There's long been a paradox about cloud computing. The companies have taken the first steps into the cloud are the large enterprises but these are the organisations with the largest IT departments, staffed by skilled professionals. On the other hand, small and medium sized enterprises where the IT staff is usually one bloke - and sometimes that is someone doing a full-time job - are being slow to take up the cloud challenge - even though these are the very organisations who could benefit most from a move to cloud.

How can one explain this seemingly strange situation. One company that has had an attempt at finding out some of the thinking is research organisation Saugatuck. The company held a series of workshops in the US last month and gleaned the views of the participants to assess the state of play in the SME world.

According to Saugatuck, two things stood out: companies were very risk-adverse "“Small” was the defining term, not just in the relative size of businesses, but in the amount of risk the executives were willing to take. No one in any of the three workshops, even the most aggressive , was willing to risk their business on any aspect of cloud IT."

Secondly, there was the lack of information - or more specifically, lack of places to find information. This seems strange in view of the fact that every vendor, service provider, analyst, research company and publication has been busy talking about little else but cloud for the past year but, as Saugatuck pointed out, executives at SMEs don't deal with IT providers; don't subscribe to analyst and research services; and don't look at  print and web-based media sources regarding IT -so is there any wonder that there is confusion out there?

The question is, how do cloud providers attack this lucrative slice of the market? Conventional marketing to IT departments will not work

I had an interesting conversation with Jürgen Gallman, CEO of German company VisionApp, a former software division of Dresdner Bank, operating in its own right, and, after a management buy-out, operating as an independent company.

VisionApp, which is just launching itself in the UK, is pondering this very problem and is closely aligning itself with partners who can reach out into this community. But, he warns, partners themselves are not enough, there needs to be work within SMEs' own communities eg a bakery will go to the cloud when it hears of other bakers doing the same, an accountancy firm will ditch on premise software when it hears of its rivals doing the same.

Attracting these companies is a problem that everyone connected to the cloud business is pondering. The Saugatuck workshops support the idea that partners are important. Even SMEs who are unsure about working with cloud providers are looking to the technlogy to drive IT costs down and to meet their business needs. Vendors need to be clearer about cloud options - many CEOs in the Saugatuck sample were unaware that their current IT suppliers had cloud options.

We can expect to see more vendors start to embrace partnerships to address this. Vision App itself has been working with O2 in Germany to offer cloud applications to customers as small business chiefs will have closer affinity with a mobile phone company than with a cloud provider. We've already seen through the growth of apps on smartphones that individuals are willing to look beyond conventional IT providers and is clearly going to be a way forward for SMEs.

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