Cloud computing – what is all the fuss about?

Cloud

Posted by Lucy Beck on June 3, 2014

Cloud computing is ‘the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer’. Basically Cloud is a metaphor for the internet. So, now that we know what it is, you may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Why should you be moving your business to the Cloud? In the past, we stored, managed and processed all our data on our hard drives or on dedicated servers located in our buildings with us. These days, more and more companies are moving away from this model. The reasons for this are many and varied.

What cloud computing means for you

Cloud computing means that you can work from anywhere with an internet connection (home, a café, library, train, etc.) and from any device. Instead of installing a suite of software for each computer (and all the costs associated with that), you only have to load one application. You and your team, then log into a web-based service where you can access everything you need to do your job. This reduces hardware costs and saves space, but there is much more to it than that. You only have to pay for what you actually use because you can scale your usage up or down as required. This means as employees or contractors come and go month by month you can increase/decrease your requirement. Disaster recovery is taken care of by someone else. A central server administers the system, monitors traffic and client demands and ensures that everything runs smoothly. Because their businesses depend on it, it’s in the best interests of the service provider to ensure that downtime is kept to an absolute minimum. The start up costs for getting on the Cloud are minimal and, if you choose an established provider such as Zoho, could be totally free of charge. You have the security of affordable, predictable ongoing operating expenses as any fees would be paid as a fixed monthly amount per user.

What cloud computing means for your business

So, this all sounds good but how will the day-to-day running of your business improve by working on the Cloud? Before I joined the i-Dynamics team I had little to no knowledge of Cloud technology beyond using Outlook, Facebook and Netflix! If you fall into this camp, it can be difficult to understand how your daily working life could be transformed by some of the technologies available in the Cloud. Do you, for instance, currently manage all your contacts in Outlook or some other hosted email service? If so, I bet you waste a lot of time trying to locate a particular email message that you just know you saw somewhere. A good CRM system will store any emails that you send against their contact record so that you can instantly locate them again when you need to refer back.Business cards What about those days when you return from a trade show armed with a stack of business cards? You need to get all that data entered into your contacts but do you really have time to sit and enter them all manually? Our system, which runs on Zoho, has an App so that you can simply scan each business card with your mobile phone and the data is automatically extracted and entered into the CRM. This saves our sales team an enormous amount of time… and time is money! You can sign up for a free trial of Zoho here.

Collaborate with colleagues in half the time

Another huge benefit of Cloud computing is its ability to sync your data. Take iCloud, for example. This stores and synchronises your mail, contacts, calendar, etc. online and thereby enables you to access the same up-to-date data via your mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. In the same way services like Dropbox store synchronized versions of your files online. This ability to allow all your devices access to the same data is a cornerstone of cloud computing. If you are working in a team you can all remotely access the latest version of a given file. We at i-Dynamics really use this functionality to the full in Zoho.  We use Zoho Docs to store one central copy of a file in one location. We can set various permissions so that certain team members have edit rights, viewing rights, etc. (so confidential documents are secure too). My personal favourite feature though is the Review tab. Here, we can add comments or make corrections to a document in real time. This really helps when we are up against a deadline and a document needs to go out fast. We share the file, add our comments, make corrections and get a final version finished in a fraction of the time it would take to pass the document around via email. Let alone the nightmare of having to keep track of which is the latest version of the file. Even the most basic day-to-day tasks can be automated to varying degrees with the right Cloud software in your armoury. If you, like us, run a services- or project-based business you will know how important it is to keep on top of progress and keep things moving.  Take our client onboarding process as an example. When a new deal has been won, a status in the CRM is updated by the sales team. This then auto-triggers a task to me (Operations Manager) to send out contracts to the client and a task to Finance to raise a deposit invoice. Then, when I update the record to show that the contract is signed and the invoice is paid an automated task is sent to the Dev Team in India instructing them to initiate the project. All this saves us time but, more importantly, ensures that we don’t ‘drop the ball’ and allow things to slip behind. This, in turn, makes for a healthy cash flow which makes the boss happy!

Cloud computing task automation

Don’t get left behind

And if all that isn’t enough to convince you that the future of your business lies in the Cloud, just remember that by the end of 2013 75% of UK organisations were using at least one Cloud service for their business. As one Cloud commentator recently said, ‘Any company that isn’t racing to push it’s data and software into someone else’s data centre is setting itself up for disruption by a competitor who is.’ In other words, your competitors are probably already gaining the edge over your business by harnessing the Cloud – don’t get left behind!