Best PracticesDigital Entrepreneur

Building an Integrated Digital Business with the Cloud and Open Banking

How Small Businesses Can Build an Integrated E-Commerce Strategy.

Almost 30 years ago (!) I ventured into the sector now known as Cloud computing, building one of the very first SaaS (Software as a Service) business models, on a DEC Mainframe.

The motivation for doing so was the same then as the primary benefit of the technology today – It makes powerful applications accessible to smaller organizations who lack the funding and/or skills to deploy it for themselves.

Back then the scenario was for an office suppliers distributor who relied on a network of small business resellers to sell and deliver their products to the end user market.

As a highly competitive, very low margin industry they wanted to improve the efficiency of each through technology, but this was at a time just before the Internet and PC/client server era, and so the business systems needed ran on mainframe technologies, which as you can imagine was a very expensive piece of kit.

So we designed a model where they could access that business system on a rental basis by dialing in to a very large central mainframe we had deployed that ran that software on a shared basis, ie SaaS. Thus they could run their dealership more efficiently utilizing enterprise-scale technology but on a small business budget.

Digital Business on the Cloud

Fast forward to today and yes, the technology of course has evolved massively, but that central principle is still the same; the Cloud enables small businesses to access a near unlimited choice of powerful business and IT applications, via a much simpler and cost effective model than trying to build it in-house.

As we start to zoom in on the specifics we can begin to identify the nuances of the choices available. The main example is e-commerce, the ability to present your products online and enable customers to buy them through your web site.

You can meet this need through many different options, such as Shopify or Woocommerce for example. The Cloud enables both, but in slightly different ways: Shopify runs on the Cloud and can be purchased via a SaaS model. This is typically the fastest, most efficient and cost effective way to set up a shop.

The trade-off is that SaaS limits you to only the functionality of the central software that all customers use. For many it’s not really a limitation, the customization options are extensive.

However the distinction is that Woocommerce is software you deploy, meaning it is infinitely malleable as you can add any number of plugins and even modify the code. It’s part of the Wordpress universe, meaning your site can be extended through a library of nearly 60,000 plugins, with hundreds specifically for enhancing Woocommerce.

This is a slightly more technical option, as you are responsible for sourcing the Cloud hosting and setting up the software but that opens up this much larger scope of adapting more powerful functionality to the needs of your company, and it’s not that much of a challenge – Setting up these Cloud services and Wordpress sites is as much click-and-build as any other layer of the stack.

It’s what powers our sites – We run the Wordpress / Woocommerce combo and host on Digital Ocean, who offer global scale capability but also offer a very SME friendly UI and service costings. I am easily able to run a complex network of sites on my own without any tech support.

You can of course hire developers to do this for you, especially as some of the most powerful features and fine-tuning may require some custom coding work, but again the benefits of using such popular tools is there is a plethora of suppliers available who can help you for very affordable rates.

Open Banking

To explain the ‘Integrated’ part of the article title we can examine another major tech trend, that of ‘Open Banking’.

In short this primarily means exactly that: Integration. Banking and app providers have agreed and implemented a set of open standards so that they can more easily share data and interlink their services and tools.

A great example of this is who we use, and would highly recommend, the digital banking provider Revolut.

As you would imagine they offer a slick online experience, a very quick and simple UI to access your bank account, and then through Open Banking integrations, a rich choice of apps for extending your banking model, those that are especially relevant to this guide, for example:

  • E-commerce Payment Gateway – They offer integrations with a number of e-commerce platforms, including one for Woocommerce. This is what we use, and it took 10 seconds to install and activate, and worked immediately without a single hassle, and enables you to process payments from your web site directly into your Revolut account, no middlemen needed.
  • Banking Tools – They also have a number of other banking-related features directly available in your account, such as invoicing, expenses and payroll. This makes operating your whole business simple and convenient.
  • App Marketplace – Then via the Open Banking connections you can similarly plug in a wide array of apps provided by third parties, such as Xero, Sage or Freeagent for accounting.

A key point to highlight is that you can also integrate these apps via interfaces to Woocommerce if you prefer to do it that way: Freshdesk and Xero offer native integrations for example.

So you can see how easy and low cost it can be to set up not only an online store for your business, but do so in a way such that it’s operations, from payments through payroll, can be entirely integrated end-to-end so that it is super efficient as well.


Editor of On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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