We hear a lot about cloud computing and how it will empower every business, large and small. About how it will change how these businesses work and grow in the future.
While I agree with some of the messages that cloud computing brings, I also see problems with the reality. A lot of cloud applications come to the SME market from the larger enterprise companies and bring with it a complexity that is not needed by the SME.
Cloud computing or web servers (or whatever name you give to it) at their most basic level need to just work for the business. The SME typically doesn't have an IT department and can't invest time and resources into getting applications up and running. It usually uses contract staff that come in and out of the business and full time staff fill in for those that are absent for any length of time.
For the small or medium size business, web applications bring a promise of increased productivity, flexibility and a cost reduction that they could never enjoy previously, but to be successful these applications need to work, right out of the box.
I visit SMEs every day and try and observe how they work and operate. I watch what tools they use (or don't) and how their staff move from role to role, picking up the slack as and when required. From A4 pads to post-its, to the ubiquitous spreadsheet the SME will use whatever tools are available provided they do the job quickly and productively. They can't and don't waste time on expensive applications simply because they find something easier and cheaper to use.
For an application to be successful it needs to do it's job and do it well. It needs to fit how the business works so that it doesn't become a barrier in itself. Applications that are overly complicated mean staff will avoid it and use something else.
The benefits of cloud (web) applications to the SME are huge but it needs to be the right solution with the right features and at the right price.
Keep it simple - If it requires a training course then it's already failed.