Cloud Applications Essential to SMB Operations

By: Jack M.Germain

Cloud technology is rapidly becoming a hugely successful strategy for SMBs. Cloud adoption is at an all-time high and is still growing. This app-awareness guide for SMB owners can help you avoid potential stumbling blocks for adjusting to business life in the cloud.

Shifting to doing business in the cloud often involves SMBs adapting to replacement applications for legacy software. The shrink-wrapped packages of disks you purchased for your office computers at the electronics big-box store are a misfit in the cloud.

Computing in the cloud differs from on-premises computing. A new generation of cloud business apps replaces your on-premises software. Instead of buying and installing packaged computing tools, you use an internet connection and a few monthly subscriptions.

There are plenty of cloud-based solutions available on the market, agreed George Tatar, founder of cloud app developer Akruto, Inc. This software inventory provides something not possible in stand-alone software: manageability.

“Almost every modern cloud service provider has its own easy-to-use web-based user interface that allows you to quickly check status, access data, or application. That is not the case when you have servers in your office with all these interfaces only computer geeks can manage,” he said.

What Apps You Need in the Cloud

Many SMBs need only a few basic computing tasks. But when your app needs change and your storage capacity grows, you can scale your cloud space accordingly.

Chances are solid that you will already be familiar with your new cloud apps. Usually, the cloud-based app is developed by the software maker whose products you have been using on your own hardware.

If not, you will quickly adapt to apps whose look and feel are not unlike those you have been using locally. Either way, your cloud-based software will be very similar to the look and feel of your stand-alone, “legacy” software.

The major difference is where the apps and your data are installed. The cloud version of the software runs through your internet connection. The program and the data it generates are stored in the cloud rather than locally on your own equipment.

Finding Software in the Cloud

Regardless of the type of business you conduct, you will have an ample supply of available cloud-based apps. Cloud apps are available in the same types of categories that you used locally.

These application categories are:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Marketing automation software
  • Accounts payable (A/P) software
  • Accounting software
  • Online marketplaces access
  • E-commerce software
  • Social Media sites access

Nix the Software Store Mentality

One major concern of cloud newcomers is worry over software services. You cannot rummage through physical store shelves in search of software titles for your business needs. Online software stores with click-to-install ease on PCs, tablets, and smartphones have made software acquisition far too simple — and selection far too overwhelming.

Relax. Your business app needs are just as easily met through your cloud provider and several third-party software services. Software as a Service (SaaS) tools are available for everything from small business accounting and human resources to email marketing and document storage.

Companies using the cloud tend to rely on an average of 16 cloud apps, according to Okta, which manages passwords and security. In a recent report, Okta listed these titles as the top five cloud apps:

  • Microsoft Office 365 is the same office suite for desktop and laptop computers used for word processing, spreadsheet, email, and presentation slides;
  • Salesforce is a CRM tool suite;
  • Box is a service for collaborating on documents and sharing files with access from all your gadgets and devices;
  • G-Suite, formerly called Google Apps, is a suite of office collaboration apps. The tool set includes email, a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, cloud storage, and calendar;
  • SAP Concur is a travel and expense report app.

Still concerned about finding software for your cloud operation? Do not worry. You can get everything you need for your SMB computing task from these cloud-based business app repositories:

  • Salesforce AppExchange provides a detailed list of SaaS apps designed for small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • GetApp offers a diversified catalog of cloud-based apps. It categorizes apps into handy groups such as CRM, Project Management, Help Desk, Human Resources, Email Marketing, Professional Services Automation, Billing and Invoicing, Field Service Management, and Learning Management System.

Assess Cloud App Suitability

When you review cloud computing solutions, you need to evaluate if those solutions are the right option for your business both now and in the future, suggested Ray McKenzie, founder and principal at Red Beach Advisors. “Always verify that data inputted into cloud computing solutions can be exported to other solutions if a change has to be made.”

Another must-do preparation before adopting any cloud app is to make sure that the data it handles and stores is always secure. It is imperative that cloud computing environments be secure and compliant. This ensures the highest level of security for the businesses data and user privacy, noted McKenzie.

His management consulting group focuses on successful growth strategies. He also preaches the need for companies that use cloud computing solutions to review their service providers’ security levels and compliance every six months. Cloud security is not an environment where you set it up and then forget it.

“Companies should also evaluate vendors to ensure their products and services are best of breed and fulfill the needs of the business. The ever-changing landscape of cyber security and appropriate solutions is important to have reviewed regularly,” McKenzie added.

Cloud computing is exceptionally strong with some vendors because they have the infrastructure, intellectual knowledge, and resources to properly support their customers and their needs. This allows the vendor to manage the solution/software appropriately while providing lower costs to their customers.

The primary weakness of cloud technology is that most solutions do not fulfill the needs of all customers. Cloud technology cannot support every feature request by every customer. That reality may make some software solutions not appropriate for businesses, McKenzie advised.

Nevertheless, an SMB moving to the cloud has plenty to consider and even more to gain, especially when it comes to cloud-based business applications, whose selection, scalability and brawn are more golden goose than ugly duckling.

Please feel free to share below any comments, questions or insights about cloud-based applications for SMBs. And if you found this blog useful, consider sharing it through social media.

About the blogger: Jack M. Germain is a veteran IT journalist whose outstanding IT work can be found regularly in ECT New Network’s LinuxInsider, and other outlets like TechNewsDirectory. Jack’s reporting has spanned four decades and his breadth of It experience is unmatched. And while his views and reports are solely his and don’t necessarily reflect those of Linode, we are grateful for his contributions. He can be followed on Google+.

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