The fog surrounding the cloud could yet prove a vendor's greatest asset when targeting SMBs, writes Aspectus PR's Head of B2B Technology, Amy Redhead.

The fact that small companies are still struggling to get to grips with the concept of the cloud was confirmed recently. A survey by AVG Technologies discovered that 1 in 3 small companies in the UK and US don’t understand cloud services – a finding that seems a little surprising given that the cloud is nothing new and has been marketed heavily as the panacea to every potential business problem.

But delve a little deeper into AVG’s findings and a picture starts to emerge of the small business owner who is intrigued by the cloud, but confused and wary of it. Adoption of cloud technologies amongst large businesses has risen as they exploit the benefits of the technology and gradually overcome any fears they may have had, yet smaller businesses remain reticent. Many recognise it as a ‘nice to have’ option, but as the AVG survey found, a significant proportion (22% of UK companies) thought that cloud services were suitable only for large businesses.

The reasons for this perception become clearer when you consider the nature of SMBs. Their owners succeed through drive and focus and can’t afford to be sidetracked by investing significant amounts of time trying to understand every nuance and permutation of a new technology or the compliance issues that come with it. Nevertheless, cloud computing is all about making your business more agile, so in theory, SMBs and cloud should be a good match.

Avoiding cloud wash

From a PR perspective, the problem with the cloud is the lack of clarity in communicating both the technology and its benefits. In particular, the level of hype surrounding the cloud technologies has damaged its image by over-stating its abilities and playing down some fairly critical issues regarding security. Indeed, vendors have been accused of ‘cloud washing’ – a purposeful and sometimes deceptive attempt by a vendor to rebrand an old product or service by associating the term ‘cloud’ with it.

So vendors now find themselves in a tricky situation, where even the term ‘cloud’ has become jaded to the extent journalists and business leaders alike are considering retiring it. But while it might seem that there has never been a worse time to sell the cloud, we would argue the opposite – and that there is indeed a golden opportunity (or dare we say silver lining?) for cloud providers, provided they are willing to adopt a more strategic approach to communicating with their target audience.

For example, rather than selling the concept of ‘The Cloud,’ vendors and consultants should be selling specific solutions designed to solve specific business challenges. In other words, the cloud isn’t a quick fix to every IT ill, but it can be used in a targeted fashion to achieve tactical objectives while moving towards longer-term business transformation. This might sound simple, but actually listening to your market and responding in a clear and logical way without bamboozling your audience can be much harder than you think.

As Raj Samani, EMEA CIO of security firm McAfee, said in a recent interview with Computing, “…the real problem (with the cloud) is not security but transparency.”

Cutting through the fog

Vendors and consultants should allay fears, not cover them up. Specifically, they should be discussing the implications of legislation such as the Data Protection Act and demonstrate how they address the fact that SLAs are difficult to define and acknowledge that making the transition to the cloud is complex. Even once the technology is deployed, there can still be many bumps in the road to full integration.

Likewise, there are certain scenarios that can impact severely on the performance of cloud infrastructure, thus vendors need to prepare their customers for potential issues surrounding access rights, disaster recovery, and the importance of data portability.

According to the UK Trade and Investment Institute (UKTI), only 18% of UK SMEs currently use the cloud, but 33% are looking to invest in cloud solutions. For small businesses, the transition to the cloud is seems inevitable. But for vendors wanting to help these companies make the transition, communicating and selling clarity and knowledge will be just as critical as the cloud technology itself.

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