by Mike Doyle
Published on 10 July 2012
Running a small or medium-sized enterprise presents a number of unique challenges which larger businesses may not face. The size and scale of your operation can impose serious constraints on specific aspects of your daily workings: from purchasing and data management to customer care.
And the current financial climate goes no way to alleviating any of the most pressing concerns of entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Traditional loans providers are offering fewer opportunities and consumers are spending less.
Now more than ever, it is up to business leaders themselves to take measures that will ensure the long-term survival of their enterprise.
And efficiency savings are crucial to this sustainability. One of the most cost-efficient ways to do this can be found in the latest generation of IT products: cloud computing systems.
The idea of cloud computing is by no means a new one. It has been a popular approach to data management and connectivity for several years now, and most web users are familiar with some of the commercial products from major players such as Google's Cloud Storage, Amazon Web Services, and Windows SkyDrive. But, the recent boom in online storage and real-time document editing services has allowed both developers and businesses to work together to identify and create a new line of products: all of which provide a very modern approach to the most essential administrative and logistical tasks.
So how does cloud computing work; how does it change the office experience; and how in particular is this latest generation technology beneficial to the small businesses which fuel our economy?
Most simply explained, cloud computing provides your business with the software, database, web capacity and server space solutions it requires, but via the Internet. Cloud computing is a remotely-managed service which means that it eliminates the need for expensive servers within your own company's premises, as well as the costly maintenance that such equipment typically requires.
Cloud infrastructures offer substantial cost-reduction opportunities to smaller businesses, thanks mainly to the unique way they are organized. The business world may appear unfavorably positioned against small businesses, but the nature of cloud computing means that any number of small businesses will share the same resources. In doing so, small businesses will find that cloud computing allows a "cloud" of small companies to unlock the economies of scale usually only available to much larger corporations. You collectively pay for a slice of the cloud providers' hardware, storage and services, allowing you to compete in a global market on more even terms.
The second crucial cost saving is in the incremental nature of the service charges. When your company utilities the cloud for its storage and data management solutions, you will always pay only for the required amount of storage capacity. This solves one of the greatest problems facing small businesses when it comes to IT resources. When your current on-site server is reaching full capacity, it was previously necessary to upgrade with new disk arrays providing extra blocks of storage. Never again will you have to purchase empty storage capacity which may remain unused for long periods. As your business needs change, so too does your cloud infrastructure service, and charges will always reflect consumption directly.
Flexibility is one of the greatest strengths of cloud computing. It is adaptive and responds in real-time to the demands of the network. From web security systems like CloudFlare, to network allocation programs such as Microsoft's Azure, cloud computing can automatically react to the demands of your business. These services will maintain your web presence throughout periods of heavy traffic, preventing downtime when you need your website functioning the most.
The potential benefits of these powerful tools to smaller businesses should not be overlooked. Customer relations management (CRM) products have been revolutionized by cloud computing. A company of any size can now access and manage their entire customer base via the cloud. There is no need to own or install complex or expensive new software. And even the most advanced CRM services can be accessed through standard web browsers.
Small businesses subscribe to these CRM services, usually on a monthly basis, and in return they can access CRM programs which allow them to advertise, offer technical support, or allocate stock as required. For instance, the potential of a small business equipped with a contact manager system can mean ascertaining your customers' buying patterns and requirements and preparing accordingly: allowing you to deliver a quality service ahead of your competitors.
Traditionally, the main setback for small businesses looking to overhaul their IT systems was the expensive technical know-how that was required. Now, more and more cloud services provide a managed add-on to allow the less technologically-minded business leaders to exploit the benefits of cloud computing without necessarily having the in-house expertise to develop their own cloud applications. This even extends to hosting and server businesses looking to extend their product offering. As an example, companies such as Elastic Hosts offer white labelled software solutions that makes installing and setting up cloud based infrastructures seamlessly integrated with existing technology.
Adaptability and responsiveness are key to survival in these turbulent economic times. This new generation of cloud computing promises to level the playing field in many key areas of business.
From complex automated logistics to global customer care databases at the click of a button, to data storage solutions. The power of cloud computing systems is not only a great leveler, but also a remarkable efficiency saving in your IT expenditure.