Cloud computing is firmly in the mainstream, with more than 80% of businesses using at least one cloud service according to the Cloud Industry Forum’s 2016 report. But many owners worry that the cloud might not suit their business needs.
We look at how cloud software can benefit small and start-up businesses.
What is the cloud, anyway?
Using the cloud just means that you use the internet to do things you’d normally need to do on your own hardware.
Instead of paying to own and install software on your machine, cloud software is hosted on a provider’s remote server (‘in the cloud’) and accessed via the internet. You effectively lease it from the provider, usually for a small monthly fee. Some more basic applications can even be free to use.
Commonly used cloud applications include email, accounting software, customer relationship management (CRM) software and file storage.
Cloud computing has become far more widespread in recent years with more reliable, faster broadband becoming widely available, and a leap in the number of people owning mobile devices.
So is it right for my small firm?
Cloud computing offers a lot of benefits to small businesses. If you have a lot to think about just keeping your business running, with limited time and money to invest in tech, then cloud software could be the answer.
Cloud software is:
Affordable. Investing in a server for your business, to help you store and share data and software, can mean a big one-off expense along with regular maintenance. With cloud software you pay a predictable monthly fee – useful for monitoring cashflow. There’s no risk of investing too much in kit that turns out to be overpowered for your needs, either.
Up-to date. The software you access will always be the most up-to-date version available – no need to install updates. For example, if you’re doing your accounting using out of date software, and new rates come in, that could make your calculations wrong. You could also fail to comply with new legal requirements such as Real Time Information (RTI).
Productive. With cloud software you can access your data and programs from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. If your business is small or just getting started, you might not have dedicated premises. Cloud software lets you work from home, while travelling, or from your local coffee shop, and on a range of devices from desktop computers to tablets and phones.
Collaborative. Instead of hiring staff, many small businesses use freelancers or agencies to provide the skills they need on a flexible basis, working remotely. Working in the cloud makes it easy to collaborate with people wherever they’re based – allowing you all access to the same documents and data.
Reliable. Most cloud providers offer an ‘uptime guarantee’ – meaning they guarantee their service will be available when you need it – and a warranty for the quality of the service. Always check the terms and conditions. Many providers also offer sales support if you need any help – for example, Sage One Accounting includes a free, 24-hour helpline.
Flexible. Cloud software subscriptions can be easily scaled as you grow, simply by adding more or different software to your subscription, or by adding extra users to your existing package. You can also quickly downscale if the unexpected happens and you need to take a break.
Secure. All businesses have a duty to protect the customer data they hold. Reputable cloud providers have professional-level security surrounding their servers, and will be fully compliant with data regulations – although, of course, you should always be sure to check. Hosting your data in the cloud also means it’s not at risk if you have a tech breakdown, or if your premises suffers a fire or flood.
Instant. As soon as you subscribe to a cloud service, you can get to work – you don’t need to install anything. Start-ups are at an even greater advantage as they can start using cloud solutions from day one – removing the need to move data across from existing systems.
Foolproof. Accidents can happen when you’re juggling a lot – key files for a meeting can be left on the home computer, people can work on the wrong version of a file by mistake, and removable thumb drives can be eaten by the dog. With cloud services, the latest versions of your files and data are always saved in one place, accessible by all your key people, from anywhere.