The International Monetary Fund has just downgraded the UK’s economic growth forecast for 2012 to 0.2 per cent from 0.8 per cent. You know what this means: the economy desperately needs the UK’s mid-market companies to fuel a growth cycle, generating jobs and moving us out of the financial doldrums.And yet, research from the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) indicates that while some medium-sized businesses are growing quickly, many are producing only modest, if stable, returns or are in fact in slow decline. This, the CBI believes, is a result of dwindling confidence amongst our business leaders. It seems that the modus operandi for many businesses in this downturn is avoiding risk. Merely surviving is the new measure of success. But is sitting on your hands ever a true definition of success and does it really need to be this way?
Avoiding risk does not foster successUnfortunately, we live in a political climate where propping up failing banks with billions of government pounds is deemed more important than investing in growth and jobs. Government spending has been strangled to the point of exhaustion, while banks sit on mountains of tax payers’ money rather than allowing it to flow into the economy where it is desperately needed. Printing more money seems to be the only answer 10 Downing Street has to the problem – and that is proving a blunt instrument. No wonder there is a total lack of confidence in the ability of UK industry to get us out of this mess. Investing in growth and any form of business risk-taking have become dying arts. We cannot afford to let this become the new attitude to running companies in the UK because it has the potential to inflict untold damage and sustain long-term decline at a time when precisely the reverse is needed. Where can UK business leaders turn to for help with innovating and trying out new ideas – without betting the house and ending up homeless? Thankfully, for businesses still wanting to grow, there are service providers who want to work with them as long-term partners by helping them overcome their biggest challenges and mitigating risk by doing things differently. Cloud computing was initially heralded as the great enabler of business growth and helping mid-market companies to gain swift access to enterprise-grade technologies they may lack the resources to invest in or the skills to support. With the right cloud provider it can also provide a way to help contain the risks of up-front investment when testing and implementing new systems.
Risking it togetherMid-sized companies sometimes find it difficult to gain the ear of global technology vendors in order to understand the breadth and limitations of their offerings. Analyst reports can be prohibitively expensive and often focus only on helping large enterprises with their purchasing decisions. Who can mid-sized UK businesses turn to for help? In reality, it is possible for medium-sized businesses to realise the business benefits of cloud computing without leaving themselves exposed to unnecessary risk by exploiting their relationship with a trusted cloud services provider to the full. A good cloud provider will recognise that cloud is not a panacea for every question or challenge. Cloud services can help UK companies achieve their business goals if, and only if they are willing to work as a long term partner with the cloud provider as an extension of the in-house IT team. The provider must become intimate with the challenges and business strategy of the business they are supporting because traditional client and supplier relationships do not foster the right level of integration and peer-to-peer relationships needed to guarantee success. A good service provider can be invaluable in helping companies separate the technology wheat from the chaff. Cloud service providers are afforded places on vendor advisory boards and have dedicated teams to keep them informed. Medium-sized companies may be better placed to take advantage of their insight, buying power and integration skills than risking it all by going it alone.
Customer experience critical to success but IT gets in the wayThe best technology service providers understand that their businesses are not just about technology, but about delivering the best customer experience. Instead of being seen as an opportunity and additive to existing IT resources, cloud computing is often worrying for IT professionals who feel under threat. According to Star research, only half of all IT professionals are employed full time by one company – which does not help their feeling of insecurity. Many IT professionals also lack the skills needed to manage cloud providers effectively and so are missing out on big opportunities that could help their businesses at a time they need it most. Only 15 per cent think negotiation will be the most important skill for IT professionals in the cloud computing era. Underpinning this fact, most have IT rather than business or management qualifications and are not yet ready to take advantage of the managed services explosion that is about to happen in business IT.
Let the cloud inThis is not the time for IT professionals to be reticent or focused only on narrow IT goals. If they are, they will fuel the view that IT is just another cost entre to be managed or outsourced totally, putting career minded IT professionals in their riskiest position yet and shunting economic growth further out of reach than ever. UK businesses need to pull together and take collective responsibility for growth because it seems help from those who run the country is unlikely to manifest itself into anything tangible. Let’s collectively show what we are made of by working together and making our own luck because success is never guaranteed and will not be gifted. Martino Corbelli is chief customer officer of Star, a provider of on-demand computing and communications services to UK businesses.
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