Growing your business through cloud computing

In April, the Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain produced by The Open University Business School reported that more than 21% of respondents are now using ‘cloud-based’ providers to run their back office services, compared with two years ago when just 8% of respondents reported using them.

The research pointed out that the ‘smallest’ firms were first to adopt such technologies. Dr Richard Blundel, of The Open University Business School commented on the research and pointed out that, ‘These new communications technologies are enabling SME owners and managers to make radical changes to the way they do business’ and also added that, “the smallest firms are often among the most innovative in this arena, particularly in their willingness to adopt mobile internet and cloud computing.”

We are seeing this trend borne out amongst our customers too with greater numbers of companies with up to 50 employees approaching us to move their business into the cloud. Their key drivers include the desire to improve their IT performance, introduce smarter ways of working that enable greater productivity and to offer mobile working options and flexibility for employees.

Offering flexible working options is a great way for SMEs to engage their employees and keep them happy. Lloyds Commercial Banking published research this year that showed UK SMEs are leading large corporates in offering employees more flexible and home working arrangements and consequently are benefitting from having a happier, engaged and more productive workforce.

But for every cloud computing convert, there are still sceptics out there. Cloud Computing can be seen as a bit of a ‘buzz word’ and many business owners don’t fully understand what it means or how it would benefit their business. Some are also concerned about the security and the privacy of their data so are reluctant to take the plunge. As SMEs tend not to have IT specialists within their organisation many business owners don’t understand fully the risks versus the rewards.

So what is cloud computing all about? In its simplest form it involves the outsourcing of data and IT infrastructure, storage and security to a third party supplier who will host and manage it in a data centre and deliver it to users with internet access as a service.

Many organisations are already using ‘the cloud’ to some degree, even though they may not actually be aware of it. Solutions such as Hotmail’s Office 365, Google apps and drop box, all allow people to share files and enable remote working; however, there can be risks for businesses using these options including security issues. Companies won’t know where their data is held and will also be moving from their secure desktop environment to an insecure one. If their data is held in the US for example, it may come under the jurisdiction of US authorities and this may not be acceptable.

In recent months, the Information Commissioner’s Office issued a stark reminder to businesses that they are responsible for their data wherever it was held. Organisations must know where their data is held and ensure it is secure. One way to do this is to opt for a privately managed cloud computing service, such as a Desktop as a Service (DaaS), where data is managed and stored in a secure UK datacentre behind corporate grade firewalls. The provider takes care of all the data security and backups – assuming responsibility for the online and physical safety of the data. In this situation, once the customer enters his desktop, they are typically in an environment which is more secure than the previous local server set-up.

So what are the main business benefits?
Cost is perhaps the main one. If a company adopts a hosted desktop solution, they will reduce their IT administration; they also won’t need a server in the office or need to maintain a server. All their IT will be managed by a cloud computing provider who will ensure their business has the latest software and security and that all the data is backed up always and that disaster recovery is never an issue. Costs can also be managed carefully. Some providers offer a ‘pay as you go’ model enabling companies to scale up or down in terms of users in line with their needs.

Adopting a hosted desktop solution also enables more flexible working. Employees will have remote access to all their IT systems from anywhere with an internet connection. This makes working from home or on the move very easy. It is ideal for companies that use freelancers or project workers or have employees who travel a great deal. Cloud computing ensures ‘business as usual’ at such times – employees don’t need to be in the office as they are not reliant on the servers, the technology or public transport to work.

One company that has recently benefitted from moving to a hosted desktop infrastructure is CCTVenues, an independent but fast growing conference venue provider in Central London, offering training and conference venues for hire.

Technology underpins the smooth running of CCTVenues’ business, which currently operates across three locations and is soon to add a fourth. In the past, the company had invested in IT internally, dedicating a significant amount of capital expenditure to improving its technology infrastructure and employing dedicated IT resources.

James Russ, Director of Venues at CCTVenues explained, “We normally refresh our IT equipment every two years and estimated this would require a capex of £20,000. Previous experience has taught us this meant a lot of business upheaval and understanding the amount of resource and management time that is required, we wanted to explore alternatives.”

CCTVenues had partially experienced the benefits of a hosted IT infrastructure and was familiar with the Citrix environment upon which WorkplaceLive’s hosted desktop is based. After comparing a number of different cloud computing suppliers, the company appointed WorkPlaceLive as its provider.

In addition to being easier to manage and maintain, the hosted desktop solution has proven much less costly for CCTVenues, who saw a clear economy of scale from their migration to the Cloud. “We have 28 users and it is definitely cheaper to use WorkPlaceLive as an alternative to managing an internal IT infrastructure. We no longer have to pay for software licensing costs, antivirus checks, back up licenses or additional maintenance and disaster recovery services”, says James Russ. “It has also removed the headache of managing internal IT. I would be having sleepless nights worrying about backups and people being able to log on remotely and we never have this problem now.”

As a multi-site operation, CCTVenues has employees working across different locations and from home, often connecting using mobile devices. In the past, a single server supported all the users which created the risk of downtime and business grinding to a halt. Now, with a hosted desktop, if a problem should occur at one site, they can simply migrate to another and continue working as normal, with no outward disruption visible to customers.

The company was delighted that its bespoke booking application Priava and CRM systems were migrated into the system with no disruption to business operations.
“I cannot envisage returning to the old way of working and making an internal investment in IT again – moving to a hosted desktop is a long term business decision our company has made”, concludes James Russ. “We are now thinking about other services that could be moved into the Cloud and the next step will be a voice over IP (VOIP) phone system.”