There are times in life when you know you’re witnessing significant change. For me, that’s the best way to describe 2014. In the fifteen years I’ve been involved with small businesses and value-added services there have of course been notable periods of transition. But never have I seen things move so swiftly and decisively as they have this year.
Bullish predictions and positivity
Perhaps one of the most distinct features of 2014 was the wave of positivity around cloud-based apps, accompanied by bullish predictions of market growth. While analysts are looking one to three years ahead, the last six months have given us some tangible results to measure these forecasts against. A good example is the very strong performance that some telcos are seeing in sales of cloud apps to small businesses – with reports of tens of thousands of sign-ups in the last quarter.
Banks and telcos diverge
For me, it’s interesting that the brands behind these success stories are telcos. At the beginning of the year, in their approach to cloud services, I would’ve said that banks and telcos were like two flavours of ice cream. Interested, ready to explore but uncertain about what they may have felt were the relatively unproven benefits that such a service would bring to their category – and business.
Fast forward to now and banks and telcos are two different desserts. I’d estimate that nine out of ten telcos want to go live with a cloud services proposition for small businesses. With their revenue lines under pressure, they’re clear this will help grow core and new revenue and deepen relationships.
Banks are taking a very different position but still see cloud apps as an important part of their value proposition. Their focus is firmly on the move to digital and ways to effectively engage and deliver insight to SMBs in that world. They see SaaS as part of their digital solution, rather than an end goal in itself. Indeed, at EFMA this year, we saw a step change in the way Value Added Services (VAS) were being discussed. And cloud-based apps are very much a part of that.
Those apps are feeling ever more fit for purpose for SMBs. They’re increasingly resonant and helpful. The task for everyone involved in gathering them together and simplifying them for small businesses is in getting engagement and education right. More than ever, effective Go To Market strategies are of central importance. Get them right and your launch will have impact, customers will know what’s on offer and why they’d want to purchase through that model – for example, for the single bill and 24/7 support. The more marketplace offerings there will be, the more differentiation will matter.
In talking about gathering, or aggregating and curating, apps, things are changing there too. We’re now moving towards integration: for example, where payroll talks to a bookkeeping app, which provides better informed insights and more seamless data entry. And next year I fully expect to see integration evolving into customisation, where specific apps are tailored for and available only through one marketplace. This is a highly effective way of differentiating an offering. Each set of apps or tools are adapted to be more helpful and relevant to customers of that distribution channel.
And for us?
We’ve travelled more than ever, to events around the world, in Dallas, Hong Kong, Bali, and Cape Town, for example. We’ve delivered cloud-service offerings for EE, Santander and MasterCard. And we’ve moved a lot of our capability onshore, including user experience, design and development – tech and front-end. It’s meant we’re faster and more agile than ever.
It feels like a good point from which to look back. And an exciting place to look forward. Best wishes for the New Year.