This article first appeared in the Winter issue of The Record.
Small businesses have, to date, largely struggled along in the shadows of the corporate giants where collaborative technology is concerned. Often the creativity of the newcomer has been stifled, if not smothered, by the inability to use collaborative software to grow its business and to-market offerings at a speed that provides the ability to survive and mature in a highly competitive marketplace. Vast data centres of enterprise services have traditionally been out of reach for any but the most established organisations. In turn this has led to a very uneven playing field in terms of the ability for our new generation of businesses to mature and succeed.
The idea that a small to medium sized business (SMB) could afford the luxury of integrated communication, collaboration, content publication, search and partnering services, fully branded and integrated with the desktop would have only a few years ago been deemed ridiculous. The idea that such rich services could be delivered fully configured within days or a few weeks, fully de-risked would have been deemed even more ridiculous.
Yet SharePoint Online as part of Office 365 has turned the tables once and for all and today allows the smallest organisations to leverage the very same collaborative services as the largest, established competitors. This matters to us all. New thinking, bright ideas, brand new concepts, services and new ways of working incubate in our small businesses and our futures largely depend on them taking us forwards. Such creativity requires collaboration technology.
There are few organisations who do not wish to manage their business documents effectively and communicate beyond email alone. Yet such enterprise collaborative solutions were until very recently the unique realm of large organisations which could contribute the necessary time, resources and substantial budgets to deliver heavily customised, integrated collaborative services for their business audiences.
Traditionally, SharePoint infrastructure was centred around substantial investment in server farm technology with development, pre-production and live server farms as well as fail-over sites all being the order of the day. For the SMBs, custom solutions with supporting infrastructure were simply out of the question. Delivering a complete intranet on SharePoint for a couple of hundred users would make no financial sense without an extraordinary business case or the decision that there was no alternative.
Thankfully due to a fully scalable SharePoint Online service as a key ingredient of the Microsoft Cloud, such scenarios have now been largely consigned to history. Yet it is not just the Microsoft Cloud itself which has emancipated the SMB, but a brand-new breed of packaged commodity SharePoint business solutions fast-tracking organisations into live solution scenarios within days of purchasing a license which are the real drivers to SMB success.
A sophisticated enterprise-class, collaborative intranet which may have taken six to nine months of traditional requirements gathering, design and testing can now be installed, configured, branded and launched in any organisation in weeks at a cost of a fraction of a traditional deployment, with none of the risks or costs associated with traditional deployment models.
Consequently, where small organisations have begun by purchasing cloud licensing and delivering email services quickly, now find that they can be running on a complete enterprise-level SharePoint solution combining the very best in collaboration and communication services, fully integrated with the larger Microsoft Office suite almost immediately. This means that any organisation, however small, can ensure they are making the very best of their cloud license investment and consume many of the existing and newly emerging cloud services to build and grow their businesses to become as successful and as quickly as possible.
Industry statistics from Forrester confirm the SMB benefit proposition with over 150% ROI and payback in less than 20 weeks. An organisation with 250 users or less can expect to see huge infrastructure savings, rapid growth in mobility without the overheads and with significant costs saved in lower compliance costs. Add this to the time saved and the almost complete risk removal in terms of technology implementation and SharePoint quickly moves to the centre of an effective SMB collaborative strategy.
The post-recession years are a boom time for small organisations underpinned by the huge capabilities and possibilities that Microsoft Cloud collaborative technologies offer. That combined with the speed of deployment of complete packaged solutions means that today’s small business capabilities can afford to be literally, extraordinary. In a time of extraordinary change, we need our small businesses to support our future and with SharePoint Online as part of the Microsoft Cloud, that future is already a reality.
Ian McNeice is solutions director at Morgan & Wolfe.
Share this story