The cloud is not just about storage
— Cindy Bates is vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. SMB organization where she is responsible for the company’s end-to-end SMB sales and marketing efforts. The views expressed are her own. —
Have you ever owned something that you didn’t use to its full potential? Perhaps you have a four-wheel drive vehicle that you’ve never taken off the city streets or a digital camera you didn’t know had video capabilities.
The same phenomenon can occur with technology. Take cloud computing, for instance. By now, most small and mid-sized business (SMB) decision makers know they can use the cloud for storage. Hosts of online service providers offer space in the cloud to safely backup business data, and scores of SMBs are taking advantage of this cost-effective way to store data.
However, SMBs aren’t always aware of the cloud’s uses beyond data storage. Yet, cloud computing solutions have advanced to the point where they now provide businesses with a myriad of ways to improve operations. Here are a few examples of what else you could be doing with the cloud:
Improving communication and collaboration. Consider the communication/productivity tools you use everyday – e-mail, phone, chat, contacts, calendars, document creation software and more – deploying cloud-based versions of these programs can give you access to enterprise-level capabilities. You’ll also be well taken care of when it comes to daily troubleshooting as well as more involved IT issues. Instead of worrying about how much it’s going to cost to get support for a critical IT issue that evolves over the weekend, your subscription to the online service may afford you the ability to call a support line and get help within minutes, or reach out to your IT partner for expert help in navigating your issue.
Aisle 7, a marketing services firm based in Portland, Oregon, recently deployed cloud-based productivity software, much to the delight of its employees. Providing powerful integration among all productivity programs, the software helps Aisle 7’s workers save time and communicate more efficiently. They enjoy advanced functionalities that make it easier to see if colleagues are available to collaborate, have Web conferencing tools at their fingertips and can even request time off from any location with an Internet connection. Additionally, the company’s sole IT representative now has a reduced workload and can direct more of his attention to more strategic business priorities.
Creating a better technology platform. If your business provides a Web service to customers or clients, you have a tremendous opportunity to transition your technology platform to the cloud for greater flexibility and reliability. Moving applications to the cloud allows you to scale them up or down depending on your business needs and gives your developers more choice in where and how they manage, deploy and store data.
Seattle, Washington-based Arzeda, a four-person biotech startup highly dependent on the ability to process large amounts of data, opted for a cloud-based operating system. Leaving infrastructure management in the hands of its cloud-service provider has given Arzeda a competitive advantage – with such a small employee base, any time spent dealing with IT issues can create a setback in business development. By opting for a cloud-based operating system, Arzeda also gained more computing power, which allows its workers to focus less on datacenter acquisition/management and more on driving research.
Sustaining a remote workforce. As gas prices are beginning to climb, one of the greatest benefits of the cloud is anytime, anywhere availability for the workforce so in-person meetings and routine business travel can be kept to a minimum. Workers can access e-mail, documents, calendars and more, as well as collaborate with colleagues through document-sharing programs and video conferencing technology, essentially experiencing “in-office” scenarios wherever they have access to an Internet connection.
This benefit enables businesses to improve remote working programs and even the flexibility to hire remote expertise who never need to set foot in their employers’ headquarters. For example, Bradshaw & Weil, a financial and insurance services firm based in Paducah, Kentucky recently switched to cloud-based productivity software and now has the potential to support adding an additional branch at no additional IT support cost, thanks to the cloud’s ability to provide affordable anywhere access.
As you evaluate how your business could be taking greater advantage of the cloud, keep in mind that cloud computing solutions can, and should, seamlessly integrate with existing technology investments. With the cloud, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing and in fact, it’s the power of integration that makes cloud computing so effective.
In a recent survey sponsored by Microsoft, 27 percent of IT decision makers at SMBs said they bought into cloud services because it integrates with existing technology investments, underscoring the increasing awareness among SMBs that the cloud can meet your unique business needs and mesh with existing resources.
So don’t let the cloud become your underused all-terrain vehicle. Instead, take some time to learn how much more it could be helping your business.