October 30, 2011

Cloud computing

Cloud computing can slash costs and drive productivity. Google’s Stuart McLean explains how.

Cloud computing can let you concentrate on your core business without needing to worry about the day-to-day issues of running an IT infrastructure.

Cloud computing gives you a portable office. It involves renting software and online services (such as email storage, data storage, accounting packages, desktop publishing, customer relationship management, database management, video streaming and virus filtering options) over the web from a provider like Microsoft Online Services or Google Apps. Rental costs are usually charged per user or per month.

If you have an internet connection from your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can use cloud computing for your business communications at any time and in any place where the internet link doesn’t drop out.

As Stuart McLean, formerly of Google Enterprise Sales Lead, Australia & New Zealand, explains, with cloud you don’t need to own or manage a server or client software; you can invest those savings in other areas of your business. And that’s the key perk: getting technology in place that works reliably and doesn’t cost a lot of time and money to install or maintain.

Cloud can potentially help your business realise significant improvement in costs, flexibility, productivity and speed, particularly as high-speed broadband access becomes a reality across more of Australia.

Stuart McLean’s top three cloud computing benefits for an SME:

1.    Easy to scale and grow:

SMEs operate in dynamic environments; everything from workforce size to cash flow can change overnight. As your business evolves, it’s important that your IT evolves along with it. Cloud services provide this flexibility, because it’s possible to ‘rent’ cloud applications. Having your IT applications hosted over the internet means no investment in hardware or software and no issues with upgrades or installing new features because that all happens automatically. It also means you can concentrate on your core business without needing to worry about the day-to-day issues of running an IT infrastructure. If your workforce expands or contracts due to seasonality or economic slowing, then cloud services can be ramped up or wound down accordingly.

2.    Mobility:

Compared to larger businesses, SMEs are less suited to managing servers and tend to have many employees on the road or in non-office locations. Accessing their data and documents from anywhere, on any internet-connected device is a core benefit of using cloud.

3.    Collaboration:

Web-based apps make it easy for people to create, edit and share information in real time. With chat and comments functions integrated, you can discuss a document with fellow contributors located elsewhere.

Buyer beware

When choosing a cloud function, make sure applications and data are stored centrally and served from a secure and reliable computing infrastructure. Also be aware that you’ll need to invest time and money to train your staff in cloud usage.

The last word

A final piece of advice: James Roberts, IT Advisory Leader, Ernst & Young, says to watch out for liability. “There’s often an attitude that buying services from the cloud reduces operational risk or at least moves it to another entity,” he states. “However, full strategic risk of business performance and regulatory risk of compliance will usually remain with the business.”

Also develop a clear exit strategy at the time of entry, adds Roberts. “This is particularly important in terms of data and intellectual property ownership, as well as around access to operational data in the event of a dispute. It may be well worth paying more for a service that can be easily exited, rather than being in a poor negotiating position in a crisis or at contract renewal.”

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