Cloud computing continues to transform the way businesses operate – enabling faster deployments, ease-of-management, quick-scale, and predictable spend compared to its traditional, on-site relative. So it is not very surprising to hear that Cloud spending is predicted to increase across the board in 2018; however, a predicted Cloud “boom” of nearly 25% might be. Part of the reason Cloud adoption continues to grow at such a pace is the plethora of services which can be deployed via Cloud…a list which continues to grow. However, when many small business leaders ask, “How do I get my business on The Cloud?”, they are often unaware of how many services they can deploy via Cloud. While it is virtually impossible to list all the functions and services accessible from The Cloud, here are eight of the most impactful to small organizations:
1. Industry operations management
Businesses may opt for a straight-forward Customer Relationship Management or Enterprise Resource Planning system for operations management; however, small businesses increasingly use Cloud apps tailored to their industry needs. With options for hospitality, healthcare, insurance, retail, law, real estate, construction, and seemingly every other industry, small businesses can standardize their operations and enforce best practices while leveraging the quick-scale flexibility of Cloud hosting.
Moreover, small organizations have been moving their operations systems to Cloud for the high-availability. Operations down-time is costly to any business – moving to The Cloud greatly reduces such risks compared to most alternatives, with the only risk factor being Internet access.
2. Department applications
There’s nothing new about this technology (it’s been around since the late 90s), but increasingly more small business offerings are going-to-market – many of which come from “Fortune-size” Cloud providers. Best-in-class features, process management, and integration are being offered to sales teams, finance and accounting departments, and human resources personnel in companies with sub-ten headcount, i.e. micro businesses.
In fact, earlier this year Salesforce, one of the first Cloud software companies, launched a CRM platform specifically designed for small businesses with less than 25 employees. 1-in-3 small organizations use CRM for pipeline management, customer retention, and ultimately, revenue growth; Cloud is by far the preferred delivery model. While there are dozens of options in the CRM market, the small business accounting software market centers around QuickBooks. Intuit is increasingly investing its resources in building out its QuickBooks Online platform, which can now match most of the features of QuickBooks desktop while eliminating the infrastructure and management demands.
Perhaps the most undervalued resources available to small business via The Cloud are the variety of industry-leading HR platforms. Human capital is the biggest asset and challenge to any business, and the rigors of recruiting, onboarding, benefits administration, and payroll can be overwhelming. HR software companies like ADP, Zenefits, SAGE, and BambooHR offer comprehensive platforms tailored to small org needs via The Cloud. Most of these department platforms are off-the-shelf-ready and subscription-based for optimal flexibility.
3. Collaboration and productivity
Although many businesses still use on-premise email service or free webmail, the majority are embracing the future of collaboration in migrating to platforms like Microsoft Office 365 and Google G-Suite. Such platforms enable small business to offer the premium connectivity and accessibility previously reserved for large corporations. Equipped with Cloud-managed business email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and productivity apps, small business pros now have the most powerful tools at their fingertips to stay connected with customers and staff.
4. Phone systems
Most business phone systems involve purchasing telephone lines from your Internet Service Provider, a central PBX system, handsets, and other connectivity measures. Such platforms can cost tens-of-thousands up-front with significant ongoing maintenance. Alternatively, small businesses can use hosted PBX platforms for ease-of-management and low start-up investments. Going the “Cloud route” eliminates the need for phone line service and often provides more versatile equipment options.
5. Document management
Document management is more of an issue than small businesses realize. Traditional practices like local device storage or server-based shared drives are typically unmanaged and completely up to employee discretion. Copies of copies create storage and security issues, ease-of-access creates additional risk, data loss results from lack of retention ability, and remote accessibility is limited. While strong local options do exist, businesses of all sizes have been looking to Cloud-based document platforms to remedy such concerns. Options are broad and budget-friendly, ranging from premium platforms such as Dropbox for Business and Egnyte, to role-players like Google Drive for Work and Microsoft OneDrive. Such platforms offer small businesses unmatched mobility, control, security, and retention. For example: capacity plans are often terabytes (or unlimited), security features like dual-factor authentication and encryption often come standard, and smart sync technology keep docs available regardless of internet access or device.
6. Servers and infrastructure
Small businesses can change quickly, drastically, and frequently – so it’s not surprising that such organizations are increasingly leaving on-premise boxes in favor of Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Whether it’s to host an application, domain, or file/printing service, many small businesses quickly find themselves in need of a server. Then come the rigors of committing significant capital investment to procuring a server (which must be built to projected needs over a multi-year stretch), housing it in a proper environment (limited access, cooling, space, connectivity, power), and servicing it consistently via scheduled (and surprise) maintenance costs. Many small businesses would rather pay a predictable operating investment with less management responsibility and greater scalability – so they send their infrastructure to The Cloud.
The Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, market continues to boom, and small businesses can gain unique advantages with such deployments. Market leaders like Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are offering organizations of all sizes the ability to grab compute/storage resources on-demand and pay as-they-go. No long-term commitments to point-in-time technology or scale, no surprise maintenance costs, and no multi-layered backup requirements make IaaS increasingly attractive to small organizations who want to be agile and ready for whatever the market throws at them.
Like the capabilities and benefits of hosted infrastructure, Cloud workstations can provide small businesses with right-sized power, premium accessibility, and predictable spend. Desktop-as-a-Service hasn’t caught on (yet) like the server side of Cloud services, but we have a feeling that is bound to change. Why might a small business choose such a unique device strategy over traditional deployments? Two key reasons: ease-of-management and mobility.
Any small business leader with more than a few employees knows the headache that device lifecycle management can cause. Modern commercial workstations/notebooks are easily $1000+, with set-up and maintenance costs adding to the lifetime investment. These devices get abused, get lost/stolen, get damaged, have a plethora of failure points, and must be replaced every four-to-five years (if they last that long). DaaS provides predictable management and spend, while greatly reducing the risks presented in having all the workload reside on the physical device. Furthermore, new life is breathed into aged hardware with the DaaS approach. For example, that six-year old desktop that needs to be “put out to pasture” in a traditional model can now get several more years of ROI, and then be replaced with low-end hardware at half the cost of a business desktop.
Secondy, DaaS is highly attractive for workforces who are mobile or remote. Whether it’s to support a field team or accommodate remote work, Cloud facilitates such productivity more easily than virtual private networks or other traditional access methods. Employees are increasingly expecting employers to provide arrangement for telecommuting; therefore, small businesses must leverage technologies like DaaS and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to stay competitive in the recruiting industry.
8. Data backup and recovery
Finally, using The Cloud for data backup is a no-brainer. Many small organizations have been leveraging such technologies for years – at least at a file level. Information is money, so small businesses must assess their data management processes for single points-of-failure and other risks to mitigate the possibility of a disaster. According to FEMA, nearly 40% of small businesses don’t re-open following a disaster, partly due to poor practices of local-only data backups (or no backups at all). There are reliable, non-Cloud ways to keep off-site backups; however, they are often more expensive and tedious compared to Cloud-hosted options. There are deeper conversations for small businesses to have in terms of backup and disaster recovery, but Cloud is very likely to be a part of any related solution.
The future is cloudy and bright for small business
Cloud technologies have their own limitations and costs, but in general provide powerful and unique options for small businesses to assess and evaluate. Much like a target market or the general economy, the Cloud marketplace will continue to change, making it imperative for small businesses to continually assess their IT strategy and market needs. Many businesses are choosing the hybrid infrastructure path, so they can fit their technology deployments to the needs of their operations – not the other way around. In any case, the breadth of Cloud offerings for small business is exciting.