I recently met with a director at a small, niche and highly successful consultancy. The business services customers worldwide from its head office in Auckland. Chances are you have never heard of them, but some of the world’s biggest companies have and their IP has been adapted, adopted and deployed extensively by big global players for the 10 years the local company has existed.
The intention of the meeting was to help guide the company on their in-house technology decisions and it was almost a picture-perfect case study for me to show how cloud-based services will rapidly become the solution of choice for many smaller businesses.
The business employs a small number of consultants, all of whom work independently, and many of whom are involved in other businesses. They are highly mobile and the customer information they possess is very often highly confidential. The relatively ad hoc technologies and practices they have been using up until now had served them fairly well, but things had gotten to a stage where decisions and changes needed to be made in order to cope with a forthcoming business growth spurt.
The first issue that required addressing was the notebooks used by their consultants, which were owned by the consultants themselves and, as noted above, were often used in other businesses.
They were running a variety of operating systems and we decided the best move was to standardise them on one OS which, after discussing the benefits of encrypting their notebook hard disks, portable hard disks and USB keys, we decided should be Windows 7 Professional (due to BitLocker being built-in).
After that, we decided all consultants would need to agree to follow the standard, three-step guidelines to keeping their PC “clean”: using a firewall, keeping their OS and applications up to date with patches and using up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware utilities.
After that came the more meaty part of the conversation. I think it was the director’s second sentence in which he stated “we don’t want servers or any of that b*llsh*t.” In subsequent sentences, he made it very clear he wanted all of the functionality available to much larger companies, but without any IT staff overhead.
A couple of their team were already using Google Apps and had found it worked well for them with one gap - web conferencing - which was needed for customer engagement and training. That prompted a conversation about Microsoft’s online services – the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. (Which reminds me, I must dig out that “if Microsoft made the iPod” video again).
We then got onto the subject of “how much?”. The answer I gave him was “a one-time cost of around $100 to check and configure each notebook and $18 or so per user per month for the other stuff”.
I think he thought I was kidding. He was amazed that such rich functionality was available for what was, in his mind, next to nothing. Which brings me to the point of this story.
I think the days of small businesses having a server or three tucked away in a back room are coming to an end. To quote Rachel Hunter, “it won’t happen overnight but it will happen”.
Sure, there are issues with connectivity, latency, email porting and provisioning complexity which still need to be addressed, but those are near-term, fixable problems. There must be thousands of small, local businesses like the one I describe above and while not all of them are at a similar point of inflexion, they will be within a year or two. This is why I think cloud services are the biggest opportunity – and threat – local value-added resellers have faced in years. Whether they are a threat or an opportunity for your business is entirely up to you.
Brett Roberts is Microsoft NZ’s former CTO and director of innovation, and has spent 25 years in technology, sales and marketing roles. He is also a blogger http://blog.brettroberts.com and a tweeter.