Why Cloud-Based Business Services Make Sense for Small Business
By James Eichmann, Chief Information Officer, Billtrust
For the SMB community, the cloud forecast got a bit murkier recently with the debut of Google Drive. Now that one of the world`s tech giants has added yet another option to the expanding cloud universe, businesses have to be wondering what`s next—and how to make sense of it all. Where is the cloud headed? And how to navigate all the alternatives for best business advantage?
Without question there is a huge potential in having critical data, applications and services available from anywhere, at any time, and with theoretically limitless capacity. Nor can the appeal of lower cost be denied, especially when infrastructure can be grown in near real-time, as much or as little as you need, while paying only for what you use.
For the time being at least, the major question marks have to do with security and reliability. Despite all the claims, it remains unclear how much access storage and app providers will have to your data. Every provider has its own set of capabilities, safeguards—and agendas. Users of these resources have to decide which data stores can safely be placed into cloud repositories, and which must remain in-house under lock and key.
Moving business processes to the cloud, on the other hand, offers a unique set of advantages to growing businesses. Like their storage and application counterparts, cloud-based business services can lower the user`s initial infrastructure cost and provide pay as you go convenience. They facilitate collaboration with colleagues and business partners; moreover, when financial transactions are involved, they can greatly increase speed and further reduce costs.
Financial business services in the cloud have other benefits as well. In addition to eliminating paper and postage, they make workers more efficient, since fewer man-hours are needed to process transactions manually. Perhaps most useful are the analytical capabilities, since a cloud-based transaction network allows users to mine data on billing and payment history. By comparing payment histories for various vendors and customers, for example, it`s possible to be more selective in whom to work with.
In the realm of invoicing, a cloud-based Business Invoice Network (BIN) can offer a one-stop solution for delivering invoices and accepting payments. It eliminates the need to log into multiple vendor sites and supports easy invoice management. Cash flow also improves through efficient payment scheduling, since businesses can not only take advantage of early payment discounts and avoid late fees, but also optimize the time they hold onto their funds.
By establishing policies and business rules, a BIN can actually turn the billing and payment process into a financial asset. Companies can program, automate and analyze their payment processes for strategic advantage—something that simply was not available before cloud-based capabilities came into being. And as a vendor, being part of a reputable BIN becomes a competitive advantage, since payment convenience will convince more customers to do business with you.
While the cloud will undoubtedly become a major, if not the major, resource for operational efficiency, it`s obvious that not every service being offered will make sense for every organization. Moving processes like invoicing to the cloud, however, especially for B2B transactions, is something most growing businesses should look into. By consolidating critical functions onto a common platform, companies can remove cost, improve speed, simplify access, and add strategic insight—all the advantages the cloud was meant to provide.