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While business owners need to keep an eye on the bright shiny objects rolling across their screens— the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, wearable technology—it is more important to discern and embrace those technology forces that are already fundamentally altering the business landscape. One of those is the rise and ubiquitous reach of cloud computing. "Small Business Success in the Cloud," a recent study by Intuit and Emergent Research, indicated that the cloud "is redefining the small business playing field." The study projects that 78 percent of small businesses will be relying on cloud technology within five years, in contrast to the 37 percent that currently do so.
“The cloud” is a shorthand way of saying: “a program or information that is housed and accessed via the internet, rather than on local computers or networks.” Not too long ago, if you wanted to run a computer program—whether word processing or payroll—you had to buy the software and install it on a specific computer or network of computers within your business.
Local installation meant a small business was required to sink significant funds into a program that might not meet the business needs in a few years. The small business owner then had to play the “on-call IT guy” and hassle with installing programs, fixing issues and doing the (expensive) upgrades. Plus, that locally installed program was accessible only through the specific computers or local network, rather than via any device at any time.
Cloud technology solves those problems. Cloud-based computing:
Turns technology into a variable cost, rather than a fixed one, because many services provide monthly or usage-based pricing
Is easy to scale by adding additional users or modules to provide additional services
Gives small business access to sophisticated technology that would be out-of-reach with local/network installations
Provides on-demand support, training, and service without the need for dedicated IT resources
In sum, cloud computing better positions a small company for innovation and growth. As said Steve King of Emergent Research noted in the statement that accompanied the release of the survey noted above, "In this new landscape, many people are using the power of the cloud to re-imagine the idea of small business and create new, innovative models that work for their needs."
Although the cloud encompasses a wide variety of computing technologies, small businesses are most likely to benefit from cloud-based storage solutions (Google Drive, Dropbox) and “Software as a Service” (SaaS) applications.
SaaS programs span the range of business needs. A business owner who wishes to control costs, reduce hassle and increase the ability to respond to changes in the business will want to explore accounting, payroll, customer relation management, and project management solutions that are currently available. Having such a wide variety of vendors and programs means that savvy business owner must do research to determine which programs best meet their needs and which provide the best value. A search for the type of software you need plus the term SaaS (e.g., payroll saas) will surface reviews of the top-ranked products. Alternatively, GetApp, which includes products and services from over 1,800 vendors, can help you locate applications that might fit your business needs.
It appears increasingly evident that it is no longer sensible to ask: “Should my small business move to the cloud?” Instead, the focus must be on defining an overall strategy to control costs, streamline processes, enhance customer service and drive innovation by deploying cloud-based technology solutions.