Cloud computing is helping SMBs compete on a level playing field with larger businesses by giving them affordable access to applications once primarily used by enterprise-class businesses, according to a study commissioned by Dell.
A study of 400 SMBs using cloud business applications said the cloud model has helped them reduce costs, improve cash flow and increase employee productivity.
A high percentage of SMBs, 87 percent, said the ability to use business applications has given them a competitive advantage.
"SMBs have historically been at a disadvantage competing with larger companies because they could not afford the more expensive applications which large companies could," said Anurag Agrawal, the CEO of Techaisle, a marketing research company that conducted the study for Dell. "They can now use these apps to improve productivity, for marketing and to bring goods and services to market faster. The cloud has leveled the playing field for SMBs and brought on transformative change."
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A key tool for SMBs in the cloud is the use of CRM applications, with its adoption rate among those surveyed more than doubling to 55 percent this year from 24 percent in 2010.
"CRM, with sales and service automation capabilities, is a strong catalyst for improving revenue for SMBs in a maximum period of time," Agrawal said. "There are no capital expenditures or IT staffing involved. With cloud CRM, you become productive from day one."
The breakdown of SMB cloud application usage for the respondents includes project management apps at 54 percent, business analytics/business intelligence at 49 percent, marketing automation at 48 percent, payroll at 48 percent; and HR/benefits and performance management at 43 percent.
Until the onset of cloud-based integration services, SMBs lacked resources to take advantage of enterprise applications, said Jeffrey Kaplan, Managing Director of research and analysis firm Thinkstrategies. who was not involved in the survey.
"Small companies have always been taxed when it came to implementing enterprise-class applications because they didn't have the in-house skills and resources to wrestle these apps under control."
SMBs adopting cloud-based services should take steps to streamline the process, Agrawal said. Those include ensuring they have a single vendor to manage best-of-breed applications, and having a thorough deployment plan with sound integration of on-premise and off-premise technologies.
To meet SMB demand for cloud-integration services, Dell launched its Cloud Business Applications program in August 2011. Bill O’Dell, director of Dell Cloud Business Applications, said the program aims to provide a "one-stop-shop that addresses this new market for companies that want a trusted vendor that will put it all together for them."
Other companies providing cloud integration services include Informatica, Pervasive and IBM’s Cast Iron Systems.