Cloud computing has been around a long time, in fact if I go back a few years I remember starting my first email account with hotmail in 1997, a web mail service which enabled me to access my emails from any computer, no matter where I was in the world (a godsend for my gap year travels in 1998).
However, its only been relatively recently that cloud computing has started to become popular in the business world. There are still many SMEs and established businesses that are not yet taking advantage of cloud computing to make their operations more efficient and help them grow.
The main benefits of cloud computing that entrepreneurs need to be aware of are as follows:
It enables remote and mobile working, allowing businesses to more easily work with freelance consultants and keep their actual office space to a minimum, while as data is not stored in one location there are no issues with business continuity should there be a problem getting to your main office.
Businesses can access market leading technologies with far less capital expenditure as they don’t need to acquire the tools themselves, just pay small and regular service charges. Cloud computing therefore helps even the playing field, allowing SMEs to implement tech without upfront capital costs.
You don’t need to purchase your own servers and storage, you can scale your business without having to buy your own expensive technology in advance.
Maintenance is taken care of by the service provider with regular updates done on your behalf and all data is automatically backed up.
Despite the obvious advantages of businesses using cloud computing they should still be concerned that their service provider has a good security track record, the servers have little or no downtime, the vendor is unlikely to go out of business and if they do your data will be safe. Also make sure you can easily transfer to another system or service provider.
Here are a couple of examples of popular cloud services that SMEs increasingly use:
Xero: online accounting software with a number of features that make it easier to run your business such as the automatic creation of invoices that can be sent via a HTML link that will tell you when its been clicked on, the ability to instantly see all your bank balances, recent sales and upcoming bills and to reconcile foreign currency accounts with gains & losses calculated for you, together with a wide range of add-on features.
Mailchimp: an online email marketing solution to manage contacts, send emails and track results. You can send up to 2000 emails a month for free, while the system has a host of features including the ability to see what subscribers do when they receive emails, which emails bounced, who opened email, what programme used, proportion using mobile, what links clicked, etc