This article was written by Extrinsica Global, a dedicated cloud services provider that offer a range of bespoke cloud solutions to companies around the world.
Smaller businesses generally have reasonably straightforward IT requirements. Often a company will first need to do their finances using a spread sheet application. Documents will also need to be written and occasionally presentations given.
As the business grows, there will undoubtedly be a requirement to invest in purpose-built accounting software and probably a contact management system if not a full blown Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This requires not only a lot of thought but time, effort, expertise and money to implement, which is often extremely distracting from core business activities.
The cloud has changed this by giving small businesses the ability to receive business productivity software as a service. Access is available from anywhere in the world, with payment on a per-use per-month basis. In some cases basic functionality is provided for free.
What can the cloud do for small businesses?
There’s a great deal of choice out there when it comes to small businesses and the cloud. A small business will want to get excellent value for money but will need to use informed critical analysis to ensure that the cloud services they choose will meet the needs of the business. For a cloud services quick reference, have a look at the article ‘Beginner’s guide to the cloud’ to see a comprehensive categorisation of available cloud services.
What are the pitfalls?
Always be cautious when it comes to free cloud services. These services seem attractive on the face of it but, as with most things, a user rarely gets something for free, and free services may not be all they seem. While they will be acceptable for a few small ‘minimalist’ businesses, there will be no Service Level Agreement (SLA) and if the service is unavailable or data is lost there will be no compensation.
There are also other drawbacks for businesses using these services that may not be obvious. For example, Hotmail
are free cloud services aimed squarely at the consumer market. Consequently, the sign-up process to create an account is very simple and straightforward. However, this is perfect for spammers to create free accounts, and free email systems are used very extensively to originate spam.
Businesses increasingly use email filtering services and these systems will block any mail sent from the mail servers that have been or are currently being used to send spam. This means that business users using a free email system are increasingly likely to have the emails they send to business users rejected by the receiving mail system, which in turn means that these emails may never reach the desired recipient.
What will most likely benefit the business?
At the other end of the scale, enterprise-class business cloud services can be hugely beneficial, even for quite small businesses. If data security, complete technical management and maintenance, including user support, and high availability and reliability of the cloud-based software applications are important to your business, then integrated cloud services will be an excellent fit. The business can have very sophisticated and highly available IT, which can be flexibly provisioned and accessed from any device at any time for a monthly fixed price per user – it dispenses with the need for upfront capital expenditure on IT related hardware, software and overheads.
Microsoft and Google are focusing on ‘commodity cloud services:’ basic functionality limited customisation potential. Their business model is based on user bases of millions of users at very low prices. In fact, competition will be almost exclusively on price, which means levels of customer service and support may be low. The offerings from these companies can without question meet the needs of some businesses, but they shouldn’t be seen as a universal solution.
These companies have created much greater awareness of the cloud model for IT but, at the same time, they have also created an expectation that all cloud services will be very low cost. The reality is that enterprise-class sophistication and customised services that will fit perfectly with developed business processes will cost substantially more than basic ‘out-of-the-box’ software functionality that can’t integrate with other parts of a company’s IT infrastructure.
The benefits of using cloud-based IT are so compelling, especially when they have been experienced first hand. It is very likely that within 5 years or so all businesses will consume their IT functionality this way. Nevertheless, as a small business owner, it is important to start your journey to the cloud with the realisation that, while there are a wide variety of services on offer, they need to be critically evaluated to ensure that they will meet all the needs of your business. Remember: you will get what you pay for.