By Tefo Mohapi
The life of a Small & Medium Business Owner in Africa involves performing multiple roles that would traditionally be assigned to different people in a larger business. Thus, the efficient use of time and money is of utmost importance. With Internet connectivity costs dropping as well as Telecommunications infrastructure improving rapidly, it has become reasonably affordable for the African Entrepreneur to have internet connectivity for business purposes. Along with this is the advent of Cloud Computing (Software As A Service Applications) which has also made many tools available to many African Entrepreneurs at an affordable cost of little or no capital investment – i.e. a disruptive cloud model otherwise known as a “Freemium” model.
Thus the African Entrepreneur is presented with an opportunity to grow their business at the lowest cost possible. I had the pleasure of discussing Cloud Computing for Small & Medium Businesses in Africa with Ian Wenig, who is a Senior Director at ZOHO Corporation – they offer a comprehensive suite of award-winning on-line business, productivity & collaboration applications.
Ian pointed out that the lower cost and ease of use as reasons why he believes cloud applications and specifically ZOHO’s offerings are beneficial to small & medium businesses in Africa:
“For instance, setting up an automated invoice to send out to customers takes seconds in Zoho Invoice. The time savings and low cost as well as the built in automation, could deliver immediate business benefits. Zoho CRM is another of our popular business applications; with a cost that is a fraction of our main competitors, but delivering the depth and flexibility businesses require for their CRM system, our solution is a great value proposition.”
Thus there is no need for technical knowledge and worrying about backups, upgrades etc. as the Cloud Computing provider (e.g. Google Apps, ZOHO, Salesforce, and Amazon) have huge, secure data centres that host the applications and maintain new upgrades and are constantly adding new features.
The other benefit of cloud computing and the various applications available in the cloud is the convenience that you can access your data anywhere, anytime on any device as a web application but as Ian pointed out, some applications are developed by the service providers for specific devices:
“Zoho offers many of its applications on mobile devices including native applications for iPhone, Blackberry, iPad and soon on Android.”
You could literally run all your back-office applications required in your business all in the cloud depending on the service providers you choose. For instance Google has what is known as Google Apps (includes – Gmail for business, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video) whilst Salesforce.com offers mainly collaboration and CRM cloud applications and many other service providers offer applications in their niches. The key in doing so would be to evaluate if the service provider can grow their offering to you as your business grows and also whether the applications can share data between them. To elaborate on this point, Ian illustrated the following:
“Another high value proposition that Zoho can deliver to small and mid-sized companies, is the fact that we have more than 25 different applications in the cloud, many of which are tightly integrated together or soon to be. This means that a business can start with one Zoho app, like Invoicing or CRM and later seamlessly add, Mail or Project management or Document storage, and continue to increase productivity while driving down the overall cost of software and IT spending.”
Whether you are Self-Employed and work from a home office or a Business Owner that faces the challenge of balancing your time and money whilst looking to grow your business, Cloud Computing offers many benefits for you and your business.