Following on from my article "What is the Cloud all about", I will discuss trends over the last decade that have led to where we are today, why we need cloud technology and what the business benefits are along with what can be achieved with the cloud.
It is well worth remembering how dramatically the way in which we work has changed over the years. Sometimes it's easy to forget how far we have come.
We are no longer tied to our desks. Many businesses no longer even have offices, choosing instead to work from home. And we are increasingly using many different devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and hybrids.
Being tied to one place no longer makes sense from a security or usability standpoint. Small businesses in particular have to work more dynamically and compete in ways that were unimaginable in the past.
Collaboration and speedy responses win business and create competitive advantage. Instant customer service and easy access to information are now an expectation.
Cloud services provide solutions to these present-day needs and to many others that previously would have required significant IT expertise and resources.
Security and business continuity
We are all used to the routines involved in protecting our computers, ensuring that our operating systems and anti-virus packages are regularly updated. We are now more used to keeping ourselves safe online, avoiding giving out our PINs, passwords and bank details. We are altogether much more cautious when using the internet, and many of us back up our data regularly in one form or another.
Businesses may also have a server (or two) to maintain, adding their own requirements for maintenance and security, along with physical safety and business continuity procedures.
Cloud solutions naturally reduce the overhead of IT support, since in most cases the security and infrastructure are handled on your behalf, typically via a subscription-based service. This means that you and your business will become less dependent on individual computers and devices. And even if the worst were to happen — for example, the loss of all your computers (or office!) — you can pick up a new device, log in and carry on, even if it means working at the local coffee shop.
For most businesses, the security offered by Cloud services is far more robust that we can achieve as individuals or small businesses. However, not all Cloud operators provide the same high standards, so, when choosing a provider, be sure to check out their security standards.
Working (almost) anywhere
With your business data in the Cloud, all the resources you need, such as email, calendars and contacts, documents, spreadsheets, CRM, notes, databases and more can be at your fingertips on your phone, tablet, laptop — even your desk!
The Cloud can provide you with working continuity without your being tied to particular devices or networks. For example, you might create a document at the office on your desktop PC, then continue editing it on your tablet back at home seamlessly, picking up exactly where you left off.
Some services offer great offline synchronisation, so you can carry on working even where there is no internet connection. Other solutions can provide integration with social, messaging, voice and video conferencing products to enable you to keep in touch.
The cloud gives you your office, wherever you are.
Small businesses have always worked with others to get things done, but now the ways of collecting and sharing information have moved beyond phone calls, emails, meetings and minutes.
Documents can be worked on at the same time, even spreadsheets. Social media and instant messaging platforms can be used to find information and people to progress a project far more quickly than traditional methods. Project notes can be added to a central point by all participants from wherever they happen to be in many formats — pictures, scans, voice recordings, videos, text and handwritten notes — for discussion in an online meeting, private chat room or just to be viewed and commented on.
The Cloud has opened up whole new possibilities for collaboration. With data available in the Cloud, business can progress more efficiently and faster than ever before.
Small businesses have always had to work flexibly. New government legislation and the economic climate have made working from home for business owners and staff more appealing. Many businesses are keeping costs low by minimising the office space they need, or by not having a permanent office at all.
Access to your documents, programs and other data can enable staff to work from home and at different hours, while still keeping up-to-date with the team.
Cloud services can cut costs, not only due to the reduced need for hardware and reliance on particular devices and software, but also due to lower IT support costs, both internal and external. Some businesses may no longer require external IT support. Some may no longer need to maintain servers at all.
Some Cloud services include SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and financially-backed up-time guarantees, providing peace of mind and extra resources that were previously unavailable.
Cloud solutions can make certain paid, conferencing, security, storage, telephony services (and others) unnecessary, providing further cost savings.
Traditionally, businesses have required regular injections of capital to maintain growth. In this day and age, where a small idea can potentially take the market by storm, adopting a traditional approach to IT is both risky and limiting.
Modern businesses need to be able to scale up (and down) quickly without paying for resource overheads that may never be used. Resource needs can vary seasonally or even daily. Temporary staff may be required to get through busy periods.
With the Cloud your business can pay just for what it uses and needs, often via a monthly subscription. No longer do you need to pay for servers, hardware and software licences that are not being used.
If your business becomes the next Twitter or Facebook, the Cloud will enable you to scale up your business overnight without collapsing under the pressure.
Cloud services are becoming more and more widely used. Understanding the benefits and solutions they offer can make your business more competitive and dynamic, and save time and money. New ways of working can sometimes be daunting and changes can take time to bed in. There are so many options and possibilities. But by focusing on your business needs and understanding what is possible, a few steps forward, however small, can make all the difference to your business.
This article was written by Steve and Christine Munden of iBizify.net Ltd, an independent provider of cloud solutions and services, bespoke software, web and mobile development.