More than half a decade after the term cloud computing was coined, millions of businesses around the world are using hosted services to add value to their operations. The cloud has been a truly game-changing innovation for companies of all sizes, causing a significant culture shift within the IT sector and business as a whole. Whereas companies once prided themselves on the scale of their in-house IT infrastructure, they are now racing to reduce it in favour of an online service delivery model.
In many respects, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) stand to benefit the most from cloud-based technologies. Facing tough budgetary constraints, it has not always been easy for start-ups and even established small firms to take advantage of information technology. But all this has changed with the advent of the cloud. Working in conjunction with a third-party specialist, SMBs now have every opportunity to add value with IT.
Here are five main ways in which cloud computing can benefit small businesses:
Reduce IT costs
The vast majority of SMBs operate with limited budgets, and that's before you even get to the funds set aside for information technology. Larger companies may have the resources to invest in their own server rooms, data centres and other in-house infrastructure, but few SMBs are in such a position. But nowadays this matters little. Sourcing IT services online from a third-party provider means there is little need for capital investment in expensive hardware and software - cloud customers simply pay for access on a per-use basis. Funds that would previously have been used to assemble IT infrastructure can be diverted into other areas.
Use more advanced solutions
An associated benefit of sourcing IT services from a third-party cloud provider is that SMBs are able to use the latest solutions on offer in their field. Cloud vendors are naturally incentivised to offer market-leading technologies to customers - if they don't invest, then end-users will simply move to a rival provider who does. This means that, despite being a subscriber rather than an 'IT owner', SMBs can use advanced solutions which would previously have been beyond their price range. This is further helping to level the playing field with larger businesses, giving small firms the chance to be more competitive.
Improve IT security
Cloud vendors' business models are reliant upon delivering IT services to their customers 24/7, and ensuring the security of connections and data. One single data breach could destroy a company's reputation, and cause it to lose its entire customer base. As such, cloud providers take every precaution where physical and IT security is concerned. These companies invest heavily guarding their IT infrastructure, ensuring every effort is made to fend off online attacks. Each SMB that runs its own IT infrastructure in-house is responsible for IT security, and as a standalone firm, they do not benefit from economies of scale. Can a small company, operating in isolation, afford to spend as much on security solutions as a cloud provider with thousands of customers? In almost every instance, the answer to this question is a resounding no.
Greater agility and flexibility
SMBs are by nature nimble companies, able to respond quickly to changing trends and market developments. This potentially gives them an advantage over their larger and more cumbersome rivals. Cloud services can help SMBs become more agile, with employees freed up to work from various locations, not merely in the office. If the business owner is out meeting a potential new customer or partner, they can use cloud services to carry on working while on the train, bus, or in a taxi. With online services at their disposal, SMB leaders and employees can maximise the use of their working day, ensuring they work as productively as possible. Company bosses can also work online at evenings and weekends if required, without having to leave the family behind and head into the workplace.
Ensure business continuity
In the cloud age, it is easy to back up important files, documents and data online, which can be a life-saver for SMBs in the event of some form of disaster. In the event of fire, flood, technology breakdown or hardware theft - indeed any event which prevents the company from accessing its premises or IT - key information is still available online. It can be accessed from any location with an internet connection, providing the person accessing it has the necessary administration rights and password. Cloud services can also ensure continuity of operations during periods of extreme weather, such as when snow and ice grip the UK. SMB leaders and employees may not be able to make it into the office, but they can carry on working from home nonetheless.
Find out more about the potential benefits of Microsoft cloud services, and the different options available to small businesses.
Posted by Alex Boardman