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SMEs can benefit from cloud computing – they just need the right advice

The big buzzword in IT at the moment is cloud computing. Why have all your data and programmes on one computer when they can be stored “up in the cloud” so that you can access them from any computer? For SMEs, many of whom do not have large, well resourced IT departments the cloud has other advantages.
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Instead of having to buy new software whenever technology changes, cloud computing means that programmes are constantly updated. Similarly, there is no need to invest in new data storage facilities, which might only be used during a busy period and will then become redundant. Companies can pay for as much or as little storage as they need.

Businesses buy what cloud-based services they use – such as email, customer relationship management (CRM), payroll systems, online back-up, web hosting and invoicing. For SMEs, managing cash-flow is vital and, since many cloud-computing services offer the option to pay monthly, smaller businesses can access the latest sophisticated software with no upfront fees with no extensive lock-in periods.

However, according new research by Sharp, European Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are failing a new generation of cloud workers by not providing the sharing tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. A remarkable 83 per cent do not currently think they use an official cloud solution at work and 41 per cent of employees said collaborative document tools are actively banned in their workplace.

Peter Plested, Director, European Solutions Business Centre, Sharp Europe, said: “Generation Cloud isn’t waiting for employers to provide solutions to help them work this way – they are finding their own. European SMEs must sit up and recognise this shift to realise the benefits and not lose control of their own networks and corporate data – some of the most valuable assets for any business.”

So, why aren’t more SMEs making more use of this flexible and cost effective new tool? In a recent survey by NetPilot Internet Security (NIS), for instance, 65 per cent of those asked said that they used cloud services for file sharing and synchronisation and/or backup. Dropbox, for example, was the most popular option, with 60 per cent of SMEs surveyed using the service. 

The study also found, though, that a mere 15 per cent of respondents felt completely relaxed with cloud technology.

Uncertainty about how the technology works and what it means together with fears about security are clearly one barrier. Technology research group Gartner believes the next few years will see the emergence of cloud brokers who can offer advice and connect customers with the technology which is right for them from a wide range of options.

However, according to IT consultant Brian Cape, SMEs who are concerned can simply use a number of easily accessible, well known cloud computing proprietary products. Dropbox, is well established, as polling from NetPilot shows. Examples include online backup services such as JustCloud and Mozy, which allow staff to access files remotely and also help companies when it comes to disaster recovery. 

Another service, Quickbooks, provides an online accounting service, including invoicing, cash flow monitoring, compilation of VAT returns, budget setting and creating business reports. Companies can buy as little or as much space for their data as they need and don’t have to invest in major updates of the programmes.

MailChimp is an email publishing tool which allows businesses of all sizes to design and send their email as part of marketing campaigns. The software integrates with Google Analytics so that you can measure the success of your campaigns. One of the most well known Cloud programmes is Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to access all your applications and files from virtually anywhere, be it PC, Mac and certain mobile devices and to keep them constantly up to date.

Although the concept of Cloud computing might sound complicated but when it’s broken down to familiar packages and applications it’s much easier to understand.

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