cindy bates– 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.