It's no secret that new technologies are changing the way businesses do business. More specifically, the emergence of the cloud is transforming the way organizations implement and use new solutions and applications. SaaS (Software as a Service) allows businesses of all sizes to adopt new technology solutions at a fraction of the cost of implementing in-house, while delivering flexibility, security, and headache-free maintenance. This is great for large enterprises, but even better for small and medium businesses (SMBs), who are no longer restricted by legacy IT systems or small IT budgets.

In fact, we are seeing explosive growth and adoption of cloud-based services by SMBs. In the US alone, the number of small businesses using cloud computing is expected to more than double in the next six years, rising from 37% to 80% according to a recent study by Intuit and Emergent Research. In addition, IDC found that almost 81% of all US companies with more than 100 employees are already using cloud applications.

Another significant trend emerging is the convergence of physical and digital communications. Increasingly, businesses are integrating their physical and digital communications to meet changing customer requirements. Businesses recognize the value of physical communications, but also need the flexibility to change content on the fly or, more importantly, to create an added digital experience for their customers.

Escalating Needs

Let's first look at the document management needs of SMBs. Businesses that produce and send transactional and information-based communications need to:

  • Ensure that the right content accurately reaches the right customers through the right channels;

  • Comply with privacy and other regulatory requirements across industries and around the world;

  • Enhance document designs to grow revenue and build their brand;

  • Adapt easily and quickly to customers' digital document and mobile communication needs;

  • Quickly route production onsite, or to an outsourced service as capabilities are stretched;

  • Do all this without making costly changes to core platforms.

Finally, a document solution must be flexible enough to react to these changing needs in real time.

Such a wide range of capabilities typically requires several software and hardware solutions to meet these demands and produce documents at very high processing rates. This level of solution had been expensive, complex, and out of reach for most SMBs. Enter SaaS - now businesses can access via a subscription approach all the capabilities they need to enhance documents, modify, and print locally or with a partner, or send digitally in a secure and compliant cloud environment.

By packaging enterprise capabilities into a cloud-based digital document hub, SMBs can address these challenges in a simple and cost-effective way. The cloud puts all document management operations on a single platform. This single platform approach is important, because SMBs typically deal with an assembly of diverse point solutions from a variety of vendors, addressing different parts of the workflow. For example, there can be separate software to: create documents; access physical addresses; access electronic addresses; correct and standardize addresses; presort and optimize mail pieces for postal discounts; print on a variety of different printers; execute electronic distribution; and archive documents for retrieval.

All these disparate, purpose-built, individual point solutions can require an expert for each one. SMBs usually don't have lots of IT experts on hand, so if an expert is out, the work doesn't get done. By contrast, a cloud-based single platform is easy to implement, with one-time setup. It is easy to use without needing much IT support and easy to integrate into a workflow.

In addition, the SaaS approach means the software is not local, it's in the cloud. This makes it accessible through any browser, and it's always value priced: you only pay for what you use. Beyond the cost savings and efficiency, a digital document hub gives SMBs the ability to:

  • Make documents more effective at cross-selling products and promoting services, employing color and design modifications without engaging IT support;

  • Protect customers' data privacy through advanced barcoding capabilities and tighter end-to-end controls, which can be built into the system;

  • Access remote services when key employees don't show, equipment goes down, big jobs come along that existing staff can't handle, or disaster recovery is needed.

Being able to access outside services in the cloud makes it easy for businesses to focus on what they are good at, while using appropriate remote sources for everything else. The cloud-based SaaS approach gives SMBs the choice to decide which hardware, software, and services they want to use and which they want to take care of themselves.

Customer Preferences Changing

Increasingly, the customers of SMBs are demanding multiple approaches to communications to meet their needs. This requires businesses to accommodate diverse customer communication methods, which range from physical communications, digital experiences on physical channels (such as Augmented Reality, QR codes, and others), to a fully digital experience via email, web, and mobile technologies.

The answer is a multi-channel communications hub that can automate and adapt to the various channel needs of a business and its customers. This centralized digital document hub, which creates and changes communication mediums into a digital format, enables businesses to optimize the delivery to customers via physical or digital media.

A digital document hub can also serve as middleware linking an SMB's legacy system output to today's communication demands. By providing compatibility with these legacy systems, the middleware can use their diverse inputs into the platform to drive the diverse outputs that go into all the communication channels the business wants to use. Key to this capability is the interoperability the digital document hub provides between all the processes across the workflow. The output from one function seamlessly becomes the input for the next function. For example, cleansed and standardized addresses are used to create presort and split mailings.

Four Key Document Management Functions

Let's look at four use cases which a cloud-based digital document hub can positively impact:

  • Multi-channel management: Send documents to customers via mail and/or through digital sending channels. No need to manage special handling requirements for customers wanting digital documents.

  • Document enhancement: Change color, logos, and fonts; highlight text; and put personalized messages into existing communications. Also offer white space to different parts of the organization for them to insert their messages. In the future, the ability to drive deeper digital experiences on physical documents.

  • Outsourcing: Route mailings to off-premise print-to-mail production facilities. Reduce the cost of maintaining a mailroom by outsourcing peak volumes, as well as maintain production levels even when equipment fails.

  • Print file conversion: Convert the print output file from the host platform to the language of the destination printers, so they function at full speed. This helps meet print and mail deadlines by maintaining print speeds and gets the most out of hardware investments.

In conclusion, cloud-based SaaS document management solutions for SMBs are easy to use and require little or no IT involvement to implement and maintain. The digital document hub can offer a new level of interoperability between processes. Pricing can be tiered or volume based, depending on needs. This approach gives SMBs an integrated, end-to-end hardware, software, and services solution, and enables a multi-channel approach. It simplifies the process, provides new accuracy and precision, and combines onsite and off-site capabilities and physical and digital delivery channels in a way never before available to SMBs.

Patrick Brand is Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global SMB Products and Business Strategy, Pitney Bowes.