Are you ready for cloud computing?

I attended a Chamber of Commerce business breakfast at Ascot racecourse this morning, where Tania Shirlow, Head of Small and Medum Business (SMB) for Microsoft UK presented on cloud computing and what it means for SMB's. "Cloud computing" is one of the buzzwords at the moment but what does it actually mean, and what can it do for you and your business.

What is "cloud computing"?

You are probably already using cloud computing without even realising it. If you use online banking, have a Hotmail or Gmail or similar email account, or even if you shop online, these are all forms of cloud computing. Cloud computing basically covers any software or service which is provided online. With the rapid spread of fast broadband internet, online services are becoming more and more widespread and more easily accessible for small and medium sized businesses.

What does it mean for your business?

Using cloud services has a number of advantages for small and medium sized companies, including:

  • Lower cost - as you are not having to buy expensive hardware, such as servers for data storage, or software, the cost is much lower. Instead you just pay a monthly subcription for what you need, when you need it
  • Access to better software - in the past many software packages were just too expensive for SMB's, but now by using them online, it makes these packages much more affordable and accessible for smaller businesses. A great example of this is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software which used to only really be affordable for large companies. Now there are online packages available at a fraction of the cost
  • Always available - as the systems are online you don't need to worry about availability when accessing files and data. There are cloud systems which allow you to access all your files from anywhere in the world - all you need is internet access
  • Always up-to-date - with traditional software you have to wait for annual updates to the software, often having to pay for these, but with cloud packages you are always using the latest version, so as more functionality is added you can benefit from it straight away without having to wait
  • Better security - cloud services are backed by very tight online security, often better than we would have storing these things in our office or home
  • Scalability - cloud services usually work on a per user subscription basis, so as your business grows and you take on more staff, it is easy to just add extra users without having to make any big investments in additional hardware or software

Does cloud computing actually work?

At the moment we use two main cloud computing solutions - one for accounting and one for data storage - and I can confirm that they are both excellent. We use Xero, which is an online accounting software system, for all our accounting, invoicing and client management, and we also use a system called Dropbox for data storage, which allows us to back-up and store all our files safely and securely online, and also access them from other computers, or share them with other users.

There are many other cloud services available including CRM packages, payroll software, point-of-sale and e-commerce software for retailers, inventory management, time tracking software, and many of them integrate with each other as well, saving you time and money. Xero for example has a number of partners who offer software which feeds directly into Xero, making it much easier to keep your finances up-to-date.

Conclusion

If you haven't looked into cloud computing yet, then now is the time to start. It can save you both time and money, which can give you a significant competitive advantage to help you grow your business. And if a company like Microsoft says it's the future, then we should probably listen.

If you would like to discuss anything in this article then please contact us

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