Resolving Fears About The Cloud: What Is It, And What Can It Do For Your Growing Business?

What is “the cloud” and what can it do for your business? Assuming the cloud has some benefit, would you have to reorganise much of your company, or re-train your staff? And are the contracts with the cloud provider straightforward, above-board, and advantageous to you?

The cloud is one of the major technological forces that’s fundamentally leveling the playing field for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In this series (part 1 of 3) I’m going to outline four clear advantages that cloud technology gives SMEs — speed of adaptability (vital in today’s world), cost-effectiveness, automation to save time and focus on growth, and real-time data for better collaboration. I’ll show that the commonly-raised concerns about the cloud (such as about security and SLAs) are understandable but groundless.

To be sure, the cloud is not for everyone — and I’ll list some of the criteria for your suitability in this blog series — but for those companies who are a good match, I will show why now is the time to look into adopting the cloud.

Cloud trends: what’s coming

Cloud technology is giving SMEs an ever-expanding array of sophisticated, inexpensive business applications that come with tremendous computing power and virtually infinite storage space.

To use the cloud just means that your business data is stored on remote servers. (It’s called the “cloud” because when engineers were drawing the schematics of server networks they would draw circles around the server icons, which tended to be clustered together, and clusters of these overlapping circles resembled clouds.)

Salesforce have put together a great microsite on the cloud if you want more info on its history and what exactly it is.

Cloud adoption is growing fast. The analyst firm Gartner predicted (correctly) that 2016 would be a “defining year” for the cloud as “cutting-edge technology will get more sophisticated in the years to come.” In Western Europe approximately 64% of SMEs are using cloud software (using an average of three applications), 88% of SMEs are considering purchasing cloud solutions over the next 2–3 years, and the SME cloud market is forecasted to grow by over 70% by 2017. In the US, 78% of SMEs are predicted to be using the cloud by 2020. And by 2018 cloud usage among UK businesses is predicted to rise to 85%.

The cloud is here to stay. The reason is simple: it works. As long as SMEs avoid certain pitfalls, which I’ll get into later, they have an incredible opportunity in front of them to improve cost-effectiveness, adapt faster to change, save time on admin, and collaborate more effectively.

Where the cloud can help

A smorgasbord of cloud-based services are available (including hybrid, public, private, SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS; here’s a good infographic that helps clarify them). I won’t go into this alphabet soup of clouds here, but I’ll sketch an outline of some common categories that cloud software can help your business with:

Marketing (such as platforms to manage email campaigns and, say, social media customer care)

Accounting (such as invoicing and cashflow management based on real-time data and automation)

IT support (such as backup and disaster recovery services)

Collaboration (such as conferencing, Instant Messaging, desktop sharing, and document sharing)

Managing customers (such as secure, customisable CRM software)

Employing staff (such as HR and payroll)

Project management (such as approval workflows, KPIs, and scoping tools).

Why use the cloud for any of this, and not physical servers on your own premises? One reason is cost effectiveness: The cloud can significantly reduce your operational expenses. There are lower maintenance costs, fewer IT requirements, and you use less power and less rack space, all of which can add up to considerable (and invaluable) long-term savings. 82% of companies (surveyed here) have saved on costs by using the cloud. But a bigger reason is that cloud technology is uniquely positioned to enable you to…

Adapt and grow faster

When using the cloud you access the technology (and your data) through a web browser or a mobile app (and the service is usually available on a pay-as-you-go basis.) You purchase it online instantly— you don’t need to buy any hardware, or install and update any software, or waste time fixing bugs, or deal with crashed hard-drives or computer theft or lost documents.

The cloud takes care of it all: the server, software, storage, network, disaster recovery, firewall details, and the day-to-day admin of software updates, security updates, and system maintenance. This frees up your in-house teams to focus on high-value work that makes an impact.

Your data is accessible wherever you are, and (contrary to some misconceptions that I’ll discuss in part 2) your data in the cloud is extremely safe and secure.

Charles Darwin’s (somewhat influential) idea

Did you know that of all the species that have ever existed on Earth, over 99.9% of them have gone extinct? Countless books have been written on why, but the short answer is that the environment changed and the species didn’t.

Charles Darwin may not have known that his words would be so applicable to business and marketing:

Businesses also go extinct if they don’t adapt to a changing environment, but they have an advantage that the unlucky species didn’t: businesses can adapt and evolve in real time.

The cloud gives you the tools you need to adapt and evolve in real time to changes in the market and to changing needs within your company. Scale up or down your bandwidth demands as needed; pay only for the resources you need.

The cloud gives you real-time insights that make sense of your data and the marketplace, such as visualised financial performance comparable over time. You can also deploy the technology faster and respond faster to change than larger, more established companies.

How so? You can quickly and easily integrate other cloud applications, such as your accounting platform with your CRM, and (just as easily and quickly) remove them as necessary. You can start small and then grow with the cloud — or scale back — as needed, whether that’s with the package type, storage, CPU, RAM, networking capacity, or access controls. This allows you to create a unique ecosystem of adjustable functionality tailored to your business needs.

This represents the shift towards “liquid” applications or modular technologies (and away from legacy technologies that will soon probably baffle modern children). More and more companies are opting not to add new app functions themselves; they hire third-party cloud providers (who offer the applications as part of a preconfigured system). Uber, for example, share their app components with various customers such as TripAdvisor and Starbucks.

The cloud enables you to synchronise real-time data across different functions (such as invoicing and e-commerce) and it allows you to vastly reduce time spent on tedious admin tasks by automating them. (59% of cloud-using SMEs report significant benefits in productivity from IT services compared to 30% of SMEs not using the cloud.)

Not too many of us take pleasure in fixing duplicate data entry, or entering repetitive manual data, or correcting human error, or playing catch up with outdated data, or struggling to collect information from a maze of fragmented departments. The cloud helps take this away.

How to avoid falling behind

In short, cloud technology is inherently more agile and more scalable. The cloud accelerates service deployment, improves governance control, reduces costs, provides real-time high-quality data, automates routine tasks, offers transparency and insight, and provides excellent security (see part 2 of this series).

As the cloud becomes an increasingly dominant fixture of the business landscape (affecting most of the industries nestled within it), bear in mind that the sooner you start exploring its benefits the better. Playing catch up is rarely fun and it gets harder, and more daunting, the longer you leave it. In today’s technology-saturated era, inert businesses will die out. Just one passionate advocate for agile technology can revive an otherwise moribund business.

To avoid falling behind, don’t put it off: Invest time in learning about the cloud’s features and benefits and start asking trusted experts for advice on how your business can take advantage of it. Tap into the books and sites and talks from people you trust and respect; learn all you can about your business and about advances in cloud technology you can capitalise on. The time and effort put into learning about the intersection of business and technology will pay off tremendously.

To be sure, nobody should just dive into the cloud; there are particular deployment steps to take as well as strategic considerations that will influence how you go about it. This will be covered in part 2, stay tuned!

*This article originally appeared here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/resolving-fears-cloud-how-build-your-sme-growth-jason-mitchell?trk=prof-post