The technology environment for small business is in constant flux, and with so many changes taking place it’s essential to identify the best tools that can help your small business grow. That’s why it’s essential to choose the best solutions not only for today, but also for tomorrow. Cloud technologies offer the promise of flexibility, instant deployment, automatic updates and continual support for the right scenarios in a small business. Here are the key factors involved in the cloud revolution and where cloud applications can shine in your business.
The Promise of Cloud Applications
The present focus on cloud technologies has its roots in three key issues:
- Accessibility – First, cloud solutions allow for anywhere, anytime access, and in today’s environment that’s more essential than ever. Work that in the past tied a small business owner to his or her desk all day can now be performed anywhere, changing the game in terms of how you spend your time. In addition, cloud access makes it easier than ever to outsource, since applications are pre-configured to support new users not located at your offices.
- Timeliness – Second, cloud solutions enable streaming, real-time updates. In the pre-cloud era of client-server computing and locally installed applications, it was burdensome to update software on even a quarterly basis. Today, software features, security patches and coding updates are far too numerous to stage only for updates two or four times per year. With cloud applications, updates can be executed in real time, which improves security and stability.
- Protection – Third, cloud solutions provide protection, through database redundancy and built-in backup capabilities, as well as digital encryption and other features (often made available) that dramatically reduce your risk of ‘losing everything’ if a laptop is stolen, an office is flooded or any other calamity strikes.
Essential Business Functions that can Benefit from the Cloud
With these powerful benefits in mind, let’s look at four key applications where cloud technology should be the unquestioned go-to option for small businesses:
- Document Management & Sharing – Documents are often the lifeblood of a small business. From contracts and client agreements, to marketing data sheets and product information, your documents are an essential element of the company. Don’t leave them trapped on your local drives and servers, but instead move them to a shared cloud depository. Key products in this category include Box.com, DropBox and of course, Google Drive.
- Email and Messaging – Email has been the longstanding hold-out on moving to the cloud, but in all honesty the time is now to end that and move your email to the cloud. This could mean moving to Microsoft Office 365, but many companies are finding that Google Apps for Business with business-class Gmail is extremely powerful. Not only does cloud hosting protect your emails themselves, but it also allows you to add plugins and other widgets to enhance or integrate your email with other applications.
- Customer Relationship Management – The CRM field has continued to rapidly evolve, and looking back many would agree that Salesforce.com almost single-handedly invented the cloud application industry. Today, numerous competitors offer a variety of benefits but the key for small businesses is that cloud-hosted CRM almost always provides better mobile capabilities as well as faster data updates and record loading for accuracy and quick use. These are essential features of a robust CRM product.
- Accounting and Bookkeeping – Rounding out our list is the field of accounting and bookkeeping, which is a unique marketplace. In the U.S., nearly 85% of all small businesses rely on some version of QuickBooks from Intuit for their core accounting functions. Until recently, many accountants discouraged clients from migrating to the ‘native cloud’ version of the product, known as QuickBooks Online, because it was not robust enough. Today, some small businesses can certainly make the leap but for others, simply moving QuickBooks from a local computer to a cloud server can mark a huge step forward. In addition, there’s a rapidly growing ecosystem of third-party products like Expensify that exist in the cloud and can add functionality and convenience to your QuickBooks environment. Another consideration is products such as Xero, which are more recent entrants and were built native to the cloud from scratch.
Across the board, cloud computing is revolutionizing the flexibility, convenience, security and mobility of small business operations and activities. Review these four key areas today to identify opportunities for enhanced efficiency and results that you can achieve by embracing cloud solutions for more and more functions at your small business.