Olivier Nguyen Van Tan is Head of Product Marketing for salesforce.com in France. He is an experienced international professional, having held a number of senior positions in New York and Paris. He has several years’ experience with Pierre Audoin Consultants, rising from Consultant to Partner and Managing Director. Here he talks to inspiresme.co.uk about how SMEs can leverage cloud computing platforms.

Q: What would you say to SMEs who feel the cloud is still an enterprise product?

Cloud computing can pass innovation down to SMEs at the same rate as to enterprise customers.
A: At salesforce.com we have customers of all shapes and sizes and in fact, cloud computing is actually very targeted to SMEs because it’s a democratising solution. SMEs often struggle with keeping up with innovation. Smaller firms can’t afford to buy new software every couple of years. But cloud computing can pass innovation down to SMEs at the same rate as to enterprise customers. Salesforce.com release three updates a year, ensuring that all customers benefit from innovation without having to pay extra for it.

Q: Have you noticed any trends with SME uptake of cloud computing?

A: The Social Enterprise message is very powerful for the future, for SMEs it’s no longer about having just the name/phone/email of a customer, it’s about – in order to delight customers – knowing more and going further. It’s a tough balance; you need to know them well but not to scare them. A scalable and functional CRM system can help SMEs achieve this goal, in order to help them build a better product.

We are also seeing companies migrating to cloud computing because of the need to execute at a fast pace. Small companies can be somewhat of an enigma when it comes to technology; they don’t always have sufficient resources or an extensive budget, but cloud computing allows them to deploy technologies very quickly and scale rapidly. Many small companies struggling with traditional technologies are turning to cloud computing platforms in order to do business at the right pace.

Q: Newer companies don’t have existing infrastructure so it’s not a case of migration but immediate use of a cloud platform. Is this an advantage?

A: With more established customers there are easy integration/migration paths. Existing systems can be connected to cloud computing infrastructure. New companies are actually very lucky. They just need internet access and they can be up and running, this is particularly powerful because they can be online in hours and focusing on their business rather than the infrastructure and all the headaches that come with traditional technology models.

Additionally, smaller businesses can scale very easily with cloud infrastructure. This is very important if you are looking to raise venture capital. Venture capitalists are particularly keen to invest in companies that can scale easily, and this can result in a higher valuation.

Q: What are the main reasons behind increasing uptake of cloud computing?

A: During the recession people are risk-adverse and cost-conscious, and therefore inherently favour the low upfront costs of cloud platforms compared to traditional models of IT infrastructure.

If you want to truly embrace The Social Enterprise (and companies are increasingly realising the importance of doing so), cloud computing is the only way to go. Companies can develop the necessary systems within three months to a year, which is simply impossible with traditional infrastructure. Companies can therefore spend more time focusing on their product/core strategy rather than building infrastructure – this is one of the key reasons behind the uptake of cloud computing.

Q: For small companies, the main advantage seems to be the cost benefits?

A: Definitely. There was a study by IDC that said showed enormous benefits with regard to cost and deployment time when it came to cloud computing. I was speaking to a CIO (chief information officer) last week and he told me that one of the biggest benefits to cloud platforms is the ability to deploy and innovate quickly.

So with traditional models of technology, the CIO would talk to his IT team, who would come back with a prototype in six to eight months, at which point it’s no longer relevant because the industry moves so fast.

But with cloud computing platforms, then CIO can talk to his team on Monday and have a prototype and proof of concept on Thursday. This is a significant change to traditional life cycles and deployment models.

Q: What would you say to small businesses who have concerns over the security of data stored in the cloud?

A: The biggest companies in the world, like Symantec and Bank of America, are using our platform to store their data, and they work in extremely sensitive industries. I would say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if these large corporations – who work closely with our security experts – believe their data is safe then that should show SMEs that their data will also be safe. There is no finish line in terms of security, and we ensure we remain completely transparent with regard to security credentials.