Get your head in the cloud: A beginner’s guide to cloud computing

Every so often a new technology comes along that proves to be a game-changer for businesses. Cloud computing is set to be one of them.
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Although the term may be somewhat nebulous, there’s nothing fuzzy about the advantages of cloud computing. Choosing to work ‘in the cloud’ instead of relying on local servers allows your staff to access files remotely or work collaboratively on documents, fostering greater productivity.

The online nature of cloud technology also eliminates storage issues, promising virtually unlimited space for backing up your data. Perhaps even more importantly, cloud computing operates on a subscription-based or software as a service (SaaS) model, a fact that lets you build scalability across your business and make adjustments according to peaks and troughs in customer demand.

Who's using the cloud

Australia is definitely a fast adopter of cloud. As a country we adopt new technology faster than many of our global peers. A recent report from International Data Corporation (IDC) confirmed Australian business’s interest in the cloud, with a third already having deployed some cloud-based applications. 

Interestingly, in Australia, accountants have been some of the most enthusiastic adopters of the cloud. Although Simeon Joyce, general manager of Telstra , Hosting and Applications, indicated that he'd also seen it adopted across all industries and in both small and businesses. He mentioned that "some of the fastest adopters of cloud are businesses needing flexibility to cope with a sudden rapid expansion, or to access the latest applications without spending time and money on upgrading their hardware."

When asked about the key drivers, Simeon said "every SMB needs to regularly refresh their IT environment, whether to replace old equipment or to take advantage of the latest technology. Making that decision today without considering the benefits of the cloud means missing out on the potential to grow their capabilities, save costs and stay competitive."  

The necessity of cloud for business owners

For Will Scully-Power, Managing Director of marketing automation and data solutions company Datarati, cloud computing is becoming an essential for business owners looking to streamline processes and optimise revenue.

“If you’re a CEO these days and don’t already have your business in the cloud for its core functions, you’re not acting in the best interests of your shareholders,” he says.

According to Scully-Power, cloud computing can be a powerful asset for almost every aspect of business, from CRM, marketing automation and email to document storage, accounts management and process design. He lists cost, value and scale as the three most important incentives for moving to the cloud. Scalability, in particular, is a bonus that small-to-medium businesses are well-placed to take advantage of.

“Cloud computing is cheaper to implement and maintain. It offer better time to value than on-premise solutions and lets you add more users to cloud-based apps as your business grows.”

And value for money is the name of the game. Simeon Joyce mentioned that in late 2011, when Telstra commissioned independent research from Castalia advisers, the results showed potential cost savings over three years of anywhere up to 70 per cent, over using traditional in-house IT services.

Here are the key factors to consider when moving your business to the cloud:

  • Security: It’s vital that you consider the security of data, devices and personal customer information when moving into the cloud. Make sure you institute a contractual agreement with your service provider that communicates exactly what they can or can’t do with your data.
  • Service-level agreements: Don’t even consider embracing the cloud without drawing up a service-level agreement with your software provider. It’s important that you have a firm understanding of how your provider plans to handle security, backup, disaster recovery and uptime before entering into a contract.
  • Cloud integration: Integrating cloud-based infrastructure with SaaS, on-site applications and data sources will give your business the competitive edge by allowing your systems to work seamlessly with clients and partners.
  • Service integration: Service integration can help prevent problems down the line by ensuring that you don’t create cloud silos, as well as improving governance and minimising risks.

Working in the cloud holds great potential, particularly for small business owners. While you will need to investigate the best cloud provider for your business, including their integration techniques and security services, the rewards on offer make adoption of this exciting technology a must for forward-thinking companies.

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