SMALL businesses in Scotland now have access to the same computing power as NASA and the world’s top scientists, a new national conference heard yesterday.

“What the power of cloud computing has done is essentially equalled and levelled the playing field," said Steven Grier, Microsoft’s country manager for Scotland. “So I now as a small business in the Highlands of Scotland have access to the same level of computing power that maps the human genome or sends people into space. There is no limitation on the computer power you have available to you. What that means for Scotland is that innovation can take place in much smaller organisations.”

Addressing the Scottish Government-backed Discover Digital event, Mr Grier described the cloud as computing technology as a service and urged businesses to think about the potential of ‘not building, but consuming.’

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He said Britain’s national debt would be cleared if every paper and phone transaction moved online, and illustrated the power of internet by noting that the world’s biggest taxi company (Uber) owned no vehicles; the world’s biggest accommodation provider (Airbnb) owned no property and the world’s most popular media company (Facebook) produced no content.

Google used the event to highlight its commitment to provide free digital training to more than 200,000 small businesses, entrepreneurs and students in the UK through its Digital Garage project.

“It’s interesting that over 99 per cent of businesses in Scotland are small and medium enterprises – and SMEs are really what drives the digital economy in the UK,” said Gori Yahaya, head of training for the Digital Garage. “Yet we understand there’s a digital skills gap with SMEs in the UK. “It’s everything from how you tell your story online to how you find new customers online. Some of our key messages today revolve around building better websites, improving the functionality and ensuring that you make mobile a priority.”

Yahaya noted that 2015 was the first year that mobile searches outstripped desktop searches. Google’s Digital Garage initiative includes a free online platform, pop-up training centres around the UK and one-to-one mentoring.

Liam Senior, one of the first in a new generation of ‘digital business eagles’ at Barclays, explained how the bank is now helping its customers improve their digital skills.

“Traditionally you’d speak to your bank manager about opening an account or lending,” Mr Senior said. “We’re now exploring ways to help businesses with their marketing, web development, search engine optimisation and cyber security.”

Richard Manning, a cyber security expert from the information security arm of GCHQ, the British intelligence service, urged businesses to make sure they had the correct firewall and malware protection in place and to use automatic updates.

“A lot of the attacks we’ve seen in the last year probably wouldn’t have happened if companies were using automatic updates and up to date software,” he said.

Keith Brown, Scottish cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities, used the event to launch DigitalBoost, a £3m national digital engagement programme designed to help small and medium businesses enter new markets, improve business efficiency and develop new skills.