Should you take your business to the cloud?

Last week the Lunaticks Society of Newcastle held an event on taking your business to the cloud. We discussed some of the benefits around using cloud based systems for business as well as personal use, some of the favourite tools among the panelists and audience, where the future of cloud computing could go and of course the security issues.

So i thought what better opportunity to recap some of the nights discussions as well as my thoughts and experience with working in the cloud.

For those of you who are unsure of what Cloud Computing actually is you aren't alone, here is a video Xero made asking people in the streets what they thought Cloud Computing was:

Luckily Xero have written an Introduction to Cloud Computing

So what are my thoughts on cloud computing. For those of you who spend a significant amount of time with me you will know I am a massive fan of Cloud Computing uses for business. I'm a big fan for three reasons.

The 1st is for the cost reasons. Starting up a business let alone continuing to run a business can be extremely costly from an IT perspective. You have the server that you need to run a lot of the older style software programs, then you need the actual computers themselves, then the IT technician. This is all just to start up. Ongoing you need to upgrade all of the equipment as well as have the IT person on standby to ensure the product upgrades etc are completed on everyone's machine & that everything runs smoothly. With cloud based tools you can just log into your computer, connect to the internet and off you go. There are a host of products that are free for a small number of users - take Google Apps as an example and then you move up to the paid tools which are generally only a monthly subscription amount opposed to a once off cost then ongoing cost.

The 2nd reason is the ability to collaborate. With more and more small business starting the idea of having one business do all the work on certain projects is in some instances becoming a thing of the past. So how do you share documents & allow different users to collaborate on the same document? How do you have a project management system that allows everyone involved in the project clear instructions and deadlines for each section? Tools such as Google Apps - Google docs etc allow users to collaborate on the same document at the same time. What does this mean? You have one copy / version of the document at all times. Not one person making changes then another person making different changes and then having someone try and piece the two together. Tools like Workflow Max & Basecamp allow you to manage your projects with ease. Everyone involved is invited into the project and updates accordingly. While on collaboration for me this is the best part. With Xero, Unleashed, Capsule CRM, Minute Doc & Geoop I can log in to live data to see how clients are going. If cashflow is an issue it's easy to monitor the debtors collection & keep things on track. If margins are import for keeping track of profitability I can log into Unleashed and again pick up live data allowing me to give real time advice. Basically whatever the KPI for the client I can use these tools to help monitor in real time. Meaning the advice I give is timely and not just at the end of the Quarter or Month when it can possibly be too late to correct. There is also the fact I can log in and troubleshoot any issues the client may have live.

My 3rd reason is the productivity gains. You see most things in the cloud integrate with each other. Meaning you only need 1 database. Take a business that bills based on the time taken to complete a job. With a combination of Capsule CRM, Minute Doc & Xero you can monitor your leads, referral sources & sales pipeline in Capsule, put your time against a client &/or job in Minute doc either at your computer or from your iPhone etc & then monitor your cashflow, debtors & profitability, prepare monthly management reports & your Business Activity Statements in Xero. Add to that the use of Google Apps & you can send and receive your emails, schedule appointments in your calendar and prepare proposals using Google docs.

Now these 3 reasons are fantastic but add to that things like Dropbox where you can store your documents etc in the cloud & therefore have access from anywhere at anytime, Evernote where you can take notes from your iPad, iPhone etc & have them automatically synced and you can see the way we do business can certainly be enhanced.

With the advances in technology we now have the opportunity to allow for more flexible working arrangements. You can work at anytime from anywhere.

So my take on Should you take your Business to the Cloud? Certainly Yes. If not straight away it's certainly something you should be investigating and researching now. Need some help to work out exactly what your business could benefit from? Give us a call & we can point you in the right direction.