SMEs form the fabric of the European economy; are they also the fabric of the European cloud? This week, as a contribution to SME Week in Brussels, Microsoft hosted another of our Cloud Computing Policy Roundtables, this time on the topic ‘Building a European cloud by and for SMEs’. The intent was to explore the opportunities that cloud computing has for European SMEs, and any barriers they experience.
Although no longer a small company ourselves, we at Microsoft are intensely interested in the success of European SMEs – because our own success depends on it. A large part of Microsoft’s business revolves around the use of our platform technologies by other companies that create software and services to sell to their own customers. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, and tens of thousands of European SMEs are among the partners that use these platform technologies to build their own technology businesses. We think that new cloud platforms are attractive to this innovative sector of the European economy, and we actively support the efforts of such smaller companies.
As highlighted by MEP Edit Herczog, cloud computing marries innovative ICT solutions with cost effectiveness. Ruud de Jonge, Microsoft, put it this way: SME’s dream big – this is your time to compete. Cloud computing acts like an equalizer for SMEs, offering them opportunities to compete and expand beyond the possibilities they have had before.
Some participants represented SME associations with thousands of members that are actively creating and selling cloud computing services in Europe, including: Jonathan Zuck (Association for Competitive Technology), Nigel Gibbons (International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners), and Maurice van der Woude (EuroCloud). (Mr. Gibbons and Mr. van der Woude are small businessmen themselves.) De Jonge manages the Microsoft programme called BizSpark in Western Europe, and this programme partners with over 7000 IT startup businesses throughout the EU. Those new businesses collectively employ over 50,000 people, and many of them are betting their businesses on cloud computing.
During the discussion, once again, the lack of a true Digital Single Market was highlighted as a key barrier for SMEs to reach their full potential. Mr. Zuck underscored the point that increased complexity decreases SME opportunity, and the current fragmented market disfavours SMEs disproportionately.
The discussion revolved about the need for new rules or the need to eliminate rules in order to benefit SMEs. MEP Herczog underscored that SME specific initiatives – including the SME week – are not about creating special rules for SMEs, but rather to ensure they are made aware of opportunities as well as current regulations.
E-Skills was an important focus of discussion as well, and André Richer, DG Enterprise, updated us on his directorate’s upcoming E-skills and Cloud computing study, aiming to encourage more SMEs online and specifically increasing the uptake of cloud computing. We look forward to E-Skills Week early in 2012.
This Roundtable was another effort to raise awareness of what SMEs are actually doing with cloud computing, and such increasing awareness is an important element in policy discussions as the Commission approaches the launch of an EU cloud strategy and the Parliament considers the harmonization of legislation needed to enhance the Digital Single Market.