Project Management & Planning Articles

Getting Ready for the Cloud: 5 Tips for SMBs Looking for Cloud-Based Services

by Michele Nachum
Published on 7 June 2011

SMBs are turning to cloud applications in greater numbers than ever before. After all, cloud computing applications can lower IT costs, increase productivity and even offer a more secure solution for storing mission-critical work product.

Cloud computing has truly been a blessing for the SMB market as it has opened up doors to applications that were once only used by the enterprise market with deeper pockets and larger IT departments.

Now the cloud has made so many different types of applications both scalable and affordable for SMBs of practically any size. Sophisticated CRM apps; access to email and other productivity applications from the internet; accounting software; time tracking solutions; internet marketing applications; online project management software - the list of cloud-based products on the market is endless.

Using cloud-based applications also means less storage space for servers, and less up-front IT costs to manage and watch your network.

Given all of opportunities that cloud computing provides, there are still many SMBs that have not yet taken advantage of the cloud. Some are worried. What might that mean to all of the hardware and software they are currently use? "…Keep in mind that it's not an either-or decision," Mikal Belicove wrote in Entrepreneur Magazine. "You can continue to use the software you've already invested in while combining them with cloud-based services."

But before strapping on your wings and throwing your lot in with the cloud, here are some points to consider :

1. Know Your IT Assets :

Whether you have a 10 employees or a 1,000, you need to first take heed of what you already have in terms of your IT assets. Understanding your current IT infrastructure will help you determine your IT needs. This is easy if your network consists of five computers. But for larger businesses with possibly hundreds of computers it will be critical so you do not sign on for redundant cloud-based solutions.

  • Understand what kind of bandwidth your network currently provides. If you are going to move your IT solutions into the cloud, you'll want to have the proper amount of bandwidth so that the applications run smoothly and continuoulsy.
  • If most of your applications are stored on local servers, you might look for solutions that can import your data or work with your current IT infrastructure so you do not need to start from scratch. If your business already has servers in place, many cloud computing vendors and applications can help you set up a "hybrid" option.

2. Determine your business needs :

This may sound simplistic, but understanding your company's needs is probably the most important step. For example, do you have employees that travel on a regular basis? If so, are they able to access their work email and documents no matter where they are? If not, this is an area where cloud computing can help. There are several small business solutions that combine resources such as access to email and productivity applications that can all be accessed with an internet connection.

You may want to use cloud computing for specific tasks. For example, does your business need a more efficient way to capture finances? If your employees are still entering finances on Excel spreadsheets - you might find an accounting software that can store your financials and help you create reports without distributing multiple spreadsheets around on non-secure email channels.

If your business is an advertising agency or a law firm that bills clients by the hour, you may look for a cloud-based solution that can automate your entire time tracking software.

3. Do the research :

The good news is there are a lot of quality cloud computing solutions out there for your business. Bad news. There is a LOT out there and it can be overwhelming.

Once you have a good understanding of your current IT assets and business needs, you then can pinpoint what type of apps might work for your company. This is where you (or your IT experts) need to take some time to research. The blog, of course, is an excellent place to begin as nearly every type of business application is represented and meticulousy reivewed.

However, you should also research what your competitors are using. How are those companies making their IT resources work for them? In addition, peruse the small business blogs and technical publications that also review and discuss how SMBs are using technologies to run their businesses.

4. Try it out for free:

Most cloud computing applications offer free trials for a short period of time. Try two or three applications before signing on the dotted line.

5. Ask the right questions:

Belicove writes in Entrepreneur Magazine that you should learn about the following:

  • How reliable are the online services that you intend to use? Belicove notes that "…a cloud-based service provider should offer assurances of a 99.9 percent uptime with exemplary security and privacy offerings."
  • Another important question, ask about their security policies. Luckily, incidents of hacking is more the exception than the rule, but it never hurts to do the research and ask the hard questions.

Bottom line, cloud-based services are becoming the norm as more businesses of all sizes discover the many benefits of " software as a service." Determining your current IT assets, business needs, plus doing the research may pay off in droves as you transition your current IT infrastructure into a service based network.