A Brief Explanation of Cloud
Cloud computing is used to describe any service available on the internet that is hosted and harnesses pooled computing resources by way of virtualization. Whether you are running a marketing agency, a consultancy, a retail shop or a law firm you NEED to be as efficient as possible.
How Cloud Platforms Benefit Small Businesses
In the past your purchased a software licence (often expensive), renewed it annually and it sat on a server in your office. Users were often disconnected and processes complex. Well cloud delivers a heap of easy benefits:
Pay As You Go (expensing instead of capitalizing) – most pricing plans for cloud based platforms operate a tiered pricing system (very low cost) based on usage, users or level of functionality. They allow easy entry points for most small businesses and you pay monthly (a few require and annual payment).[/four_fifth]
Process Simplification and Speed - Cloud based systems have simple interfaces, offer high speed processing and are accessible from any internet ready computer. Most cloud platforms can be easily integrated with others providing simpler processes and more automation; and it in most cases is instant.[/four_fifth]
Integrated Sales and Marketing – Cloud-based solutions integrate with each other making processes more efficient, increasing automation and enabling data to be easily analysed. Setting up an e-commerce store for instance has never been easier and marketing through social and websites provides a powerhouse of low cost marketing direct to your target audience.
Remote (mobile) Workers and Collaboration - The fight for talent remains on of the top priorities for small businesses. Talented people are increasingly looking for flexibility in their life and cloud provides access to systems, communication and collaboration tools providing easy collaboration with colleagues, partners and customers: examples uses – virtual meeting spaces for teams and teleconference systems (many work with smartphones and tablets. [/four_fifth]
Some of the challenges that small businesses face:
Adapting to Technological Advances in Web
- Understanding and embracing Social Media and Technologies
- Embracing Mobile Technologies
- Understanding and Harnessing Cloud Computing
Most small businesses though do not understand what technology to use to improve business processes, lower costs cost effective and improve effectiveness. But through cloud platforms the web enables small businesses to compete with far bigger businesses.
5 Considerations When Choosing Cloud Platforms/Apps
The obvious main points are to consider how they fit into your current business processes, if they disrupt any workflows (and people!) and what benefits you gain. For many small businesses this can be an easy task to undertake. Key to change is involving your people in the decisions. Here are our recommendations based on experience:
- Functionality and User Experience – look for ease of use in the interface, the level of functionality and the analytics you get as part of the package. Review a few products before deciding on one or see if they have a trial period. Don’t test it on your own, get a few people in the business to give their opinions and preferably use a common scoring system so you can easily compare how you each used it.
- Security – For cloud platforms, assess the company hosting the cloud platform and their policies and practices for the security of your data. Think through how the application affects the practical policies and day to day of your business e.g. tablets and smartphones need to have high levels of security of they are being used for company data. Update your policies and ensure people understand your policy (if you haven’t already get a social media policy in place).
- Support – Look for how easy it is to get access to support for your platform. Does the cloud platform provide a support forum that features FAQs, a knowledge base and an active support community. Before committing yourself look for known issues or problems; particularly important if you need to integrate the platform with others applications or your website. Another aspect of support is in the change process, do you have an agent or somebody that can help you if you need to import lots of data or tansfer it from your old legacy system to the cloud.
- Mobile – increasingly now it is important to look at if the cloud platform has an app that is likewise easy to use and provides useful access point for mobile workers/tablet users. Once again test the app as part of your due diligence process.
- Think Ahead – If you are making a major move into using cloud platforms then you need to plan how your processes will change, what needs to integrate (choosing one platform early might mean you compromise later for integration) and how you train and transfer data.
There are more points to cover but these are often the ones that repeatedly crop up. Any other thoughts then let us know. The benefits to change are seismic if you make these transitions; don’t get left behind.
Some Cloud Platforms that Small Businesses Can Use
I thought it would be useful just to point to some cloud apps that are well established and might be worth you reviewing if you haven’t already developed a clear strategy for using cloud. These are just a snapshot of the many options available. Most of these provide mobile applications to enable easy access on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
Dropbox – Dropbox is a web-based file hosting service … which uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the internet using file synchronization. There are both free and paid services, each with varying options. Alternatives to DropBox such as JungleDisk (a division of RackSpace) and SpiderOak that offer much better security.
Highrise is a ‘shared contact management’ web application which supports basic CRM tasks. The application centers around person and company pages, which collate information such as images, notes, and contact detail.
Xero - Xero is an online accounting software product for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as personal finance. It gives small businesses access to up-to-date financial tools and information. Starts at $18 per month.
Zoho CRM - Zoho offers three basic CRM packages. The free edition comes with basic sales force, marketing, and customer support automation with reporting, forecasting, and Web forms (which I’ll get to below). The Professional edition costs $12 per user per month, and adds inventory management, plus custom data, security, and workflow management.
Salesforce.com - The Sales Cloud includes a real-time sales collaborative tool called Chatter, allows you to manage marketing campaign spending and performance across a variety of channels from a single application, tracks all opportunity-related data including milestones, decision makers, customer communications.
Google Apps – Often overlooked. Google Apps as provide independently customizable versions of several Google products under a custom domain name. It features several web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including: Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites.