Some of us may have hesitated at first, but the benefits of taking to the cloud have been fully realised by many of today’s small-business owners; from tech startups in the heart of Silicon Valley to London’s urban pop-ups.
Building a native information technology infrastructure can be incredibly complex and expensive for new and growing businesses. The beauty of the cloud is the flexibility it affords SMEs to manage their business needs online, regardless of their economic or technological thresholds.
Now, the cloud is redefining the way small businesses do business, as online or cloud-based applications are slowly but surely becoming the norm. In fact, a 2014 Intuit study predicts that 80% of small businesses will have fully adapted to cloud computing by 2020.
If you’re still unconvinced as to the benefits, here are some useful cloud solutions for startups and SMEs.
Financial tools in the cloud
Cloud accounting enables small business owners to keep track of their cashflow in real time. Thanks to the cloud, business leaders can be confident that they have an up-to-date picture of how their business’ finances are doing, no matter where they are.
For example, 3 Wise Bears is a london-based accountancy firm which specialises in solutions for contractors, freelancers and small businesses using Xero and other online accounting software. Cloud accounting softwares can include integrated payroll systems, too. FinancialForce offers a similar software for large business, that caters for different departmental processes. As these services are exclusively cloud based, it allows business owners to access their accounts anytime and anyplace, while recording data for full tax compliance.
One of the biggest concerns associated with cloud money management, however, relate to security. After the Tesco Bank hack in 2016 that cost customers £2.5million overnight, cybercrime became a real concern for businesses and members of the public alike.
But contrary to what you might assume, the cloud is highly secure. As noted in Forbes magazine, no cloud provider can provide 100% security against hacks, but business owners agree that their financial data is better secured by a cloud provider whose business model is reliant on specially developed and maintained security, rather than on their own server which is only serviced once a every few months by their local IT guy.
Content authoring in the cloud
The ability to save and access various files through the cloud enables employees to easily work from the same master document and share seamlessly. Cloud collaboration tools like Google Drive and Microsoft Onedrive allow users to upload or create, edit and comment on shared documents, which facilitates better shared participation. SugarSync even maintains an additional copy of files on it’s own servers for an added failsafe.
That makes it ever simpler to cater to remote workers and flexible working arrangements. Employees can work on devices they already own and are comfortable with, such as tablets and laptops—even their smartphones.
But content authoring succumbs most to one notable disadvantage of cloud computing: service outages. Cloud content authoring systems are internet based, which means your access and productivity is fully dependent on your internet connection.
Back in the office, however, this risk is outweighed by the real savings to be made. SMEs can avoid the need to maintain IT staff to manage an on-site infrastructure, and employees are more easily able to work from home, therefore the energy consumption at your office is reduced, along with any external costs of maintaining the software.
Communications in the cloud
For many years, effective Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions were only available for large companies with big telecommunications budgets. But with tools such as Citrix Grasshopper, it’s becoming ever cheaper and easier for small businesses to set up VoIP tools and gain access to basic phone systems features such as call routing, faxing, and voicemail.
Simple video conferencing tools like Google video hangouts and Skype have been successful both within and without the business sector, bringing a visual dimension to the remote meeting experience. With the development of specialist video conferencing applications such as Loop Up, users can see who is speaking in real-time and have no need to dial into the call, while call leaders can mute participants when necessary.
Even social media juggernaut Facebook is vying for a slice of the cloud communication pie the launch of Workplace, which completes the familiar functions of Messenger chat and News Feed with analytics dashboards and apps.
Leveraging a remote, cloud based infrastructure requires a company to outsource its services, which we might assume results in less privacy when it comes to managing sensitive data and communications. But when access to resources is carefully managed, the cloud offers greater accountability and traceability. Security techs refer to it as ‘the ability to see through the cloud’, which ultimately deters cyber criminals because of the increased risk of being caught.
Simultaneous two-way video and audio transmissions in the form of video conferencing have been integral in facilitating remote interactions between business professionals to great success. Now, VR looks set to transform that technology further. With their companion app for smartphones, AltspaceVR are pitching VR chat like Skype sessions, but it’s more about shared activity than pure conversation, with the option to ‘meet’ in environments such as meeting rooms, mazes, or virtual art galleries.
Human resources in the cloud
Startups and SMEs are in constant need of a HR solution that fits their business today, but has the power to support growth tomorrow. It offers the opportunity to automate talent acquisition, manage attendance and leave management and record individual’s’ skills development and career growth in one central system.
These programmes are allowing business owners to take greater control of their human resources than could ever be achieved with a traditional paper-based infrastructure. Fairsail is one example of a cloud-based Human Resources Information System, which even offers drill down and “what-if” analysis capabilities to allow businesses to test their scalability. It’s like traditional business, but Beta.
Some might be concerned about the cost of such cloud computing technologies, particularly when Human Resources have been managed by trained professionals using paper-based databases for decades. But the cloud offers opportunities to scale down as well as up, with cost calculators like Amazon’s AWS and Google’s GCP offering an indication of where funds could be saved. It can reduce staffing and hardware costs in the long run.
Again, personal employee details are highly secure: The UK government outlines 14 Cloud Security Principles, ranging from the protection of data in transit to personnel security and audit information. Enhanced firewall security as well as full tracking capabilities make the cloud a far safer option than a fallible filing cabinet.
According to David Ludlow, Group Vice President at SuccessFactors/SAP, the benefit of cloud is first and foremost about access to innovation. Unlike on-premise software, the cloud allows companies to provide software release updates as and when they become available, ensuring they stay at the forefront of technological and business innovation. Businesses are taking to the clouds, but there’s still plenty of way to go yet.