by Jim Martin
By Jane Irene Kelly
Many small business owners hesitate to use Internet-based operating systems because of concerns about the cost and potential security risks. That’s changing fast. As cloud computing matures, more flexible and cheaper options have emerged and the productivity gains have become hard to ignore.
A 2013 survey by the National Small Business Association found that 43 percent of small firms now utilize cloud computing, up from five percent in 2010. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that small and medium business (SMB) spending on cloud solutions will grow 20 percent in the next five years.
Many SMB owners first try the cloud by using popular file-sharing sites like Dropbox, productivity tools such as Google Apps and hosted email like Microsoft Office 365. That often leads them to use more cloud services to support the growth of their business and to maintain and simplify operations. The cloud lets businesses appear much bigger than they really are. It also gives them the ability to make the most of existing resources and execute on sales, customer service, product management and other critical business functions like a bigger business could. It also lets them focus on the creative end of the business.
If you’re ready to start using cloud apps or cloud-based services in your business, consider these four tips as you explore options:
Take a long-term view. You know you need cloud computing to solve certain problems today, but what about the future? How will your processes change as you migrate to the cloud? Think about how today’s solution will support your business as it evolves. Can you scale easily, up or down, as needs change?
Seek solutions that are easy to deploy, manage and use. The whole point of going to the cloud is to make your business (and you) work more efficiently. Invest in a solution that takes little time to set up, is upgraded automatically, can be centrally managed, and requires little or no user training. Also consider whether the solution will integrate with other applications and systems you currently use. When evaluating cloud options, confirm that the solution will be easy to use while you’re on the go, and will work with the mobile platforms you use most.
Place a premium on top-notch customer service. Your business cannot afford downtime, and that includes waiting on the line for support. You want access to quality customer care to be no more than a click or phone call away. Ideally, try to work with a vendor that offers solutions designed for small businesses, as they’re more likely to offer customized support.
Take advantage of free trials. Many cloud providers now offer “try before you buy” options. Look for vendors that don’t need a credit card number up front. You might end up being billed for a service you don’t like once the free trial is over.