Welcome to another in our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. Cindy Bates, vice president of Microsoft U.S. Small and Midsize Business Organization, spoke with Brent Leary in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.
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Small Business Trends: Cindy, you are responsible for the company’s SMB sales and marketing efforts. Can you tell folks a little bit about your background?
Cindy Bates: I have been at Microsoft 11 years. This year, we have formed a new, bigger focus on our SMB business and brought together several teams spread across the country that will focus on SMB.
I come from a family of small business owners, and I love the entrepreneurial energy. This is a very, very exciting time for me, for my team, for Microsoft and I think for small and midsized businesses across the country.
Small Business Trends: At Microsoft, you personally have been focusing on the cloud. How is Microsoft using the cloud to help small businesses?
Cindy Bates: The cloud is a combination of the investment Microsoft is making – billion-dollar investments in world-class, secured data centers, the Internet, and our experience over the last 25 years developing software. We are bringing solutions that until very recently were available only to the largest companies down to one-person small businesses. This is really transformational.
We will shortly be moving out of beta and into launch for a product called Office 365, which is a culmination of Microsoft’s 25 years of experience with Office, which I am sure all of your listeners are familiar with. Office 365 [combines] the productivity attributes of Office with collaboration tools like email and Sharepoint, which is a way for small businesses to collaborate by putting documents in one place [that’s] safe and secure, enabling them to share and edit in real time with employees, colleagues and suppliers.
A very exciting component of Office 365 is Lync, which enables small businesses to see which of their contacts are online – what we call presence – so they are able to, with a click, instant message them or do video chat directly. Office 365 opens up a really powerful set of solutions and starts as affordably as $6 per user, per month.
There is a company in Dallas, Dallas Neurological and Spine, that serves 6,000 patients a year. They had an experience a few years ago where a pipe burst and they lost medical records, which was very expensive to remedy. They have been using the beta version of Office 365, and the feedback we are getting from them is really powerful.
They no longer have any concern about pipes bursting and losing records. They can share images with specialists and radiologists, all in one secure place. The connectivity with audio, video and desktop sharing is a powerful way to interact with their remote patients. That is just one example of how small businesses are really getting the benefits of the cloud through Office 365.
Small Business Trends: The cloud seems to go hand in hand with the rise of mobile devices and how we are tied to them 24/7. How do the cloud and offerings like Office 365 impact how companies are using mobile devices to be more productive?
Cindy Bates: The cloud really means that anywhere, anytime access to your company. When you are traveling and don’t have any devices but your Windows Phone 7, your office is there. You can access through the cloud full versions of PowerPoint, Office and Excel, as well as the documents you have stored. It really un-tethers people from their desks and enables remote workers to stay connected to customers and partners.
CRM Online is another great solution that enables small businesses to have very powerful customer relationship management software. This is a product Microsoft has had for several years, but in January, we launched the cloud-based version, CRM Online. Since then 40,000 customers have [tried it]. The vast majority are small businesses seeing the power of the cloud to help them to connect with customers.
Small Business Trends: If you were to peer out a year or two into the future, how are small businesses going to be leveraging the cloud using Microsoft technology?
Cindy Bates: Office 365 is a landmark change in technology for small businesses. I see the momentum continuing. Our research shows that even now, with the solutions out there, 12 percent of small businesses say they were started specifically because of the cloud.
There are some wonderful examples – LiftOff.com is a consulting firm that got their businesses up and running, it was actually one person at the time, and they started in the course of a few hours. Over the first few months in businesses, they obtained hundreds of customers through the cloud.
I think we are going to continue to see new cloud businesses blossoming. It’s going to be a revolution in entrepreneurship across America. Microsoft is committed to supporting the power of this technology to help small businesses start, grow and thrive.
You can learn more about Office 365 by going to www.Office365.com.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.