It may be hard to explain to someone born even a few years from now that people used to store their music and photos on large hard drive, or that they could only access their documents when they were physically sitting in front of their desktop. The cloud has changed all that, but what Canadian small and medium-sized businesses may not realize is that a lot more change is coming.

In a recent story on Computer Business Review, for example, market research firm Forrester projected said software delivered via the cloud is set to rise significantly this year, with $351 billion spent worldwide by 2017. Some segments are expected to grow faster than others, however.

“The data is suggesting that [firms] are finding enough value in CRM that they are in fact writing cheques to make the purchase for the software,” Forrester said.

Many SMBs may have already invested in a few software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, including CRM, to manage sales and marketing information. It’s how they use those tools that may offer some surprises, and which deserves some forethought and planning.

‘Big Data’ Is Displaced By Forward-Looking Data

For several years now, technology experts have been discussing the notion of taking unstructured information that might be found on social media or elsewhere online and using it to derive insights. That’s still happening within large organizations, but SMBs may be more concerned with the data that’s already housed within their organization. That’s why a study by Milward Brown suggests predictive intelligence will become a popular cloud-based offering. As the name suggests, predictive intelligence is about figuring out what will happen in a market or customer segment before it happens. Practical E-Commerce suggests companies think through the following checklist to see if such products will meet the following needs:

  • Customer retention – will knowing the future help prevent loss of business?
  • Better use of marketing budgets – why run an ad campaign that everyone ignores?
  • Growing the pipeline – predicting which leads will convert will be critical
  • Targeting and personalization – Being predictive should nurture relationships
  • The Blowfish effect – predictive intelligence should let small firms act big

The ‘Mobile First’ Movement Will Make the Cloud Easier

Chances are you’re already reading this on a smartphone. What if you could take the next step and immediately start changing the way you run your business? The truth is tools exist for SMBs to act “mobile first” today but as the Enterprise Irregulars blog notes, there is sometimes a lag between how trends play out in the consumer vs. the business space. That’s why 2016 is being forecast as the year cloud and mobility become a match made in heaven. Use these thought-starters to help develop a proactive strategy:

What Can We Mobilize Today? There may be some processes that require people sitting with their PCs, but the list is shrinking fast. Start looking for apps that can put more of your team on the road, where they can be in front of clients or getting other work done.

How Are Our Customers Behaving? When you call a customer, do they sound like they’re in an office or cubicle, or are they talking from a smartphone while in transit to other places? If so they may come to appreciate, or even expect, the companies they deal with to be mobile and to have cloud-based access to information at any time.

What Form Factors Will Make Sense? Being ‘mobile first’ doesn’t necessarily mean using a phone. There are plenty of helpful tools to perform key functions on a tablet. This year we’re likely to see even more offered using smart watches and other wearable devices. What will be easiest for staff to learn and use by 2017? Fortunately, the cloud doesn’t care what form factor you choose – it just works everywhere.

Services For SMBs Will Migrate To The Cloud Next

Scan the headlines of tech sites such as TechCrunch and you’ll see plenty of stories about banks, insurance companies and other major service providers moving away from standard ways of delivering their products and using the cloud instead. The next time SMBs need to apply for a loan or order more supplies, chances are they will be entering information into a web site that ties back into the cloud.

This is, in fact, a great way for SMBs to learn from the market and inform their own strategy. If you struggle with understanding how a particular cloud-based tool works, jot down the steps that were particularly confusing. How do these steps correspond with what you might ask your customers to do? How does the company explain the way data will be collected, stored and use – do you need to adopt similar messaging, or something even better? Was it irritating to use a cloud-based tool versus a more manual way? Keep this in mind when you start encouraging your clients to make similar transitions.

We all know cloud computing is here to stay. It’s time to make it so seamless and useful that customers can take it for granted.