Getting your head around the Cloud: top 5 tips for SMEs » SMEInsider

Getting your head around the Cloud: top 5 tips for SMEs

Every new technological fad describes itself as “revolutionising your business” but few are as deserving of the term as cloud computing.

Dispensing with much of their on-site data storage has allowed businesses to grow teams and operations without having to expand their office space. Using cloud storage systems such as Dropbox means employers can work remotely, helping businesses to accommodate flexitime requests. Shared access to files and folders improves collaboration between teams, freelancers, clients and suppliers. Important information is backed up and safely stored offsite, mitigating threats of theft or damage.

The possibilities created by cloud computing have set the stage for organisations like Upworthy, a hugely successful media business with over 50 million readers – and no office. Instead, the company has a 100% remote-working, dispersed workforce, all of whom enjoy excellent employment benefits but work from anywhere they choose, provided it has a decent internet connection. On the other end of the scale, one-woman entrepreneurial powerhouse Marianne Cantwell, author of The Free Range Human, runs her internet-based businesses whilst travelling around the world for much of the year. Before the cloud, this level of freedom would have been unthinkable.

When implemented well, studies have shown that homeworking options are not only popular with staff, but can dramatically improve productivity whilst saving time and money. But not all companies or projects are suited to dispersed workforces; whereas individual tasks are easier to complete without office distractions, work that needs constant collaboration between team members can be tricky. When just one or two team members work remotely full time, this can lead to alienation and hostility.

There’s no doubt that cloud computing can have enormous benefits, but navigating through the options and avoiding the pitfalls can be a headache. To help you get the most out of the cloud, here are our top five tips for SMEs:

 

1. Think carefully about your business structure, objectives and regulations.

When choosing specific software and platforms, you’ll need to bear in mind how much control you need over the data and how secure you need it to be. If you store sensitive client information, you may need to comply with industry-specific regulations.

It’s important to remember that the servers that actually store information may be in a different country to where the cloud services company is trading, so always make sure you know what you’re signing up to. Providers such as Sentronex can ensure that, for example, US data is kept in the US, separate from UK data, circumventing many data protection headaches.

 

2. Explore options that include software.

An increasing number of cloud computing options offer flexible, cost-effective ways of purchasing high-end software. Adobe’s Creative Cloud, for example, operates a subscription model, giving design and creative teams access to the full suite of latest Adobe applications. These include Photoshop, AfterEffects and InDesign alongside newer, lesser-known ones like Muse, a web design programme that requires no coding experience. Software updates are provided automatically, the entire Creative Cloud suite can be downloaded to any computer the subscriber is working on and, at £47 per month for an individual subscription, the financial hit is more manageable than usual £2645 Creative Suite price tag.

 

3. Focus on solutions that speed up payments and operations.

As well as creating a more mobile workforce, many cloud computing systems can make the actual workflows more streamlined. For example, Intuit’s Quickbooks online accounting system allows users to quickly create quotes and invoices, send these directly to clients by email and view the progress of payments. These kinds of features help SMEs to keep on top of payments, improving cash flow and creating more time to focus on growing their business.

 

4. Get everyone on board.

Like any IT system, cloud computing can only be effective if everyone uses it properly. If half the workforce are saving important documents onto their desktop, or the product and service costs are out of date in your invoicing system, your cloud-based systems will be worse than useless and the system will quickly fall apart. To make your switch a success, you’ll need to ensure that users of the system are comfortable and engaged with the processes and the benefits involved. You’ll also need to work closely with in-house and external developers, IT support and any other partners that help to manage ticketing, billing and other services.

 

5. Try before you buy.

Most cloud computing services offer free trials or allow you to sign up on a monthly subscription, allowing you to test a solution for a few months without committing to expensive long-term contracts. Be cautious – don’t rush in and upload everything, or restructure your entire workflow, until you’re sure it offers everything you need!