Why Walmart and your corner store may eventually use the same cloud tech


This is a guest post by Signpostchief executive Stuart Wall

It’s no secret that corporate giants like WalmartAmazon, and McDonalds benefit from huge IT budgets, and advanced technology solutions. They use modern technology to parse through data to make better business decisions. Walmart reportedly invested $600 million in its point of sale (PoS) system, much to the dismay of small businesses that were already struggling to compete.

In 2009, glassblower James McKelvey lost a $2,000 sale because his shop, like many, didn’t accept credit cards. He and his friend Jack Dorsey knew that there had to be a way to make credit card processing easy and accessible for small businesses. Their cloud-based transaction startup, Square, is now estimated to be worth more than $4 billion — and thousands of merchants around the world are able to process credit card transactions.

Arguably, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have the most to gain from the cloud.

Cloud based software as a service (SaaS) platforms are increasingly democratizing a wide range of business operations. Many small businesses already use third party SaaS software to manage their payroll, health care, and front office functions.

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Software that was previously only available to big businesses are being reinvented because, unlike their non-cloud predecessors, they don’t require expensive, complicated hardware or a devoted IT team. SaaS is getting cheaper, smarter, faster and simpler, making it accessible to greater swaths of businesses, which may be why analyst firm Gartner projects that the (SaaS) and cloud-based business applications market will grow from $13.4 billion in 2011 to $32.2 billion in 2016.

SMBs are uniquely equipped to take on the cloud because what they lack in technology resources and know-how, they make up for in agility. In the absence of a complex IT environment, SMBs are able to adopt technologies and discover their value — or lack thereof — relatively quickly, with very little capital investment.

Here are some examples of cloud tech that small businesses love:

  • File management: Dropbox, Google Drive. Small businesses are increasingly storing their important data in the cloud with low-cost and free services like Dropbox and Google Drive, which make it easy to access documents and files wherever there’s an internet connection, including mobile devices.
  • Accounting: ADP, Intuit. Most small business owners aren’t accountants, so they are increasingly turning to cloud software solutions that automate time-consuming and costly services like payroll, invoicing/billing, budgeting, forecasting and more.
  • Website management: Squarespace, Wix. For most businesses, having a web presence is no longer optional—but creating and managing a website often requires technical skills and the time and budget to do it correctly. Services like Squarespace and Wix make creating a customer-facing website almost effortless for Mom and Pop.
  • Marketing: Signpost. All businesses need to market their products and services, keep track of customers, and build loyalty, and now next-generation SMB-focused automated marketing software enables business owners to create advanced digital marketing campaigns that get new customers in the door and keep them coming back without the effort or cost.

Where enterprise IT deployments might take months or years and cost millions of dollars before any value is realized, SMBs can sign up for a cloud service, pay with a credit card, and be up and running in minutes. If the service doesn’t provide value, SMBs can cancel and they’ve lost little to nothing, unlike their corporate competitors that are often tied to costly yearly contracts and hardware investments that make it difficult to completely tear out deployments.

In spite of their cumbersome nature, even the old guard enterprise has caught on to cloud technologies. IDC reports that enterprise cloud application revenues reached nearly $23 billion in 2011 and is projected to pass $67 billion by 2016 at which point $1 of every $5 will be spent on cloud-based software and infrastructure. Meanwhile, Cisco is forecasting that cloud traffic as a percent of total enterprise data center traffic will grow from 39 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2016. Today’s smart enterprises are looking to the cloud to solve some of the same problems that SMBs are experiencing.

Businesses live or die by the quality of their products and services and the economics of running their business. The cloud gets small businesses to a more level playing field. Small businesses are increasingly in a position to leverage advanced technologies that were traditionally reserved for enterprises with the resources to source, deploy, and manage them.

As we look to the next several years, we’ll increasingly see businesses of all sizes using many of the same advanced technologies that automate and optimize business operations. Expect to see Mom and Pop shops using the same cloud-based tools that Walmart uses for everything from marketing and Salesforce automation, CRM, and big data analysis to automated accounting and payroll, finding and hiring employees, signing contracts, and so much more.