A generation ago, changing technology forced businesses to make regular investments to keep pace – now, small firms have been relieved of much of this burden through the development of new services delivered via the cloud.
Ian Massingham, Worldwide Lead for AWS Technical Evangelism at Amazon Web Services (AWS), explains how cloud computing is an enabling force for small businesses, and details how firms can make practical use of cloud-based services to reduce costs and focus more on their core competencies.
What is cloud computing and why is it useful for small businesses?
It’s simply accessing services online. Rather than having to build and operate services yourself, you can consume them online.
A few years ago, it was normal for organisations to run their own servers – they would have email, calendaring and even customer relationship management (CRM) systems running on them along with other software.
Now, instead of running hardware and software that they pay people to maintain and operate, businesses use cloud services. They’re simpler and quicker, and allow the business to focus on the things that are core to its success.
Today, it’s almost unheard of for small businesses, for larger businesses even, to run their own infrastructure to provide those services. Instead, they consume services from the cloud – such as Salesforce for all their CRM needs, or accounting and finance services such as Sage and Zero.
Many small businesses are creating digital services or tech products such as apps or physical products with an online component. These organisations can use the cloud to build services they will run elsewhere or to run aspects of those services in the background.
Small business can struggle with capital investment – can the cloud help here?
You don’t have capital investment with cloud computing.
Historically, you would have invested in a server, put that in the corner of your office and paid someone to maintain it for its lifetime. It’s unusual to do that now – if a business needs software, the primary way to do that is take the software as a service from an existing organisation that’s already dealt with the challenge of building and running it.
It’s better for a small business to consume services rather than build them. Money is then freed to use elsewhere: acquiring new customers, building better products, promotions. You don’t have to spend lots of capital any more on things that don’t help you serve customers.
How many businesses are using the cloud?
If you talk to small business owners you’ll find it hard to find one that’s not using the cloud in some way. If you use email, you’re probably using a cloud service; if you need to make conference calls, you use it; if you want to track customers or use CRM, that’s in the cloud.
It completely permeates the way in which customer interaction is handled today – it’s just the way people do business now.
What is AWS?
It’s a collection of cloud computing services that provides IT professionals with quick and easy ways to run, operate and scale their own IT services.
This is different to the way developers have traditionally worked – and that’s one of the reasons why AWS is growing so fast, and why customers are adopting cloud computing so quickly. It offers lots of benefits that aren’t available with traditional models.
As a developer or other IT professional, you have options about the routes you can take to acquire the technology you need to run applications.
You can build the stuff yourself in data centres, or equip a room where you own, maintain and install the computers yourself, or you can use virtual resources from providers such as AWS.
How can a small business of just one or two employees make use of it?
Today, many more start-ups are experimenting with business models, and that is probably down to the cloud in two ways: firstly, if your firm is not a technology business, then you don’t have to worry about technology, but can just use those services that make it easy for you to communicate with customers.
If you are building a business that relies on deploying software, the value of using AWS is amplified. You’ll take operations and investments that were once quite difficult and move them into the cloud, then use our services to help you build things. This means you can focus all your efforts on building the best product you can.
We have a customer called Doordeck that is in the home security business. It provides an electronic door lock you can open remotely using an app. It’s just a small business, with only a few employees, but it’s built on AWS.
Secondly, you have businesses that started small here in the UK and have become global success stories – companies such as Deliveroo or FanDuel. They have built successful and well-recognised brands using the cloud as an important part of their tech strategy, innovating quickly and attacking international markets.
FanDuel is a good example – its main engineering office is in Edinburgh, but it provides fantasy sports for the US market. It can operate internationally by using the cloud and without needing a large team in the US to build and operate infrastructure.
How can a business make the most of cloud services without costly training or hiring tech-savvy staff?
You can use the pre-packaged subscription software services that we have mentioned. If you need an accountant package, choose the best you can find to meet your needs.
In many cases, you might not even know you’re using AWS. You might just be relying on a software product that uses AWS in some way. All you know is it’s easy to use, you have a great customer experience and the subscription costs just a few pounds each month.
That’s the best and easiest way for small businesses that don’t build tech products to make use of the cloud. You’re benefiting from the speed, agility and low cost we’re providing to our customers, but you’re picking up those benefits indirectly from the partner you choose to work with.
If you do need to get into running technology components, our service Amazon Lightsail is a simple-to-use service for running other services and websites on AWS. It’s intended to provide the simplest user experience, and it’s a great way for customers that are less technical to get started.
Cyber crime – does being on the cloud make you more vulnerable?
That’s a fallacy, really. Using the cloud does not allow you to abdicate responsibility for information security; when you use the cloud, you control what you put in and all the security policies.
It’s important to apply the right controls to the right data, to make sure data is secured in a way so that businesses meet their statutory and legal obligations. Information security is a form of heavy lifting, and many customers choose AWS as they can offload some of the responsibility onto services it provides.
What if a business has existing technology but wants to move onto AWS – how does it port?
You can move existing services to AWS. If you already have a website running on a server, or have software installed and running on a machine, you can pick that up and put it in the AWS cloud.
If you don’t have the technical capability to do that in-house, an AWS partner can help you do it. We have a wide variety of consulting partners in the UK with lots of different AWS specialisations that can help businesses move applications and services.
There are a lot of online resources that can help people get started with AWS. Visit our website aws.amazon.com where you can find a whole raft of material for new users in our Getting Started section.
There are all sorts of guides, walk-throughs and documentation that will help customers self-start.