The power of cloud technology even for the smallest of businesses is impressive, writes Brian Moroney from EY Ireland.
Cloud and data and analytics technologies will deliver most value to Irish organisations over the next two years. This is among the key findings of the latest EY Tech Horizon Report, which explores how businesses can combine technology and transformation to address the key challenges facing them as they emerge from the pandemic.
Overall, 50% of Irish respondents to the study believe cloud technologies will deliver the most value to their business over the next 24 months, followed closely by data and analytics at 46%.
“Businesses do not have to invest in expensive hardware or other infrastructure to avail of the best of breed technologies which are available in the cloud”
This should not come as a surprise. Over the past three years, companies have seen first-hand the transformative impact real-time access to data can have on their businesses. They have been able to understand their customers better and anticipate their needs in a rapidly changing environment.
A great equaliser
At a more basic level, the pivot to remote and hybrid working forced upon businesses across Ireland by the public health restrictions was facilitated by cloud technology. Indeed, it could not have been achieved without the availability of cloud based communications and collaboration platforms like Zoom, Office 365 and Microsoft Teams.
Similarly, the very survival of many retailers was facilitated by cloud technologies which enabled the rapid switch to click and collect and online order and delivery services. Many of those retailers who were able to make use of the data generated by those new services were able to gain competitive advantage.
The report also looked at the key ingredients which will underpin success for businesses over the coming years. The first is a deep understanding of customers. Business owners need to understand that their customers are changing faster than their companies. SMEs are probably closer to their customers in real time than large companies. This means they are more likely to be able to build better empathy with them from the get-go. This is their advantage and gives them a valuable opportunity to leverage their closeness to their customers.
The power of data
The next element is data-centricity. This is relevant for businesses of all sizes. Data is the currency of the digital economy so the quicker Irish businesses capitalise on it, the more competitive and attractive they will be to customers, employees and partners. SMEs, by virtue of their size, may have an advantage in this area.
“It is not just about technology of course. The world is changing, and customers are changing along with it. SMEs must have the agility and capability to adapt to those changes”
It is more likely that managers will understand the business and the data that matter most. Large companies don’t enjoy the benefits of having an owner or individual change agent who knows and understands the data landscape so intimately.
Businesses need to be very careful when it comes to choosing the technologies to invest in. There was an acceptance of cloud technologies during the pandemic. It was a question of having to in order to survive. Businesses now recognise the critical role cloud is playing in their success. The lesson there for SMEs is to double down on their cloud investments.
The cloud has particular advantages for SMEs. The first of these is its cost model and near infinite flexibility. Businesses do not have to invest in expensive hardware or other infrastructure to avail of the best of breed technologies which are available in the cloud. Furthermore, modern cloud services have some of the most robust security features available and are scalable with almost no limits. It can flex up and down to meet the changing needs of businesses who only pay for what they use.
In addition, applications are constantly updated in the background on services like Microsoft Azure. Businesses no longer have to worry about updating software applications and ensuring that it is still protected and supported by the vendor.
And the power it puts in the hands of even the smallest businesses is truly impressive. It opens up a world of capability from AI to blockchain to augmented reality. And all this on the most secure technology platforms on the planet.
However, a set of foundations have to be put in place to ensure the business maximises the benefits of cloud technology. This includes having the right connectivity to the provider and well designed and implemented identity management capability.
That capability requires investment in talent. That can present difficulties for SMEs which do not possess the resources of large organisations. But these are not insurmountable. It is not necessary to for SMEs utilising the cloud to develop deep software engineering capabilities. What is required is to ensure that employees in the business are digitally literate and to engage with them to adopt new skills, giving them confidence to better deal with technology providers but also to explore areas like low code programming. That will enable businesses to take full advantage of the cloud.
It is not just about technology of course. The world is changing, and customers are changing along with it. SMEs must have the agility and capability to adapt to those changes. Combining that agility with the right technology solutions, the cloud in particular, will place businesses in an ideal position to survive and thrive in the rapidly changing and fragile economic environment we face in the years ahead.