I originally posted this on the "Microsoft Small Business Specialists Australia" LinkedIn Group.  Make sure you request access to this group - it's a great resource for sharing information and asking questions from both your peers and us here at Microsoft Australia in a forum open only to MPN members!  Subscribe to the daily or weekly digests in the group settings to automatically receive new posts in your inbox!

A recent Gartner survey found 40% of businesses in Australia are using cloud services. Now you might think about your own customers and conclude 40% is too high - there's no way 4 out of 10 of your customers are using Cloud services. Well I put it to you that that number is more accurate than you think. Here's why:

When we think Cloud Services we think of services like Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce.com or Dynamics CRM Online. I've no doubt in many of your SMB customer bases there's no way 4 from 10 customers are using these services in the main stream.

But what we often forget are the services we AREN'T selling to the customers; the services which we are not even controlling; the "rogue" cloud services. In August, CSO.com.au magazine went as far as describing DropBox as the "de facto" for online file sharing. I've seen with my own eyes many small businesses using DropBox or a variant of it - often with no controls and perhaps even no acknowledgement from the business owner or manager. Skype and other consumer driven messaging products are often staples across SMB user desktops. Sugar CRM and Zoho have free or very low cost cloud services available for SMBs to manage customers, sales pipelines or even invoicing. 37Signals offer cloud based project management and collaboration solutions gaining much popularity especially in SMBs in the creative industry.

I recently read an article by an analyst at Gartner which stated "The real transformative impact of cloud does not come from just sourcing traditional applications at an allegedly lower cost, but from developing applications that couldn’t even be conceived without cloud (however most of these will require public cloud scale)."

And that's effectively what's happening in your SMB customer base - they're seeking functionality from cloud based services on demand as required because it's not provided by their current technology and perceived to be beyond their budgets if they sourced such solutions through traditional means. In other words, they’re buying in to the Cloud Services model. And they're doing it without consulting you!

But few of those aforementioned services offer the controls and security required by a business. And even fewer integrate in any meaningful way with existing on-premises solutions. That’s your opportunity with products like Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online, Lync Online, Azure and CRM Online – to show these customers how they can lower their risk and even further improve return on investment and business impact by letting YOU deliver business-class industry leading cloud solutions. That is, developing solutions for them which would otherwise be inconceivable due to scale, cost or time to deploy if it were not for the cloud.

So to help you embrace the cloud, here are two FREE opportunities for you:

Microsoft & Express Data Cloud Transformation Events (MEL, SYD, BRIS): http://www.ed-marketing.com/microsoft/cloud-event/index.html
- At this event, Express Data and Microsoft will share with you the three best ways to embrace cloud opportunities. You will hear from Express Data, Microsoft, our Telstra specialists and cloud thought leader, Martin Gregory, on transforming your business model, identifying opportunities and selecting the right path for your business to ensure you are profiting from the cloud

Practice Accelerator for Microsoft Office 365 – Cloud Accelerate & Cloud Essentials Subscribers can attend for FREE! http://blogs.msdn.com/b/auspartners/archive/2012/11/09/practice-accelerator-for-microsoft-office-365-cloud-accelerate-amp-cloud-essentials-subscribers-can-attend-for-free.aspx

What other Cloud Services have you caught your customers using without telling you?

Clayton Moulynox
Partner Territory Manager
Microsoft Australia