How the cloud is teaching a pair of grandparents more about their business than ever before

Cloud platforms aren’t just a booming business for the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. They can also be a revelation for small businesses far away from the tech sphere.

Take the little outfit run by the parents of Dr Joseph Sweeney. They are the “grandparents of two adult grandchildren”, and run a “very small” business printing and selling labels for plant nurseries.

“Their challenge is that they had good information systems and great paper backup systems, you know, their records went back 45 years,” explains Sweeney. “But they were all disparate.”

The Sweeney’s business had paper records. They used SAGE and MYOB accounting software, a separate customer management system for support tickets, and “oodles of spreadsheets”.

The result is that they knew very little about their own customers and their own business.

“All of the costing, all of the profit margin, they were really guessing it. Because they could never track how much labeling was going into a specific product line,” says Sweeney.

The plant label business is also a cyclical one – tree growers may only need to buy labels every seven years. Rose growers start labeling at a certain time of year, wineries the same, and orchid growers need highly specialised labeling. Catering to all of these niches and cycles was previously based on informed hunches.

But Sweeney has recently helped his parents install a cloud system to link all of their vast troves of data. And with it, the Sweeneys have a view of their business that they never had before. They can search their records by customer, order or any number of other keywords.

“You’ve got visibility on little pockets of your business,” explains Sweeney.

“Neither of them have ever used the word ‘analytic’. What they want to know is who is likely to buy what; who needs to buy our product when. So yeah, it’s ‘analytics’, but it’s not analytics to them.

“It’s just selling stuff.”

Sweeney’s mother now has a special screen where she can see the biggest clients, the top customers per period, what they bought and when. She can track customers to see when they will likely next need labels, and whether they are buying more or less than normal.

“So you could match that sales and financial information and match with activity and communication, and then run mailing campaigns and make telephone calls,” says Sweeney.

Beyond a better understanding of their clients, the cloud has also given them a better feel for their finances. Because their accounting was spread across so many systems, they had no understanding of their margins or how much Sweeney’s dad was giving away in “discounts”. All of which they can now clearly see and track through a graphical interface.

“If you are wanting to compete on an international market, if you are wanting to compete against more nimble players, you have to be able to say which clients bought what, on which cycle. You need to bring everything together,” says Sweeney.

Which is exactly what the cloud has allowed his parents to do.

Disclaimer: Josh Nicholas interviewed Dr Sweeney as a guest of Microsoft

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