Look – up in the sky – it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a system of operating and data storage that can transform the way you do business. Many businesses have adopted cloud computing in their operations in the past few years. Once used primarily by large companies with a lot to store or services to manage, the benefits of the cloud are now being made accessible to smaller enterprises. Time to explore how the cloud can be of benefit to your small to medium enterprise and what you need to know to migrate your data or to hold off until your business is ready to be high in the sky.
What The Cloud?
Cloud computing or on-demand computing as it is sometimes called refers to a system of using computer services over the internet. Where you may have a stack of servers on a rack, or a heap of software to install and maintain, the cloud offers you access to software on the internet as a service paid via a monthly or annual fee, maintained and updated by the cloud provider.
Cloud computing is also a safe way of storing and sharing data, protected by large companies like Amazon, Microsoft or Google with serious security fire power. Cloud based services can be accessed from anywhere on any device, which makes management and admin of your business easier and more agile. Third party clouds are known as public clouds, which are where most businesses start using a fee-for-service solution and available to anyone. You can also have cloud capacity built in-house in a private cloud, and use a multi-cloud approach. Let’s look more specifically at what moving to the cloud can offer your business:
Cost Saving: Establishing and running a data center in your business is expensive. You need to purchase the right equipment and hire technicians to install and manage the center. When you shift to cloud computing, you will only pay for the services procured. Providers charge cloud computing services based the features, storage, number of users, time, and memory space among other factors. Hence, you can choose a package that suits your budget.
Mobility and Agility: One of the major benefits of cloud computing is mobility. Having your data in the cloud gives you and your employees the flexibility to work from any location. Employees can complete their tasks at home or from the field and are not tied to devices. Cloud computing enables you to monitor the operations in your business effectively. You just need a fast internet connection to get real time updates of all operations.
Simplified Scalability: Keeping up with the growth of your business can be expensive, anticipating how much storage and licenses you’ll need as your business expands, and sometimes contracts along the way. Scaling cloud computing services removes any anticipation or scrambling to expand, you can get additional storage space or features whenever you need them. Your provider will simply upgrade your package within minutes and you will have total visibility on what the additional cost is.
No Plan B: Traditional computing systems require back up plans especially for data storage. A disaster can lead to permanent data loss if no backup is in place, and the costs and strategic planning for this often isn’t top of mind for small business, which can lead to disaster for business continuity if there is a disaster. When storing data on a cloud, the data will always be available as long as users have an internet connection. Spill a coffee on your laptop? Bummer, but your data is still safe and dry. Cloud computing services are backup for your data AND a plan for disaster recovery.
Safe and Sound: With the capacity and craftiness of those who seek to peek at your data, or worse steal it and compromise your operations, storing data on the cloud is safer than storing it on physical servers and data centers. Much of the issues that plague small to medium businesses are a result of security breaches through disgruntled employees or simple human error. A breach of security at your premises can be a serious headache if laptops or computers are stolen. Breaching the security measures on cloud platforms are difficult. Hence, you are assured of data security and can delete any confidential information remotely, change passwords or move it to a different account. You can also set up alerts to let you know if any funny business is going on, plus you are protected by the providers far bigger investment in cyber protection. (For more on cyber security tips for your small business, have a listen to the Digital Ready Podcast with Andrew Quill from AQ Security)
Document Control: The more employees and partners collaborate on documents, the greater the need for watertight document control. Before the cloud, your staff and contractors had to send files back and forth, sooner or later, and usually sooner – you’ve got a mess of conflicting file content, formats and titles.
As even the smallest companies become more spread out geographically or use gig economy talent, the scope for complication rises. When you make the move to cloud computing, all files are stored centrally and everyone has one source of the truth. Greater visibility means improved collaboration, which ultimately means better work and a healthier bottom line.
Should you Migrate?
Does that mean the cloud is right for every business? Maybe not. But the reality is you’re probably already doing it. If you are using Xero or MYOB as an accounting package, Slack or Yammer to chat with staff, Facebook for marketing, online banking, Google as a backend, Squarespace for web hosting, Amazon Web Services or Google or Apple for data storage or a host of other offerings charging you a fee-for-service to use their products, you are already on your way to being in the cloud. The majority of products and services these days are born cloud, as businesses recognise there are many benefits from being able to choose the service providers with the best features and rates for the service that your business needs.
When looking at your business and a cloud transition strategy, the first step is to work out what parts of your business are already in the cloud and what aren’t but could be, and how you might time the movement of data if that’s what you decide to do. Every business should determine what it hopes to gain from a cloud transition over a period of time. There’s often a benefit with cloud computing, but not always, and understanding the benefits to your business will allow you to make a smooth move without any disruption to service or data loss.
You can improve the level of efficiency, increase productivity, and save costs by moving your business to cloud computing (and even the environment gets a gentle carbon footprint reduction by using the cloud). The best approach is to shift the operations gradually to avoid data losses or manipulation during the shift. Compare different service providers and their range of services to pick the right provider. Your experience and ability to enjoy the benefits depend on your choice of a service provider. Ask for referrals from other business owners or conduct a thorough background check to get the best cloud computing services.
The Cloud and Cyber Security
The Australian Cyber Security Centre has created this discussion paper to assist organisations to perform a risk assessment to determine the viability of using cloud computing services. The document provides an overview of cloud computing and associated benefits. Most importantly, this document provides a list of thought provoking questions to help organisations understand the risks that need to be considered when using cloud computing. You can find the discussion paper here.