So, what’s this cloud computing stuff all about anyway?
With so much being written and said about how business computing is rapidly evolving towards ‘the cloud’, I get asked that question with increasing frequency by SMB people. Let’s f...
With so much being written and said about how business computing is rapidly evolving towards ‘the cloud’, I get asked that question with increasing frequency by SMB people.
Let’s face it, for most smaller businesses, computers are a necessary evil, an extra cost, and while even the most Luddite CEO is forced to admit that business computing is now a necessity, the acronym ‘IT’ conjures up the image of a black art, and an expensive one at that.
Given the fact that no business, except an IT business, ever made money by installing a computer system, the best anyone can hope for in hardware and software purchase is that a saving will be made, or at least a higher level of efficiency can be leveraged into doing more business at lower cost. Occasionally, savings are magnificent in proportion, more often though, the savings that appear at project design stage are severely reduced by unforeseen costs stemming from increased complexity.
So, the question should be ‘Can cloud computing deliver obvious savings or obvious efficiencies?’
And the answer is a resounding ‘YES’, on both counts.
Only a very small business, running a single PC, could argue a financial case for not engaging in cloud computing. As soon as you add a mobile phone, a tablet or a second PC the case for cloud becomes absolute. The fact that all critical business data can be shared across multiple devices without the expense of a local area network is the first of many savings to come.
This leads directly to the second revolution that cloud computing delivers to business practice, that of replacing paper storage with electronic storage. Most businesses still employ some sort of paper filing system where the physical stuff arriving by land mail is indexed, catalogued and deposited to gather dust until it is needed for some sort of review. Taxation regulation causes us to keep this sort of record for up to five years and it takes up enormous amounts of space. Murphy’s law also says that the one time you need a stack of particular purchase invoices to argue a case with the man from the revenue, someone else will have pulled at least two of them, the ones with the biggest ticket price, for a warranty claim and forgot to put them back. Cloud electronic document storage (EDMS) means that the documents are available on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, where and when you want them.
At this point you'll be thinking 'Yeah, we've been storing documents on PCs and networks since the nineties and it's a helluva job find what you want, when you want it'.
So, a little more is needed than just storing the documents. You do need to catalogue and index what you store (that's what EDMS is all about). To that end, best advice for anyone migrating storage to the cloud is, spend a little time thinking about what you want to store and how you want to store it for easy retrieval. The biggest trap that business fall into is to imagining that they can migrate entire existing file storage structures to the cloud and it will work.
Well, it may after a fashion, but you will have wasted a great opportunity to revolutionise your business and you will have gained nothing in easing the task of locating what you want when you want it.
Another point to consider when planning what you intend to store is that most local and network storage systems contain only email and internally generated documents. That's fine, but it never tells the whole story. What about all the data that flows into your business on paper? Usually, most of the value of that is lost because only the barest essentials are entered into computer systems to be used for future analysis. The rest is filed away and rarely reviewed. Scanning and indexing is far more efficient than filing and forgetting. I've written up a cloud storage example of this, using Microsoft Office 365 to structure a simple vehicle maintenance asset management system for illustration.
Okay, finally you have a data storage structure that enables you to find what you want when you want it and, as the data is in the cloud, you can get to it when you're in the office, at a customer premises, in the car park, on the train, even if the bath if you want. The original documents are there to view, plus the meta data that you had input at the time of storage. You will have document lists showing, say, invoices complete with net, tax and gross value, projects, complete with deadlines, time spent, percentage done, orders with clear estimates of resources required for completion. Now you can really begin to perform for your customers.
You know your business better than anyone, spend a few minutes thinking about how all that could affect the way you work, the way you trade. Think about what software you could ditch as no longer necessary and think about how much that lets you take back control of the business.
Great, so why hasn't everyone already migrated to the cloud?
Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Office, claimed earlier this year that their Office 365 cloud solution is being taken up at the rate of nearly 3,500 new subscriptions per day, most of these being in the small business sector. Yet, Microsoft are still reckoned to be behind both Google and Dropbox in the cloud provider race. You can take it from the statistics that there is little doubt that cloud delivers so much of an advantage that it is undoubtedly the future. The big danger is, how long can you resist the effort of moving to cloud based storage when your competitors are all already galloping off in that direction?
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In addition to being a technical author, Chris is an IT proffessional with a lifetime of experience.
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