By Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech
I’ve heard about the cloud but it’s not really for us, is it?
Cloud services are here to stay until the next major technology innovation comes along. If you are not taking full advantage of cloud technology you are spending too much money on IT. Cloud computing is not do it yourself computing, you need a partner. Most small business computer support teams haven’t moved to the cloud either. Shame on them for not going there and taking you with them.
A Brief History
Remember 4-5 years ago? Your cell phone was used to make telephone calls; your TV was used to watch movies – DVDs and Cable; your computer was for typing, spreadsheets, email and accessing information; and tablets were the new next thing. At that time devices were content specific, meaning that you couldn’t put a DVD into your phone, make a phone call on your TV, or if you wanted to check email you needed a computer.
As devices and tablets progressed, especially smartphones, we wanted to access the same stuff on different devices. Enter the cloud. Cloud based email can now be accessed on our phones, tablets, computers, even your TV. We now watch movies from just about anywhere and music can be played on just about any device at anytime.
How did this happen? Content and personal information, like email, contacts, movies, music, and photos are now saved in the cloud and can be accessed by any device that can connect to the Internet, which means just about any electronic device you own. The business community soon figured out that they could keep their information on the cloud too and make it easily accessible by all employees virtually anywhere.
As cloud service matured, it became more and more apparent that information and resources we use to operate our businesses could also be saved on the cloud. Working from home or while sitting on the beach becomes more attractive and possible when that information can be accessed over an Internet connection.
Currently, HCS Tech is run exclusively on the cloud. Internally we use Google Apps and Google Drive to share and collaborate on projects. My Quickbooks is on the cloud, so is access to my bank records. The mission critical software we use for work tickets, invoicing, and repair history is a cloud based application. As a tech based company, we only use local servers when we need storage to backup and transfer data on a customer repair.
There are several advantages to using cloud based software. First of all, you do not have to maintain a server, storage devices, etc. to run the application. If the application is in the cloud the service provider is handling all of the hardware components.
You will always be running the latest version. Companies that offer cloud based applications keep them up to date. They only need to update their web version of the software instead of figuring out how to distribute upgrades to all of their users.
Access from anywhere. If you have an Internet connection, you can access the software. This access is typically from any device. The better cloud applications have phone and tablet apps specifically for access, but even if they don’t you can get by using the browser on your smart device or tablet.
Reduce overall costs and downtime
By not having to maintain hardware on your premise you immediately cut down on operating costs and of course any capital expense on equipment purchases. Cloud providers also have multiple redundancy which means it is unlikely that their servers would ever go down, or go down for an extended period.
The cloud provider is also using very high level anti-virus and security protection, beyond what you would probably be able to afford on your customer premise equipment.
Anti-virus, security, and redundancy at a higher level also means you have disaster recovery and business continuity built into your solution. Most cloud providers will have redundant sites in geographically diverse locations. Your data is also being stored on these diverse servers so you can sleep well at night knowing that the thunderstorm outside your house is not going to knock out your server at work leaving you with a big headache in the morning.
Work from Anywhere
Let me mention again about working from anywhere. While checking email while you’re at the beach is convenient what really is productive is off site employees being able to stay connected and providing real time data.
I just had an appointment with a company that does disaster restoration. By using cloud based apps, their estimators can enter data while at the site, workers can refer back to data, and everyone can stay updated with the latest edits and changes. Instead of driving 60 miles back to the home office, an estimator can finish up a quote at the local coffee shop on their way home.
BYOD – Bring Your Own Device
Employees, especially younger employees, want to be able to work using their phone or tablet. With cloud computing the device being used is immaterial. You can attract a certain type of personnel and keep them happy by allowing them to use the latest and greatest devices to do their work.
I recently changed my payroll service to a cloud based application. The young sales person did everything on his smartphone and tablet, including accessing and training me on the application. I was so impressed with him I offered him a job! (He was too happy where he was, I wonder why?)
If you have employees on the road, whether they are selling, estimating, providing services, or other tasks, they can continue to collaborate with other company resources while on the road. Of course this type of collaboration has been going on for quite some time the the ubiquity of email, but take it to the next level. The salesman on the road can get the up to the second pricing and share a document with internal sales in order to get proposals completed in a timely manner.
Cloud computing also makes it easier to collaborate with your customers and your up and down stream supply chain providers. I use a cloud based procurement application to get and fulfill orders with our local school district, my accountant has access to my payroll application and Quickbooks because all they need is a login, and my multiple vendors (we shop around the Internet to get the best pricing on parts) use PayPal one of the biggest and most successful cloud based apps for taking and making payments.
Get your head in the clouds
Cloud services are here to stay. Too many of my competitors are still persisting on selling their customers expensive servers to do work that is much more efficient and cheaper to do in the cloud. If your provider is not offering you cloud based solutions, find one that is. Yes sometimes you will need a server(s) in your small business, but if your business is like mine, you can operate it virtually from anywhere while at the same time reducing overall operating costs and downtime by going exclusively to the cloud.