The biggest buzzword in computing in recent years is without doubt the cloud. A growing number of businesses are turning to a cloud solution to run their business, with Gartner research suggesting that the cloud computing market reached $150 billion last year.
But what is it exactly, and is it really going to help you run your business?
How it works
In basic terms, the cloud refers to the ability to access your applications, information and data over the internet via a third-party provider, meaning you don’t have to worry about storing this information yourself. There are endless cloud providers out there, so it’s important to find one that’s right for you.
Depending on your business, the cost savings can be massive. REND Tech Associates delivers cloud solutions to SMEs. CEO Rob Khamas says cloud solutions can save around $40,000 a year in purchasing a server and paying for someone to support it.
“Cloud solutions are also a lot easier to maintain and support, and this extra reliability has helped businesses focus more on their core tasks rather than worrying about the IT downtime, which has been a known issue with local server infrastructure,” Khamas says.
The latest MYOB Business Monitor Report showed business owners using cloud computing were 59% more likely to see a revenue rise than those who didn’t.
MYOB CEO Tim Reed says cloud solutions enhance your ability to work remotely, which helps business owners and their team better balance their home and work lives.
Going digital provides faster customer service and more reliable business transactions, he says.
“Going digital (think e-commerce, bank feeds, electronic invoicing, live chat and so on), provides faster customer service and more reliable business transactions,” Reed says.
“It also offers the opportunity for businesses to enjoy work flexibility and improve business productivity and can help you grow your customer base. Your staff and customers will thank you for it and it will save you and your business time and money.”
But cloud computing takes on many forms, so focus on what you want it for and then determine the technology you require, he says.
“Some require you to learn new tools, while others leverage your existing know-how. Some only work when you’re connected to the internet, others also work in offline modes.
“For example, if you’re interested in the ability to have online and offline access to your data anywhere, anytime, consider cloud-enabled software solutions that offer the best of both worlds – cloud, desktop or both,” he says.
Cloud solutions are ideal for start-ups, because there are low capital expenses and no need to invest in hardware. They are also low-risk as the backups and disaster recovery are reliable with cloud infrastructure, according to Khamas.
Cloud solutions are also highly scalable, which is important for growing businesses, he says.
“Last but not least, it’s future-proofing the business, with cloud technology you are moving into the future. Mobility and scalability are the big themes of 2014-15 and cloud technology is just the beginning.”
Jorge Villalpando, marketing manager of provider BitCloud, adds that on a strategic level, cloud computing is the ideal platform for businesses to innovate and grow.
“There are many studies out there that clearly show that cloud allows the business to focus on growth and development. Likewise, innovation finds its way into teams that are no longer concerned about the maintenance and operation of their IT systems, and it gives birth to new applications, processes and more that directly improve the profitability of a business.”
Make sure you check the location of the cloud provider’s infrastructure, he says.
“This should be on Australian soil and in a data centre housing enterprise level customers like yours,” he says.
Dependent on your business structure, you want to also have the right technical support, so make sure you have the resources to manage your cloud, he says.
Why it works for me
Cloud computing has been a huge benefit for Bianca Wirth of Wirth Consulting. She has been using various cloud solutions for nearly a decade. When she launched her own IT project management business four years ago, she started implementing even more cloud solutions, for accounting, project management, email, productivity tools, file storage and software testing.
One of the reasons she moved across was for backup and recovery purposes, she says.
“I came from large corporate environments where backup of critical data and access to applications was controlled centrally on masses of servers and computers. This environment makes it easy to recover your data and applications if your computer fails.
“But like most start-ups and small businesses, the cost of purchasing multiple servers and computers to ensure all of your data is safe and recoverable is often prohibitive. Not to mention you need specialist skills to manage all of this.
“One of the other major advantages is the convenience of working anywhere I need to.”
Cloud solutions have enabled her to open up the field of potential candidates and offer them truly flexible work scenarios, too, she says.
“Likewise this also works brilliantly for my customers. If they want me on site to manage a project I’m there, but if they don’t need me on site, I can save them the cost of hosting me at their office and still get my work done efficiently and effectively.”
But there were teething issues when moving to cloud solutions, she admits.
When changing from POP-based email, the Office 365 program archived more than three years of emails. Initially she thought they had disappeared.
Converting to Quickbooks Online and Shoeboxed.com for managing accounts and receipts also caused issues that took some time to iron out, she says.
Top tips for finding a cloud provider
- Evaluate your own IT processes and systems before migrating to the cloud. For example, decide if you need cloud access for all staff and for multiple devices.
- Check the credibility, expertise and reputation of the provider.
- Ask about the provider’s security policies and procedures.
- Read the fine print and check for hidden costs, add-ons or other features that will take up extra time and money to get it running, or whether it’s an all-in-one solution.
- Ask about service level agreements, especially in the event of an unexpected or planned outage for maintenance reasons
Source: Tim Reed, CEO, MYOB
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