Two weeks ago, Target’s aggressive promotion of its Missoni clothing line, which included sales online and at a pop-up store in midtown Manhattan, caused such a flurry of activity among customers that the discount retailer was forced to close the pop-up store when it ran out of merchandise. The activity also crashed Target’s Web site. There is no way a large retailer such as Target(TGT_) should have problems like this, but nonetheless the crash happened, and small businesses relying on Web sales should take a lesson and prepare for particularly busy times or promotions. Mark Reino, CEO of Merit Mile, a communications consulting firm that describes its mission as helping companies grow, says small companies can have the same protections as large companies through cloud computing services.
Merit Mile works mostly with small to midsized businesses but has a few large accounts, including Microsoft(MSFT_) and Citrix Systems(CTSX). Reino answered a few questions for TheStreet. Where did Target go wrong? Reino: I think what happened here is, first and foremost, it’s the classic ‘Be careful what you wish for’ … the Devil is always in the details. It’s the execution in those details and, from the consumer standpoint, the fulfillment of the promise. Clearly in the world of e-commerce, companies have the opportunity to create and deliver on an interactive promise. I think what happened here is they weren’t prepared for the success that was ahead of them. How can a small business avoid Web site crashes such as Target’s? Reino: This is the beauty of cloud computing. The solutions that are available for the multinational Fortune 500 companies are also available for small businesses.
Consume as much as you can afford and have the ability to scale as your business grows. Risk avoidance is oftentimes at the same level of priority as revenue generation and profitability. If you are in a business that relies on the Internet and the Web for servicing customers, you need to make sure those initiatives and those decisions from an infrastructure [standpoint] are solid and are not only capable of delivering solutions, but also affordable and scalable. How exactly does cloud computing work and what can it do? Reino: As a small-business owner you want to focus on things like recruiting the right level of talent or buying more equipment. You want to focus on marketing your services and in creating demand. Chances are you don’t really want to focus on the back-end systems to allow customers to find you on the Web site or maintaining the up-time of your Web site or of the applications that your employees use. The concept of cloud computing allows you to empower a trusted cloud services provider to manage all of your IT so you can focus on your core business.
The delivery mechanism is, of course, the utility of the cloud and how small-to-medium-sized business customers consume their cloud services. Maybe you need the Internet to perform at a higher level at peak times than nonpeak times. The idea of cloud allows you to scale your computing environment on demand and as necessary in a self-servicing manner. The idea of cloud will allow you to throttle up and throttle down as needed. How do you pick a trusted cloud service provider? Reino: First, assess your current needs. You can do that on your own or with an IT consultant and forecast what you need for the next year. Obtain competitive quotes from trusted IT advisers. When you evaluate those quotes, price is important, but you also want to look at the long-term impact of those decisions. If you hire the cheapest guy that you never heard of, that’s a bit of a risk. You want to go with someone who will be in business for the long term, particularly if it is a big part of your business. Recognize they are a business partner of yours. As important as outsourcing human resources or payroll, outsourcing cloud is mission critical for the small business. You need to have a service provider that not only understands your needs but is also there in the event of trouble. After you put pen to paper and ink that commitment to that cloud or IT service provider, make a concerted effort to engage in a true partnership. Support them when they need support in providing answers to questions about your IT environment, and really make a trusted partner rather than just another office-supply vendor. —Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.