Small Businesses Harnessing the Cloud
Cloud computing, promoted by technology vendors as an affordable alternative to the need to install and maintain software on a network, is providing a number of benefits for small businesses.
With a growing array of services that offer cost savings and additional convenience over traditional installed software, cloud computing has firmly entered the small business computing mainstream.
Nearly any type of software important to small business owners and employees can be accessed through an online service, with many companies relying on web based programs such as email, customer relationship management (CRM), project and task management, bookkeeping, and other important small-business functions.
Power of the Cloud
Harnessing the cloud offers a number of potential benefits to small business owners, starting with compelling cost savings. Applications that used to require substantial licensing fees can be replaced with web-based tools, many of which offer free or low-cost versions customized for small business users.
Along with reducing the direct cost of purchasing software licenses, shifting functions to the cloud can help small business owners avoid or reduce the cost of maintaining and updating important applications and internal servers.
Cloud computing also offers convenience by eliminating the need to update programs manually. When you log into a cloud application, you're automatically getting the latest version. This reduces your need to maintain software applications, and can improve the security of your data as your cloud service provider addresses known security issues.
The convenience of using cloud applications can be further enhanced by access to smartphone and tablet applications that mirror the functionality of web-delivered software. If you need to access or update data from outside your workplace, a mobile application allows you to do so from nearly anywhere, increasing your productivity on the road.
Evaluating Cloud Security
Despite the compelling advantages, some small business owners have been concerned about the security of data that is stored with an online services provider.
While this concern is understandable, ongoing improvements to cloud security frameworks should alleviate many worries about potential security issues.
Compared with the average small business, for example, cloud service providers have greater access to security and technical resources. Because their ability to serve customers depends in large part on being able to do so securely and reliably, cloud providers invest in security and technical expertise that is often unaffordable by most of their customers.
In addition, most cloud providers automatically encrypt data they are storing, making it less likely that an employee or hacker can access your data inappropriately.
Along with talking to potential providers about their security procedures and precautions, it's a good idea to check the speed and stability of your Internet connection before committing to cloud services.
Another concern you should ask about is the provider's ability to protect your customers' data. In some industries or geographic locations, businesses have specific regulatory mandates to protect personally identifiable customer information, so it is a good idea to check with your cloud provider (and potentially legal counsel) about your company's specific needs.
But despite these potential challenges, the compelling benefits that cloud can offer your small business means it is likely a smart choice for your business and its computing needs.