What the cloud and the government can do for SMEs

By John Davis | 25 September 2014

Earlier this month saw Coadec publish their Start Up Manifesto backed by over 150 of London’s top technology heavyweights. Its premise is to urge the UK government to relax rules and taxes in order to allow tech startups and entrepreneurs in the capital to continue to flourish. London is now officially Europe’s top tech hub and it certainly would be a shame to see this stifled due to existing roadblocks. Tech startups are becoming a significant part of the UK business landscape and the government has the ability to play a key role in aiding them.

As Managing Director of BCSG, a fast-growth cloud services brokerage helping small businesses, I have a keen eye on the political outlook for SMEs in the UK. The 2015 election will have a substantial effect on both our business and the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that we deal with.

I think it is vital to assess how cloud technology is levelling the playing field between small businesses and large corporates; and how the media and government can help to even things up further by celebrating fast-growth SMEs and focusing on removing red tape and simplifying tax-efficient schemes.

Technical innovation, in particular the cloud, has had a dramatic effect on small business owners in Britain. When my company started up ten years ago, we had four people doing everything - from selling to answering phones, from handling the post to managing our HR. Our experience in most areas was limited and finding support and expertise a constant struggle.

Today, there is likely to be an app (or many in fact) that help with each of these challenges. The tech sector is busy building cloud applications that help with all sorts of small business needs (take a look at GetApp and you'll see over 5,800 listed).

Because these apps are hosted in the cloud, there is no significant upfront cost, just a monthly or annual fee. And users can log in from wherever they are, setting them free from their desks. The cloud truly is a small business revolution. It's making enterprises nimble, focused and competitive, so much so that it can be hard to tell a small company from a large one.

But are apps alone enough? It will come as no startling revelation that many small business owners perceive themselves as time-poor; our research found that on average they spend 15.5 hours each week on admin tasks alone. It seems an alarming statistic that deprives many small business owners the time to focus on company growth and can also reinforce their feeling that they don’t know where to turn to answer all the questions they have as their businesses start up and develop.  

They still need good, practical advice but where can they get it? Business Link was closed in 2011. Business banks are cutting back on their relationship managers. Accountants and financial advisers can go only so far. There is a world of words, videos and advice online, but who can small business owners trust? How will they find out about the things they don’t yet know about? The things they don’t even know they don’t know? It is hard to get the kind of ongoing, wide-ranging guidance they need.

It is pleasing to see corporates like banks and telecom companies beginning to move into this new space, providing access to high-quality cloud services that complement their core offering. Advice, and curated tools to action that advice, are still in seriously short supply, but it is early days and I feel optimistic about the future.

With the range of quality apps and the right support and guidance from trusted advisers, SMEs have a real opportunity to compete, not just with big businesses in the UK, but on an international stage too.
 

By John Davis, Managing Director, BCSG

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