So, what is it? It’s not rocket science. Imagine a big “cloud” of services somewhere in the internet. You simply get an internet connection and then login and access the service you want to use. In fact you probably use the cloud every day and don’t even know it – think email and shopping or paying bills online – sound familiar?
Now, take it a step further to business software, such as a CRM or project management tool. If business software is touted as being “cloud based” it simply means that you can access the software via the internet. You may see the term SaaS (Software as a Service). This refers to services that you access via the internet, such as email, word processing, file sharing, etc. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) refers to internet based services such as storage and computing and backups.
What does all this mean for small business? Let’s look at some points to consider.
No IT overhead – This is a big one. With Cloud based services, the software you use is accessed via the internet so you don’t have to install any software on your own business computers. This means that you never have to worry about hardware or software upgrades, power requirements or space requirements for all those computers that were running your business software. Everyone in the company simply needs an internet connection to use the software. This can be a huge money and headache saver for you.
Anytime, Anywhere Access – With your business software in the cloud, you and your employees are free to work anytime as long as they have an internet connection. This is especially good for employees who are on the go or would like to work from home. Nobody is tied to a specific office computer to get work done.
What about security? - You, of course, want peace of mind that your connection to your cloud application is secure. Many cloud applications in fact use the same encryption technology used for online banking. Ask before you buy. There are ways to check if your internet connection is secure:
- - Look for the lock icon in the web address bar. You can click on the icon to view security information
- - See if the website address begins with HTTPS. The s in https indicates secure.
Backup Capability - Make sure that whatever application you are using has backup and restore options at intervals that are acceptable to you. With that said, backups are one less thing you’ll need to worry about and spend time on. (Many moons ago I was in charge of backups at a startup company - there are much, much better ways for your employees to spend their paid working hours!)
Stop the data chase - In companies everywhere, there are weekly if not daily data chases going on as we speak. Picture employees juggling many versions of a spreadsheet and making phone calls and sending emails to try and get the latest picture of things. STOP! With everyone accessing the same version of data in the cloud, the data chase is over. Everyone knows the current status and suddenly they have more time for real work.
Switching to software in the cloud as opposed to onsite software installed on your business computers can save you time, money and hassle on a daily basis. But there’s no need to jump into the cloud 100%. Shop around and find applications that suit your needs. Many companies offer a try before you buy trial period. You or a few of your employees can try out a cloud application to see if it offers what you need and is easy to use. If it’s not going to make life easier, forget it.
Also, look for month to month terms as opposed to long term contracts. If a company wants you to sign up for 1 or more years right off the bat it could be a warning sign. You don’t want to get stuck paying for something over a long period that no one in the company is using – that’s money down the drain.
So, to switch or not to switch to the cloud? It’s definitely worth looking into.