With new technologies making the workforce increasingly mobile, it’s important for small businesses to be able to stay connected wherever they are. Cloud computing allows business owners to do just that, saving time and money, whilst improving productivity.
To remain competitive, small businesses need to be available to respond quickly and work together whether in the field, in the office or on the way to work.
New technologies enable businesses of all sizes to seamlessly stay connected, work remotely and collaborate across different geographies and time zones. Australian small businesses can adopt these technologies and improve their ‘on-the-go’ productivity in a cost-effective and secure way.
Many of the tools that are used in the business world today just don’t work the way that people do. Take the example of a team working on a single document; they are constrained today by the need for a single author to own the document and email it around as an attachment. They then have the job of consolidating document updates into a master document. Imagine how effective the same team could be if the document was based on the internet and the team could all access and update the document live on the web, editing and discussing it in real time. In this model, an office and desk are purely optional. Merging documents and tracking changes from email attachments is a thing of the past.
These collaboration tools, part of the new paradigm of ‘cloud computing’, free employees from being tethered to the office and enable managers to work with their teams while they’re on the road or working remotely. Cloud computing technologies also save companies money. It’s a classic win-win for all involved.
As a small business manager, these new online tools can make life easier for you and your employees, and enable your workforce to be mobile, seamlessly connected and flexible.
What is cloud computing?
The small business owner of today undertakes a huge number of roles: CEO, COO, CMO, HR Manager and many more. With the growing reach of the internet, small business owners are now in a position to improve one of their more time-consuming roles, that of IT Manager. Many mundane but necessary tasks, such as updating hardware and managing servers, are no longer the inevitable consequences of running a business.
Small business’ approach to IT is being redefined by the internet as more applications are delivered and hosted online via a trend known as cloud computing. Cloud computing helps multi-tasking business owners transfer their efforts from IT maintenance to the areas where their true expertise lies; making their business more profitable and, hopefully, making their lives more enjoyable.
Cloud computing is a simple concept: software and services are delivered over the web and through a browser, with no server or client software to install. Cloud computing tools are available any time, anywhere, from any device connecting to the Internet. Businesses call it SaaS (Software as a Service) or cloud computing. For most people, it’s just the web.
These services are hosted by a third party which means all headaches associated with maintaining on-premise systems are removed. Your provider takes care of it all. And there are inherent benefits to productivity and flexibility of working by having everything accessible via the internet.
If you send email, have a blog, have ever posted photos online or have searched for information on the internet, then you’re already part the cloud computing movement. As we charge towards this new age of computing, what’s clear is that our lives as consumers, as business people, and as citizens are already changing. The cloud makes it inexpensive and easy to collaborate and share information, wherever you and your employees are.
A growing trend
With improved connectivity and less expensive hardware, significant innovation has occurred in the consumer space. Technologies have evolved to fulfill the needs of the user, not the other way around – that means more sharing of information, more interacting with others, more conversations with our friends and colleagues.
Cloud computing is designed to make life easy. Many of us are now happy to access our banking information, download all our music and make social arrangements online. Having adapted to these practices, it is natural for people to begin to wonder why the same highly efficient methods of storage and collaboration are not so widespread within businesses. Think about how easy it is to find information on the internet versus how difficult it is to find information at work and you’ll see what we mean.
Cloud computing for businesses
The power of the internet provides the flexibility to create, share, access and collaborate with other workmates and other trusted parties. With cloud computing applications such as online word processors, online spreadsheets, online calendars and online presentations, your work and your office suddenly becomes accessible quickly and securely wherever you are. The fact that everything is online means that multiple users can access and work on documents simultaneously and edit them in real time. If you are working on a presentation with a colleague who works from home, you can both be viewing it online and see the edits being implemented on your screen as your colleague makes changes.
In short, no more emailing attachments to and fro between users, no more multiple edits and mark-ups, no more ‘versionitis’, no more having to carry around USB drives with the latest version of documents to access at home and no more “I have to pop into the office to access a document”. And if your PC crashes, you don’t lose all your data and information, you just log in from another PC.
You can also access your email from the airport or from your BlackBerry on the train. Or you can build an internal website to ensure employees have a central resource to information, just by a simple click of a button, securely accessible anywhere. All these things mean a lot when you’re working at the kind of pace required at a small business.
Cost savings for the business owner
A strong motivating factor for SMEs to convert their IT infrastructure to the cloud will no doubt be the associated cost savings. Once you’re hooked up to the web, the cost of buying licenses, purchasing servers and maintaining them is reduced.
