Top Tips on cloud computing for small businesses

Cloud computing, or software as a service (SaaS), is when IT software and services are delivered over the web and through a browser. This transfers the responsibility for IT maintenance, software upgrades and any system issues onto the service provider, allowing enterprises to focus on their core business instead of their infrastructure. That’s why the cloud is especially appealing to small-to-medium sized businesses, which have a smaller workforce and less capacity for time-consuming and expensive IT maintenance.

Here are 10 things to consider when getting started in the cloud:

Moving to the cloud is easy: The transfer of business information into the cloud is very straightforward. There is no need to install new hardware or software as everything is run by the cloud provider.

Cost savings could be higher than you anticipate: Businesses that move to the cloud can make savings on many different levels – IT hardware and software expenditure is cut dramatically and fewer staff or support resources are needed for IT maintenance. Last September, analyst group IDC estimated that business can instantly reduce their IT spend by approx. 54% by moving to a cloud based solution.*

Improved productivity: One of the key benefits of cloud computing is that employees can access documents and emails whilst away from the office. If your business demands mobility and flexibility or you have staff keen to extend their use of home or remote working, the cloud could be a straightforward and affordable way of addressing these needs.

Greater level of security: Cloud computing can be more secure than traditional IT. It’s all about economies of scale – many established cloud suppliers employ leading security experts, invest vast amounts of money into securing their applications and develop technology beyond the means of any small business. In addition, the risk of losing confidential data on a laptop or a USB stick is also diminished, as everything is stored in the cloud and not on your devices.  (Last year a survey from CREDANT Technologies found that 55,843 mobile phones and 6,193 other devices, such as laptops, had been left in the back of London black cabs over the previous six months**. In November 2009, it found that New Yorkers forget on average around 5,000 mobile phones and more than 500 other handheld devices, including iPods, laptops and memory sticks, in the back of taxis, every month.***)

Manage the cultural adjustment: Today’s employees expect to have the same technology at work that they enjoy at home. Google designs its applications with users in mind and many staff will already be familiar with Google Mail and Google Docs. However, internal communication about the change of service and in-house training sessions will help staff to feel more comfortable using the new technology.

A more collaborative way of working: Using cloud computing applications, people can work more closely together, accessing and working in the same documents in real time – without the need for hundreds of emails with attachments. Improved knowledge sharing and communication encourages creativity amongst your employees which can help drive the business forward.

Flexibility to scale up or scale down your business: Cloud based “pay as you go” style services allow you to easily increase your use of cloud services as your business grows, or decrease your spend if you need to temporarily scale down.

Employees of tomorrow: Look at how teenagers interact – on Facebook, Bebo or MySpace – all cloud environments. These teenagers will soon become employees, accustomed  to collaborating online and accessing their data from any mobile device at hand, not expecting to work in one location and from 9 to 5.

Your business resiliency can be improved: Cloud computing providers should not only offer 24/7 support but also the increased resiliency and redundancy afforded by multiple data centres to ensure your information is always available. This means that you experience less downtime than when managing IT in-house, and any problems can be solved far quicker by being fixed centrally. IDC estimates that businesses operating in the cloud achieve 97% greater IT reliability.*

More choice: In contrast to traditional IT models which can involve expensive software licenses and long lock-in contracts, the cloud model offers far more flexibility. You can switch provider far more easily and regularly in order to get the best experience and value for money. However, it is important to check with your cloud provider as to how you retrieve data from their cloud should you choose to switch in the future.

*IDC White Paper sponsored by, Cloud Platform Drives Huge Time To Market and Cost Savings, Doc # 219965, September 2009.
** CREDANT Technologies London taxi survey 2008
*** CREDANT Technologies New York taxi survey 2009

Robert Whiteside is head of Google Enterprise in the UK, Ireland and Benelux