Cloudy with a chance of business

Anthony Caruana
15 September, 2014
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Cloud-business-apple-macworld-australia1Cloud computing promises the ability to work from anywhere without the need to be tethered to an office network. As long as you have an internet connection, you’re in business.

But is the promise real or is it just smoke and mirrors?

In today’s world almost every piece of productivity software you can buy in a box has a cloud equivalent. Documents, spreadsheets, presentations and images can be created without installing any software on your computer by using programs delivered over the internet through your web browser.

Complex programs such as customer relationship management, point of sale, accounting and payroll systems, and project management have cloud options. And there are myriad options for shared storage, photo sharing, email, calendars and other services that can be useful for work and play.

Almost everything you can do with your computer and off-the-shelf software can be achieved in the cloud.

The cost of entry for using most cloud services is very low or even free. As long as your computer was purchased in the four or five years, and you have a reliable internet service, you can use the cloud. However, if you’re planning to move large amounts of data you’ll want to make sure you have a generous bandwidth allowance and a fast connection.

Costs

Although there are lots of free cloud services, commercial service tend to have monthly or annual fees. These aren’t a bad thing as paid services usually include some level of service guarantee. Also, a paid service, that makes money for its provider, is less likely to be withdrawn than a free service. For example, Google has been known to close down free services even when they are widely used.

Free services are a useful way to check things out but be prepared to move to a paid service if you rely on it for your business.

Costs for cloud services vary widely. They can be as little as $1 per week or thousands of dollars per month. For example, cloud accounting systems can cost from $25 per month to hundreds of dollars depending on the number of users and the software modules you choose. A basic package that covers invoicing and expenses for a sole trader will cost less than a more complex system with payroll and inventory systems that supports dozens of users.

Can I go 100 percent cloud today?

Can you run your business using the cloud? You can but it’s not a path you ought to dive into blindly.

We’d suggest substituting the word ‘cloud’ with ‘someone else’s computer’ when looking at a cloud service. What questions would you ask if you were storing your important information on someone else’s computer? Those are the questions you need to ask of cloud providers.

Fortunately, the cloud industry is maturing and getting answers to those questions isn’t impossible.

When you run everything on your own servers and computers, it’s easy to swap to new applications as you are in control of your data. With cloud services, your data is stored within the provider’s systems that can complicate things if you decide to change service provider.

If your business is dependent on a cloud service or application you’ll have a regular payment to make in order to keep using the service. That’s a contrast in the pre-cloud days when you’d need to outlay the cost of software or hardware in a lump sum.

A fast and reliable internet connection is essential. You’ll need to adjust your budget to cover this as well as allowing for the monthly service payments to the cloud providers.

Local computer maintenance will be easier as you won’t need to install programs and, as you won’t be so dependent on your computer’s internal hardware, you’ll be able to use your computers for an extra year or two. That can represent a significant cost saving.

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