You also get automated innovation because product improvements are implemented over the internet and delivered through the browser they are instantly available and you’ll no longer be required to wait long periods to upgrade to the next software version for users to reap the benefits.
Facilitating collaboration and mobilisation
Very importantly, there are also cultural improvements to be gained from operating services via the cloud. Key to this is the integral shift towards a more collaborative way of working, a major focus of cloud computing. Whereas it was previously the case that computers could create a real barrier in our ability to communicate, being ‘designed by experts for experts’, most cloud computing applications are designed with the user in mind. Business users don’t need to be experts in operating systems, as technology is now designed to make it easier for us to interact as human beings without computers being a barrier.
The business benefits of cloud computing are real and tangible. Imagine:
- an administrative assistant being able to keep track of her boss’s diary arrangements alongside those of whom he needs to meet by looking at all their calendars online, without accessing multiple sources of information;
- a proposal for a project being discussed online as it is updated by several users at the same time;
- a business owner in Melbourne chatting with one of her managers working from Sydney as they edit the same spreadsheet at the same time;
- an on-the-road sales team meeting on a single document in the cloud to plan the next quarter’s budget.
- Getting access to information instantly, from wherever you might be, on whatever device is crucial.
Securing the cloud
Cloud computing providers invest more time and money in protecting their customers’ data than any small organisation could possibly afford; in fact, it is one of the most important factors considered when developing new products that handle personal and business data. For Google, the security review process for product development is rigorous, including extensive testing and retesting of each product’s software code. Google has taken this one step further by having an independent public accounting firm audit and verify the effectiveness of our technical processes and controls.
Well-engineered cloud apps are designed to have similar or superior security capabilities to traditional applications.
Beyond the limitations
More than half of Australians are now using broadband rather than dial-up. However, there are still some occasions when you may not have access to an internet connection. So what happens to your cloud computing service then? Many do not realise that even without a constant connection to the internet, many cloud applications can still be used. Until pervasive internet access becomes a reality, businesses like Google have taken steps to allow offline access to applications when they are out of reach of Internet connectivity. If offline access is essential, it’s important to check these capabilities before investing in any SaaS application.
Looking to the future
Cloud computing has clear benefits as a means of deploying applications, and there is a growing understanding that the new ways of working that it enables represent the future of the workplace.
We are heading for a more collaborative, more creative, more mobile and more exciting business world, where:
- the small business owner is less concerned with the world of IT and hardware and more able to focus on what he or she is good at – doing business;
- collaboration with colleagues is made easier; and
- employees are freed from their office PC and are able to work with greater mobility and flexibility.
Access to these powerful tools to help run and grow your business is no longer just for large companies with big budgets; thanks to cloud computing, they are now affordable and easily accessible to all businesses, large and small.
Tried and Tested
Google is deeply committed to this way of working. With 3,000 businesses signing up to our cloud computing suite, Google Apps, each day, there are many examples of Australian businesses embracing this model of working.
Benjamin Chong from Jetabroad, a Sydney-based global online travel agency, has 30 staff who have been using Google Apps since mid-2007. He values its reliability and its simple, per-user pricing model that’s easy to understand and budget for. Jetabroad is also impressed by the number of features added to the service (all updated online without him doing a thing) since they began using Google Apps. To Jetaboard, Google Apps provides peace of mind with a service that is available anywhere from a wide range of internet connected devices with gigabytes of storage per user, minimal administration, the reliability of Google infrastructure, and the ability to scale as their business grows.
Simon Pollitt from Maptek, a mid-size Australian company with operating bases all over the globe, provides technology solutions for the mining industry. For him, Google Apps has delivered numerous benefits to the business including anywhere/anytime access, ease of set-up and, best of all, no email spam. “Our team was spending approximately 40 hours per week babysitting email and fighting spam. Since moving to Google Apps we now spend about two hours per week on administration,” Pollit recently told us. For Maptek, mobile access to Gmail from a range of devices is a “breath of fresh air”. In terms of training, he recalls that this was not a big issue, with most of the employees finding the Google Apps platform “simple and intuitive” as they’re already familiar with Google’s consumer products such as Gmail.
Andrew Mitchell is product specialist for Google Australia, which has a suite of collaboration and communication products that are business-ready called Apps Premier Edition. Dynamic Business readers can trial it for free for 30 days, and then at a fixed cost of US$50 per user, per year, at www.google.com.au/a
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