While 86 percent of small businesses see the importance of the cloud, 70 percent aren't using cloud solutions. This data, from a Microsoft report for National Small Business Week and reported by Talkin' Cloud, yields a sobering conclusion: Small businesses understand the broad value of cloud computing, but aren't sure how to apply the technology on a case-by-case basis.
The good news? Increasing cloud democratization means a shift in the market away from enterprise-centric use to more diverse applications. Here are three ways cloud services can fundamentally help and change a small business:
Rent, don't buy. That's the foundational rule of cloud computing — companies pay for the services they want, month by month, and never more than they use. The Guardian makes a "rent-a-car" analogy, noting companies will always have access to the latest "model" of cloud technology, and won't be stuck trying to fix a five-year-old server that's no longer under warranty.
Aside from a stable month-to-month cost, the real benefit to small businesses here is scalability. Not only do cloud services allow companies to scale up their reach from national to global without major hardware investments, but they also provide a simple way for businesses to bump up resource access or storage as needed. The result? If your brand suddenly catches fire on social media, the cloud can instantly scale up to meet consumer demand. Growth becomes a simple transition from less to more, rather than a desperate race to install hardware.
Many small businesses are forgoing traditional offices in favor of smaller physical spaces combined with telecommuting employees. A good example here is the food truck revolution — this mobile movement got off the ground in 2008 and by 2011 was worth $630 million across the United States, according to FoodBeast. Mobility for both the food truck and the small business owner means the ability to be in the right spot at the right time, rather than confined to a brick-and-mortar location.
Here's where the cloud comes in: synchronicity. As noted by a June 11 article from Smart Company, the cloud enables you to sync files and folders across devices, meaning desktops, and tablets can all access the same data and the latest version of any file. This is critical when client meetings take place in a car, on the way to the airport or even from home.
One reason small businesses often avoid cloud computing is the fear of generalization. First-generation deployments often came packaged with broad service level agreements (SLAs) between companies and providers, giving access to a host of services smaller firms didn't need or want. Combined with concerns over data ownership and lock-in, it's no surprise the cloud doesn't pop up as a first choice for many small businesses. But steady enterprise adoption has led to diversification — software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) are scratching the surface. Now, companies can take advantage of security, data analytics, storage or even desktops, all as a service.
In other words, the cloud can now solve very specific small business problems. Companies simply need to identify their most pressing issues and then draft a clear, concise and enforceable SLA. Start small, and don't shoot for the moon with your first cloud service. Instead, target a specific business need and see if your provider can keep up. If so, consider expanding the agreement. If not, the cloud's commodity model lets you walk away and find a better fit.
Small businesses are now in an ideal position to leverage cloud services and, in turn, their bottom line. Growth, synchronicity and specificity are just the beginning.
By David Eisner, President & CEO at Dataprise, Inc. He founded Dataprise in 1995 and has led its growth from tiny start-up to recognized leader in providing managed IT services to small and medium-size businesses.
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