses surveyed – those that had opened for business within the past three years – directly attribute cloud computing for business for their ease of start up and ongoing operation. The survey cited many benefits to these companies, including cost-effectiveness, system reliability, back-up capabilities, scalability, expert-level support, global accessibility, improved productivity and enhanced security.

Customer Service Competitive Advantage in the Cloud

The best systems and service are no longer just something the “big guys” can offer. SMBs now have the ability to choose a reliable, remote data/IT management cloud as an alternative to older, cost-intensive computer support.

Today, cloud computing even enables remote computer repair with a customer service twist, plus many other IT solutions.

Small business cloud computing competitive advantages

What’s the key point of difference for SMBs and cloud computing? First, SMBs gain an opportunity in the area of a more reliable, more scalable platform for managing their firm’s overall computing and data storage needs so the focus of the company can remain on delivering exceptional customer service. Second is a workable solution for a small firm with its partners, customers and more so the customer service experience delivery can be consistent regardless of which aspect of the business customers work with.

Working with cloud apps gives small businesses a chance to integrate their business operations with preferred vendors or customers leading to a reliable customer service solution that customers can depend on each and every time. Companies can start to realize efficiencies across the board with functional applications shared by those who need to be in on a particular project.

Because of these advantages, SMBs and their IT departments can improve more overall processes using cloud computing and in ways that they may not have been able to do previously. So the important questions for SMBs are:

  • Can we successfully migrate to the cloud?
  • How will the change to using cloud services impact up on our business functions?
  • Will the data in the cloud be safe? Who will ensure the security?
  • Is there room for smaller and more varied providers of cloud services to SMBs?
  • How will these services improve our overall customer service ability?
  • Will customers see a difference in the customer service experience?

Superior cloud-based IT options are now within reach of SMBs. In fact, IT consultancy group Freedom Dynamics recently forecast that one-in-five SMBs plan on migrating to a cloud-based option within three years.

A Web-based option doesn’t have to be a big upfront capital commitment, but SMBs can sample a small beta test to maximize the learning curve while minimizing any customer-facing hiccups that might occur. This makes it easier than ever for small businesses to launch and thrive.

SMBs Can Look Before They Leap

Cloud computing allows an SMB to focus on the most important aspect of its business — its customers. But the time for SMBs to act is now, because research shows that your competitors are already migrating to remote-managed options. Making a difference with customer service takes time, so the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll begin to see the results good customer service. Starting small with a cloud-based offering may be the first step many SMBs take. Every SMB must assess its own needs, figure out its budget, understand the shifts to its business processes, and then identify a web-based service that provides the maximum amount of flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness.

While evaluating those business requirements, SMB owners should understand exactly how the technology can help its own business and processes and how this will benefits customers as well.

Cloud Brokers Provide Clarity of Service

Plenty of web-based platforms offer tailor-made cloud suites of pre-integrated applications to reduce the “tyranny of choice” for SMBs. There are also opportunities for companies to look into geographic or vertical-based cloud models. But the choices can get too overwhelming. In these instances, SMBs can look to cloud providers on how to navigate their decisions.

Big names in information services are making it easy for SMBs to make the move. In fact, Information Age recently highlighted Accenture’s $400 million investment to become a “cloud broker” for SMBs. Unveiled in April 2013, Accenture offers SMBs a combination of services and software with a customer portal accessed by SMBs internally or set up in the cloud. Companies using this setup can also subscribe to enterprise apps for their own cloud needs or buy Accenture services already pre-configured. All this saves time researching different vendors.

Avoid the Fog While Moving to the Cloud

Another key consideration for the SMB is the actual migration of data to the cloud and ongoing vendor support. Cloud providers and software developers are starting to use a local point of contact for the SMB, enabling more clarity and less confusion throughout the data transfer and warehousing process. This helps businesses to further cement their relationships.

A Cloud-Based Competitive Edge

By focusing less on internal IT issues, a small business can simplify its data operations with any cloud-based option. Freed from a data-management focus, the small-to-mid-sized enterprise can better focus on delivering superior products and services to its customers. And in doing so, a company can move toward a greater competitive edge.

Cloud computing is one of the keys to bringing the capabilities and efficiencies of enterprise-size organizations to companies of all sizes. These added efficiencies enable all types of organizations to focus on delivering their personal customer service experience that their customers expect, without the added overhead of managing IT systems and applications.