As this report from the Grattan Institute this week points out, many small businesses are yet to embrace the cloud. Certainly nowhere near the extent the big end of town has.
Many businesses owners still rely on old beige PCs with old copies of Windows XP (or perhaps even older versions), local copies of all their programs and all their documents still on their hard disk – with no backup.
“Splutter-clunk-clunk-beep-clunk-clunk-splutter-splutter” the machines go every morning, as their screens slowly warm up and display an error message no one can quite figure out. After about half a minute, the funny error message goes away and the familiar Windows logo appears.
And for some businesses, running the office like that works. However, there are a few downsides.
The first is that you need to be physically at your PC – or if you have a laptop, take it with you – in order to access your work documents. Failing that, at best, you might remember to carry them with you on a USB stick.
The second downside is this: As with any other electronic device, all computers eventually break. Likewise, should a natural disaster take out your office (heaven forbid), your computer is gone. And unless you keep regular off-site backups, all the business documents and files on your PC are also gone – forever.
Of course, this raises the question, who can be bothered regularly making backups of their entire hard disk?
The third downside of the do-it-yourself approach, as your business grows, is that it eventually means owning and maintaining your own servers. Along with this come all the joys of server maintenance, from upgrades and patches to worrying about cybersecurity or dependencies. Unless you know what “sudo apt-get” means, this will mean you’ll need to start thinking about an IT budget anyway.
Cloud-storage services such as Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive/Office 365 can help on all three counts.
First, cloud storage accounts can sync across all your devices, meaning the same files are available on your PC, tablet, smartphone and from the web. The latest version of your smartphone photos are always on your PC or tablet. The latest version of that Word document from your PC is always available from your tablet or smartphone.
Secondly, cloud services are by definition based in someone else’s datacentre. So if your PC (or any other device) goes, there’s an off-site backup ready to go.
And the third thing is, as your business needs grow, cloud-based apps and services can mean you, basically, outsource the work of running and maintaining a server to someone else. You don’t need someone to “sudo” for a server.
But what about the risks?
Well, as I’ve mentioned countless times before, “the cloud” simply means your files, online service, website or applications are hosted over the internet on someone else’s server.
So the key is to make sure, if your files are in someone else’s server, that the someone else you entrust is reputable.
That being said, if you’ve ever watched a YouTube video (run from Google’s servers) or had a Hotmail account (from Microsoft’s servers), you’ve already used cloud services of a kind and seen the benefits first hand.
Your emails and videos are not lost if your PC breaks. They’re available from any device with access to the web. And you certainly didn’t need to worry about the IT challenges of running an email or streaming video service.
Well, as long as you choose reputable cloud service providers, the same benefits can be extended to other areas of your business.