By now, you have heard about the cloud. You are in it and are starting to see its huge potential. If you are not using it, you should, since it truly represents one of the greatest opportunities for small companies since the advent of e-commerce.
With cloud computing, you can store your information and run your business using someone else’s systems and software. There is no longer a need to update programs or fear losing important data. It’s all stored safely in the cloud.
If you need a visual, think of moving your servers, software and technicians onto the Internet—and you don’t have to manage or worry about a thing.
There are many good things about this scenario. One, you gain access to sophisticated software at a fraction of the cost. Two, you receive almost unlimited storage capacity. Three, the cloud eliminates having to set up computer systems and loading software so you can devote your time to more important things—like running your business.
In case you need evidence that you are already operating in the cloud, it’s all around you:
- Social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- Media services like YouTube and Flickr
- Online e-mail like Gmail and Hotmail
- VoIP services like Skype and Google Voice
- Content distribution services like BitTorrent
- Personal finance tools like Mint
Audio and video conferencing, sales management, invoicing, accounting and data backup are all business functions that can move into the cloud to save money and provide everyone in your company access to the same tools. Developers continue to add more products and services to the cloud. You might not ever need to buy software again.
Who’s using the cloud?
Businesses of all sizes are flocking to the cloud because it’s less expensive than buying and updating hardware and software. Of the respondents who participated in the recent CSC Cloud Usage Index, 82 percent said they saved money on their most recent cloud projects.
These services can easily connect employees who use different computing devices, including mobile ones, for access from nearly anywhere at any time. You no longer are confined to your office chair to get your work done. About a third of survey respondents said this was a major advantage.
What can the cloud help you achieve?
The cloud allows small businesses to operate as efficiently as big corporations built by professional IT departments. One of the biggest cloud benefits is increased productivity. Those improvements often take the form of tools that let you and your employees share information by using multiple devices—such as computers, smartphones and tablets—from multiple locations.
Imagine being on the road and needing your team to update a client presentation. Don’t worry about e-mailing the document back and forth. Instead, everyone accesses the same document and you can see the changes being made as they happen.
When was the last time you backed up your data, or do you just hope that nothing ever goes wrong with your system? Many cloud systems offer automatic data backup so you don’t have to even think about it.
How safe is the cloud?
Clearly, some of the biggest issues facing cloud service providers are privacy, security and reliability. Of course, this is true about any in-house IT system, too. Cloud service providers are well aware that their businesses depend on installing the best possible safeguards.
If you’re considering moving into the cloud—especially if the provider isn’t well known or is relatively new to the field—be sure the service can segregate customer information and products, allows only authorized people to access your data, offers advanced data encryption, and provides physically secure and redundant servers in multiple locations in case one goes down.
Improve your business and streamline your operations by tapping into the power of the cloud. AT&T offers a number of cloud-based solutions that can help you and your staff become more productive. These include the conferencing service AT&T Connect, mobile communications tool AT&T Messaging Toolkit, and cloud-based data backups via AT&T’s Tech Support 36.
Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert. She is founder and president of Bredin Inc., a marketing consultancy that helps Fortune 500 firms develop profitable, long-term relationships with small and medium businesses. She has advised millions of business owners over the last 20 years through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary and forums.