How cloud technology smashed business barriers to entry

- December 3, 2023 3 MIN READ

We recently hosted our annual user conference, SuiteWorld, in Las Vegas, where we celebrated NetSuite’s 25th year in business. This remarkable milestone brought me to reflect on the extraordinary evolution of business and technology over that period, writes Scott Wiltshire, Vice President and General Manager, Oracle NetSuite, ANZ.

NetSuite was founded as the first cloud company in 1998, just prior to the dotcom bubble, and almost 10 years before the release of the first iPhone. Back then, most people didn’t understand what it meant to be ‘in the cloud’. Fast-forward to today, and we are talking about generative AI with its far-reaching capabilities – a clear indication of how technology has changed in two-and-a-half decades.

While running a business may appear to have been easier 25 years ago, barriers to entry were higher. Before the internet became pervasive, technology that helps businesses create operational efficiencies and scale was cost-prohibitive.

Everything everywhere, all at once

The explosion of the internet and cloud-based technologies levelled the playing field and gave many small businesses access to the global market. New channels emerged — such as websites, mobile apps, social media, streaming services, and online marketplaces — which made it easier for businesses to connect with their customers wherever they were.

Australian automotive parts manufacturer and distributor Speedmaster is a good example of this. The company was founded before the internet existed and initially catered to the Australian market, but thanks to the power of cloud technology, it was able to expand its footprint to three continents and sell to customers all over the world.

Similarly, Queensland-based chocolate manufacturer Belgian Delights initially started out as a wholesale business, selling predominantly to retail businesses for its first decade-plus in existence. The business reached a point where it was confident in both its recipes and processes and to grow further, founder Christophe Verstreken launched several new direct-to-consumer brands. Selling online has allowed Belgian Delights to reach new customers, improve its resilience, and increase its revenue.

A more manageable way to invest

The advent of software-as-a-service, or SaaS, delivered over the internet as a subscription rather than requiring capital expenditure, meant that smaller businesses were no longer priced out of access to the latest technology. And with that, the barriers that previously prevented small businesses from scaling were largely removed.

However, easy access has led to some complexity. Many businesses now leverage multiple solutions and connect with customers across multiple channels, with siloed business processes and fragmented data. For instance, an eCommerce business might use one platform for online sales, a separate platform for accounting, and a different system for inventory management.

An inability to easily combine data from various sources or understand the business’s position in real-time makes it more challenging for leaders to make well-informed decisions at the right time. Not to mention forcing staff to jump in and out of different applications and find manual workarounds that lead to inefficiency and human error.

Seven Miles Coffee Roasters started as a single café in Sydney in the late 1970s and has since expanded to a network of roasters and business locations across NSW, Queensland, and the ACT. As the business grew and became more complex, disparate systems for finance, inventory, and customer relationship management were creating error-prone manual processes and slowing growth. To improve accuracy and efficiency, Seven Miles standardised its operations on NetSuite. With a single source of truth, it has been able to trim monthly financial reporting from three weeks to just one morning, and improved insight into inventory and sales performance.

Finding technologies that can streamline processes and provide accurate, real-time data has become increasingly important. Business management software can provide a single source of truth for all company data, and provide a 360-degree view of the customer. When equipped with automation, it can also free up staff to focus on more value-added activities, such as strategy development and problem solving.

Overcoming new challenges

While the financial barriers to entry are now lower for small businesses, they face a new set of challenges. Businesses must navigate increased competition, rapidly changing customer demand, and often a more complex regulatory environment, to name a few.

If the last 25 years have taught us anything, it’s that businesses are constantly presented with new opportunities and challenges. Leaders focused on delivering long-term success should regularly review their own business data and take a forward-looking view to identify areas for growth and contraction. With the array of easily accessible business tools available today, growing businesses are poised to take advantage of opportunities no matter what the future holds.

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