This article was excerpted from OPEN Insight: Running Your Business in the Cloud.
Cloud computing has created a technology revolution for small businesses, offering access to a range of capabilities that typically only larger companies can afford. Using an Internet connection and a Web browser, small companies can tap into software and services as they need them and pay for what they use on a monthly basis, like utility services. Your business can join the “Cloud” to access everything from data backup to customer relationship management systems.
Consider the following six benefits to see how your company might use the Cloud.
Cloud-based programs can be used at any time on almost any device with an Internet connection, a benefit that leads to greater collaboration, particularly for businesses with remote employees. A growing percentage of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) consider the ability to be productive remotely as critical to their operations: 66 percent said they need to allow employees to work anywhere at any time, according to a 2010 survey by Microsoft.1
Using Cloud-based software, teams in different locations can collaborate on documents without needing to e-mail attachments and share calendars and task lists from wherever they are. Participants just sign up for the service and access the program over the Internet, without downloading or installing program software.
Employees also can connect through instant messaging and even hold impromptu meetings with robust audio, video and Web conferencing capabilities. Some Cloud-based services even make it possible to include customers and vendors in these meetings. This improved sharing of information has the potential to enable your company to react more quickly to business opportunities.
Cloud resources are scalable, or elastic, so you can tap resources or increase capacity to support growth and handle busy periods. One of the most challenging aspects of running a small company is predicting what resources your business will need—enough to scale and take advantage of opportunities, but not so much that you overspend. With Cloud resources, rather than having to predict your needs, you can react to needs as they arise and use just what is required to manage your growth and enhance your efficiency. For example, if customer and project demands require increased collaboration, you can access collaboration tools quickly and without advanced planning. Your flexibility as an organization rises when you work in the Cloud because your ability to react is greatly improved.
Cloud-based services can help you save money on many fronts, including server maintenance, power and cooling costs, and software licensing and upgrade expenses. Just under half—49 percent—of SMBs use Cloud computing to lower costs, according to the Microsoft survey.1 Rather than spending money to maintain hardware that often goes unused, subscribing to software and services for a low monthly fee can help small businesses stretch their budgets further. Along with the ability to scale up to meet increased demand, the Cloud also allows you to scale down during slower periods (e.g., remove users or use less storage space), saving your business money.
Secure data backup
If you don’t have the time or resources to implement a backup strategy—or if you keep your backed-up data on-site—the Cloud can help ensure you are able to retrieve the latest versions of your data in case of an on-site system failure or a disaster, such as fire or flood. You can choose a Cloud-based service to back up your data frequently or automatically to a safe online location, so that if the unexpected happens, you can be back up and running within minutes. Many providers offer geo-redundant backup, meaning your data is saved in multiple centers across multiple locations, to improve security.
Cloud-based services often can be more reliable than services delivered on-premise, particularly if servers or other hardware are aging. Cloud service providers have a dedicated, experienced IT staff—meaning they can likely resolve problems faster than a small business with only limited IT resources.
Eased resource management
With servers located off-site and their management left to an experienced provider, Cloud computing allows you to focus on what you do best—running your business. Because resources in the Cloud can be accessed as needed, the time it takes to get started with these services shrinks from days to minutes. For small businesses wanting to stretch their resources and be more competitive, working in the Cloud is becoming a must.