Cloud computing is more than just another IT fad, and the good news is that SMEs will be the main beneficiaries of the cloud.
Before we go into why cloud computing is the best way for SMEs to get their computing needs (and more) fulfilled in the cheapest way, let’s have a quick look at what cloud computing is.
Essentially, many IT companies have made their services available over the Web. And they don’t care whether you’re large or small – they give you world-class solutions at a fraction of the price that you would pay for similar functionality bought directly from a non-cloud vendor.
So this means you can get all your payroll, stock management, customer and sales management, and pretty much any business process you need right now, at really good rates.
The benefits of the cloud
First, you have no computing hardware and software on-site, other than your PC or laptop, printers and connection to the Net. All the rest (applications, servers, back-ups) reside in ‘the cloud’. Second, cloud is an ‘on-demand’ service. This means you can sign up for a service right now and be working within minutes.
Third, you access all these services through the Internet as easily as logging onto a website using a secure password and username. Fourth, most cloud services are ‘elastic’ – if you need to add another staff member for a month to manage your sales or stock or whatever, then you do so and pay for just that month’s service.
And finally, because cloud services are provided to many companies (usually thousands), the service encapsulates best practices, best security, data is encrypted and backed up, and is usually legally compliant.
There we have it: cloud computing is safe, mature, best practice, and elastic enough to meet your needs.
Pay for what you use
So why should SMEs use cloud computing? You pay for what you use – you don’t have to buy any more computing than you need and can expand as your business grows. It’s also available now – you could be using a sales system or stock system by this afternoon. As an SME, it also allows you to buy into best practices – and importantly your service provider is constantly improving their functionality and processes.
Cloud service providers have to be secure, have to run their operations really well, have to do back-ups, and have to plan ahead – or they won’t survive. And all this is passed on to you as part of the service.
However there are some caveats for SMEs. The first problem is that getting access to a cloud service is way too easy – which has resulted in some companies buying into services they don’t or can’t use. So make sure that you use what you buy.
Many cloud service providers have a ‘try before you buy’ option, where you get two weeks to a month free before you have to buy in.
Also, some executives buy a service using their credit card without telling anyone else, so you end up with two or three systems doing the same thing for different people in the company. Try to have a strategy for cloud sourcing and usage, and a cloud strategy that enables systems to talk to each other.
Finally, read the terms and conditions of service to give yourself the comfort that what you get is what you expect.
All this means that you should do a little thinking about your business and processes before you rush into the cloud. Perhaps you should get someone to advise you as well.
So, if you’re sold on the fact that cloud computing can take your business to the next level, here’s how you can get started.
- As with all things, try to have a reason for doing something: Examine why and where you believe your business needs computing system automations. This will inform your decisions and need to spend money and time on a solution. For example, how would a sales tracking system help improve your sales? How would stock control reduce your stock? What financial effect would that have for you?
- Work out how you want your business processes to work. For instance, do you need your stock system to talk to your invoicing system, and your customer records to be linked to your sales system?
- Who in your business will use the various systems? Discuss it with them.
- Do an Internet search for the kind of systems you need using the word ‘review’ in your search.
- Read the reviews, then visit the particular recommended software sites.
- Look for additional functionality that fits your business process strategy.
- Look for a trial download option.
- Sign up to the service and try it out. Use real examples, but don’t get locked in because in the first week you put all your customer data onto the system and now don’t want to repeat the exercise with other services. Rather think of a specific business problem or event that you believe the software can help with, then test the software against that scenario.
- Before you commit, look very closely at the terms and conditions, look for user reviews of the specific software and examine the financial impact – these things can grow as you add users and functions, so work out the future costs.
- Go for it. But remember the service is only as good as the use you make of it. Don’t pay for services you’re not using.