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Inexpensive and efficient technology was a pipe dream for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) not even two years ago. It’s likely that post-its, hordes of emails and excel spreadsheets were the go-to tools to try and streamline processes, manage customers and ensure optimum team collaboration.

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Big corporations, on the other hand, had sophisticated enterprise-level technologies, like a customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which connected disparate bits of data (financial and customer). Enterprise resource planning was like a magic pill, turning large and inefficient online structures and processes into user-friendly and intuitive systems. Employees felt the tools at their disposal were responsive and aided productivity.

Costs too prohibitive for SMEs

The major upfront expense of the installation of these technologies, however, as well as the highly skilled IT specialists needed to maintain them meant that smaller companies were often excluded and thus out-competed in the market. A study in the UK found that SMEs were slow adopters of technology and yet, cited the urgency to adopt new technologies to drive their growth. CEOs of SMEs felt disconnected from how their customers and competitors used technology. SMEs in South Africa were in similar positions ironically, considering the major emphasis on developing the SME economy to spur economic growth.

Enter cloud-based technology enabled by inexpensive cloud providers

But with the advent of cloud-based technologies, smaller businesses can easily be as productive, efficient and connected as their corporate counterparts. SMEs have the same opportunities now, once reserved for cash-flush large companies. The cloud enables things like document storage, email, collaboration and CRM, all in real-time. With a cloud provider such as Office 365 with Ignite, there is no need for expensive IT consultants, multi-year licenses and frustrating migrations from current systems. Upfront capital expenses shift to ongoing operating expenses.  A cloud provider like Office 365 also allows the flexibility to change plans in line with business advancements.

The pendulum swings to smaller firms

It can be said that smaller firms now have the competitive advantage, considering that large corporations have to go through lengthy procurement and change management processes to switch to more agile, cloud-based technology. As an SME owner, things can be up and running within hours. And this is more important than ever, considering the growing trends of a mobile workforce and employees working remotely.

Office 365 is an affordable and powerful collaboration solution for small businesses.  It comes bundled with the OneDrive for Business cloud service, which includes a free terabyte of storage on the OneDrive servers and everything you need to reap the benefits of a cloud-enabled workplace. Features are constantly being added to make collaborating easier than before. For more information on how to run a small business effectively, download our guide here.

South African Entrepreneurs Guide	to Running a Business