For a globalised enterprise with hundreds of employees, the transition to the cloud has been largely perceived as an ‘obvious’ next step in tech progression.
And, when you’ve got a team of IT specialists to assist you, the shift will naturally be infinitely less daunting.
However, the situation is entirely different for small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Not only are they approaching this digital transformation initiative without the knowledge of a dedicated team, but it’s highly likely that this change would be a lot more dramatic.
So, to get an insight into the specific cloud automation challenges faced by SMEs, we spoke to Lisa Schwarz, the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Oracle NetSuite. She shared her advice about how SMEs can best adopt cloud technologies, successfully achieving a seamless, future-proof transition to cloud-enabled processes.
A leap of faith - entrusting your business to the cloud
Trusting the cloud with the applications that you use to run your business is a monumental transition for the majority of smaller enterprises, many of whom have been used to more informal, time-honoured solutions.
“To take those existing processes and put them into something you don't see – you're entrusting it all to this entity, and that's a big leap of faith,” Schwarz explains.
Interestingly, although cloud automation has long been on the agenda, Schwarz believes that the pandemic proved instrumental in increasing the pace of this shift.
“I think what happened with the pandemic and the office shutting down was that people finally started to see what the cloud’s availability and accessibility really means.”
“It's really forced people to rethink how they're deploying their technologies, and what types of technologies they're using in their business.”
Implementing change management strategies
One of the core pieces of advice that Schwarz stressed was the importance of change management strategies, chiefly involving the team in this transition to the cloud.
“It's one thing to look on paper and say that, ‘Okay, this application has more functionality than what I'm using today’, and see that it’s ticked all the boxes, bells and whistles. But it's of no use to the company if your users don't adopt it. So, as important as it is to make sure that the application meets your needs for a business, it's just as important to have change management processes in place throughout the implementation,” Schwarz explains.
“It's about involving people from the start, helping them to understand what their business processes are, how they do things today, and how that's going to map out in the future. Then, people feel more like they are a part of a solution. That change management process is, I feel, just as important to successfully achieving a good adoption rate of the new cloud application.”
As much as the cloud promises a wealth of new capabilities, efficiencies and advanced applications, in the context of an SME, the transition to the cloud needs to be undertaken in a transparent and informative way. Otherwise, the initiative could risk alienating employees or creating anxieties within the workplace.
“Everybody has some apprehension to change, right? There's always some anxiety or apprehension to change – that's just our human nature. But then, in this case, apply that to somebody's salary or how they're making a living.”
Schwarz advises that, to ensure success, a cloud adoption process should help employees feel confident of, and secure in, the technologies themselves.
“It’s just like in management more broadly: I don't want to be a manager who is just barking down orders; I want my employees to be empowered, make their decisions and come up with solutions.”
Future-proofing and flexibility - Schwarz’s advice for any SMEs considering cloud automation
Firstly, get a sense of the time that your key processes currently take. Ascertain what the biggest pain points are in your business, and assign them some quantifiable time. Then, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current processes.
“Look at what your growth is, where you want to take your company, and ask yourself whether your current systems and processes can support that. Then, if not, you need to devise a business system that can support your business.”
“Think about where you want your business to go. Identify where it’s growing and ask yourself, ‘can my system support that?’. If not, then you need to put something in place that not only supports where you want to go in the next two years, but even further than that, because you don't want to be changing business systems every two or three years. So look at the pain points you have today, but also, more importantly, where you want to take your business.”
In this way, once you pinpoint what you want to achieve, you can use the cloud’s huge arsenal of technologies to improve efficiencies across your entire operations.
Pointing to NetSuite’s latest updates as an example, Schwarz outlines the exceptional breadth of the cloud’s digital transformation potential.
“The big announcements that we made were around the launch of AP Automation, the SuitePeople Workforce Management, the Ship Central, and the CPQ; even though those seem like pretty disparate features, they all are about automation and efficiency,” Schwarz explains.
“Providing your sales team with more efficiencies in the configured price to quote, providing your accounting team with more efficiencies when processing accounts payable, and ensuring you have some wiggle room, as every business is trying to do more with less.”
“And that's what this is all about – providing those efficiencies in the various processes. Because every business has thousands and thousands of processes, whether it's payroll, financial, HR, in your warehouse, in your supply chain, and so on. It's about going in and trying to get even more efficiency out of processes that are already beneficial.”
This quality is integral to the benefits of the cloud – it lifts that score of operational management off your plate. Although that’s not to say that you’ll never have to think about it again, it does mean that your priorities can return to the parts of your process that are your strengths.
“For any small business approaching the cloud, no business should feel like they're being pushed into a solution. Really, it all comes back to, ‘what are the pain points as a business that I'm trying to solve’, and going back to understanding what your processes are, where you want to take your business, and asking whether you have the systems and people to support that?”
“As a business owner, you should, I think, be looking at these things holistically, if you're seriously into growing your business for the long haul.”