Today, cloud computing is being put to ever more innovative uses. Organisations are not only acknowledging the power of working in the cloud, but also starting to build their own cloud applications and customising them to their precise needs.
As a result, small businesses and startups in particular are able to deliver speed and agility, streamline operations and reduce time to market, as well as improve customer engagement and success.
Developers everywhere are using cloud-based platforms for business application development, creating applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resource management (HRM), and supply chain management (SCM).
Cloud computing empowers SMEs and larger enterprises to deliver a rapid, initial build of key applications and then add more functionality quickly and iteratively, helping to drive customer engagement and success. And unlike most traditional IT architectures, it enables them to do so cost-effectively with very little use of IT bandwidth.
In fact, estimates suggest it is possible for SMEs to build applications about five times as quickly and at half the cost of using traditional software platforms.
This reduces the upfront capital required to get a business on its feet and helps deliver early customer successes much faster than with traditional platforms.
Flexibility is of course key here for all businesses – but again especially for SMEs. Today, the best custom application development platforms truly enable developers to adapt applications to the precise needs of their organisation across a vast range of business functions from email marketing to asset management for financial services customers to technical field service offerings.
And flexibility extends to the functionality that can be built into application development platforms today.
Examples include the ability to run applications on any platform or device – from the iPhone to the iPad to the BlackBerry – and the opportunity to add collaboration features to every application. This can be particularly beneficial to small businesses with busy workforces that need to access information when they are on the move, wherever they are.
Linked to flexibility is the growing focus on using open rather than proprietary systems to construct application development platforms. If these platforms are genuinely 'open', then developers are able to be productive in languages that they are familiar with, including commonly used skill-sets like Java and Ruby that are widely used across the industry.
In turn, the theme of openness also needs to link with ease of integration into a company's existing IT architecture – critical if these kinds of development platforms are to fully support business agility for SMEs and large enterprises alike.
Today, cloud computing platforms exist which offer 'no compromise customisations': that is, fast and easy adaptation of the solution to a company's business process while also enabling deeper integration as and when required.
The philosophy should always be to keep simple adjustments simple and to make complex functional and technical requirements both achievable and accessible.
Being able to easily bring different applications together should be another key objective of any successful IT strategy, but it still remains an elusive goal for many SMEs. Yet, it is one that they should not view as being out of their reach.
Cloud services that incorporate open internet standards-based APIs (application programming interfaces) using simple object access protocol (SOAP) and representational state transfer (REST), which are accessible through web services, allow for diverse systems to easily communicate together. This allows businesses to align their organisations with their strategic goals in order to gain competitive advantage.
Over the years, the traditional way of creating and running business applications has become overly complex and cumbersome – particularly for hard-pressed SMEs.
There are too many moving parts to buy, install, configure, and maintain-including hardware and software. Plus, the entire infrastructure requires technical expertise and constant maintenance to keep it working smoothly.
Cloud computing coupled with a flexible application development platform provides a solution to this previously intractable problem.
Developers working for SMEs today can develop complete enterprise applications without the cost and complexity of buying and maintaining on-premises development infrastructure, in turn speeding the response to user requests, and delivering the IT agility required to drive rapid business growth and take advantage of new business opportunities.
Steve Garnett is chairman EMEA at Salesforce.com