This article is meant to give the small business owner a clearer understanding of what a cloud IT solution means for their business. First, let’s remind ourselves of why the "cloud" is the number one buzzword for small business today.
One question every small business owner will need to address is: What do I do with my business data? Maybe you have a business partner that has a background in IT, maybe you are looking to outsource your IT services to a Managed Service Provider (MSP), or maybe you’re the do-it-yourself kind of business owner. Regardless of how you take your tea, as soon as you start researching your options for data storage, email/groupware, network solutions and file sharing, the "Cloud" will be hiding under every stone and around every corner.
All puns aside, small business owners are coming under more and more pressure to use cloud IT solutions. In most cases, using a cloud IT solution for something like a CRM (customer relationship management), file sharing, data backup and email means:
- A lower startup cost with a more predictable cost structure
- Greater accessibility and ease of use
- Scalability (pay for what you need)
SaaS Cost Structure
Cloud solutions often follow the software as a service cost structure, offering small businesses access to enterprise level software solutions for a relatively low monthly fee and no cost to cancel or switch. On top of that - regular software upgrades and scalable storage packages are a common occurrence in cloud solutions. For those of you that just got a little confused and don't understand the difference between a cloud IT solution and a software as a service: there is no difference, the cloud just sounds better!
Accessibility and Ease of Use
The other "blinding" benefit of a cloud solution is the remote accessibility. When you invest in an internet resource, everything about your business becomes available at the touch of an iPad or whatever mobile device your workforce prefers - "bring your own device" as the geeks call it these days. Employees and small business owners alike LOVE THIS! Working from home becomes totally do-able, do some work on a report while you’re waiting to catch a flight at the airport, your productivity becomes limitless!
The Problem with the Cloud
The problem small business run into is that cloud solutions sounds so good we rarely take a step back and think about what putting vital business information into the cloud actually means for our business. The word "cloud" itself is deceiving. Try this:
Option 1: I am going to reduce my company's IT costs by switching to a cloud storage solution.
Option 2: I am going to reduce my IT costs by storing my business data on the internet.
Options one and two are EXACTLY THE SAME! The connotation and reputation around the "cloud" makes extremely risky business decisions sound forward thinking and revolutionary.
REMINDER: I don't want this to sound too anti-cloud, there are tons of ways a small business can save money and take advantage of a genuinely better product through a cloud IT solution. My point is that there is a certain amount of risk involved in these decisions and as a small business owner you should know exactly what risk you are taking every time you consider a cloud solution. No matter how "secure" you may think it is.
The expert's advice for staying out of trouble in the cloud
Surprise, the best thing you can do to ensure your data is as safe as possible is to keep it off the internet. Don't worry, that isn't our final recommendation. As a small business owner you need to think long and hard about what you want to use a cloud solution for, how it will impact your business (the benefits) and what your alternatives are. Here is an abbreviated checklist of things to consider before making that big leap of faith into the cloud:
- Track Record - Do your research on the cloud solution in question. Do a Google search for [insert solution + risk], a good rule of thumb is "once hacked, always hacked". Like Dropbox for example. A year ago user accounts got hacked, the problem was fixed, Dropbox continued to gain traction as a file sharing solution and boom, hacked again a year later. People will go to great lengths to steal your data.
- Client List - Larger companies have dedicated resources to research and investigate the risk and security behind any cloud solution. If you come across a solution that doesn't talk about their extensive client base on their website, the big guys are probably not using them for a reason.
- Consult with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) - Companies that specialize in outsourced IT solutions need to understand industry trends and the risk involved in the "new and fancy". In many cases, IT companies have to invest in the same cloud solutions you are considering just to stay in business. The value of speaking with an expert is to quickly identify any potential risk factors you might have overlooked and come up with a way to avoid them. MSP’s are always researching the best cloud solutions so they can offer them to their clients as part of their offering. The MSP wants to find the best providers with the best features at the best price. What MSP would want to offer a cheap solution that does not work? It would only make the MSP look bad. At the very least this will save you time in the research process.