Cloud computing has become one of the most effective ways for any business of any size to save money, reduce IT admin requirements and lower overall operating costs. By eliminating much of the on-premises hardware—like expensive servers, racks, routers and switches—and adopting a variety of cloud services, companies ranging from sole proprietorships to the Fortune 100 can access more compute power at a much lower cost whenever and wherever it’s needed.
In fact, “the cloud” has become so popular, it’s now used by more than half of all U.S. businesses in some form, and that number is only expected to continue growing rapidly as cloud resources and services become more accessible, available and secure.
But, aside from saving money and reducing IT management needs, cloud computing can also have a major positive impact on productivity for any organization. Here is some advice to help.
Services like Google Docs, Dropbox and Box allow any organization to upload and store virtually any kind of document in the cloud, where it can easily be accessed by anyone with log-in credentials and permission. This is especially valuable for large or distributed teams who need to share or collaborate on documents. It eliminates the problem of having to email large documents or worry about which version is the most up-to-date. With documents stored in the cloud, everyone who needs to have access can get the latest version of in-progress and approved documents from anywhere—at the office, on travel, at home or in the field.
Many software programs, like accounting, customer relationship management (CRM), marketing and other common business applications, are now widely accessible in the cloud, rather than as installed programs. Instead of purchasing multiple copies of the same software to install on multiple computers, cloud applications allow anyone with log-in credentials to access the programs, data and software they need from anywhere. Most are available on a per-user monthly or annual subscription basis, which makes them much more affordable and efficient because you pay for only what you need. And, software updates are performed automatically with virtually zero IT involvement, eliminating the time-consuming process of updating each user’s workstation individually.
Cloud business phone systems combine voice with new generations services like text, chat, fax and video conferencing all into a single solution. These platforms are much faster and easier to deploy, without any hardware and infrastructure (beyond an Internet connection) required. Cloud communications systems are perfect for a growing organization with mobile and distributed workforce. Similar to cloud business applications like CRM, they allow companies to pay for only what they need rather than having to buy and maintain expensive systems with capacity what they may not use for many years. It consolidates communications onto one platform, rather than having it scattered across multiple systems. Plus, an integrated cloud communications platform provides a single phone number where employees can be reached at any time, on their office line or mobile, which keeps employees from having to give out their personal cell phone numbers prevents customers and colleagues from having to dial multiple numbers to reach someone.
Mobile access is an extremely important feature in the modern business environment. Of course, applications can be accessed from laptops and desktops, but sometimes it’s not convenient or practical to use a laptop in every situation. Cloud software and services are much more accessible through a smartphone or tablet, and many solution providers offer dedicated apps that can be installed on company-owned or employee-owned devices for anytime, anywhere access.
Security is one of the major concerns about moving business to the cloud, so cloud services have gotten significantly more secure and robust about protecting sensitive business data. Ensure that any cloud solutions you choose provide maximum, enterprise-grade security, but also balance that security with ease of accessibility for authorized personnel. Built-in robust security measures also minimize IT resources, and it reduces the risk of a data breach, which could take weeks or months to correct and recover form.
While the cloud does require much less hands-on management, it still requires some IT involvement and oversight. Ensuring software and/or service access, security/permissions, and usage meet with company policy and expectations is still IT’s responsibility. After all, a service is only as efficient as its functionality allows—cloud software and services that cause problems for users can hardly deliver the productivity enhancements promised.
The fact that there are so many cloud solutions available can be a problem itself. In order to be truly productive, the company must streamline which applications are allowed and officially sanctioned for company use. For example, if half of your employees use Google Docs and the other half uses Dropbox, the silos and disconnect common with installed software will only continue. Establish a standard set of solutions that are both allowed and supported by IT and the helpdesk.
Giving employees the ability to access company data anytime, anywhere on a wide range of devices does introduce a certain level of risk. What happens if that device is lost or stolen, or the employee leaves the company? Choose cloud solutions that ensure top-notch security to protect sensitive data with robust authentication, but that also give IT admins the ability to revoke access privileges instantly and remotely to prevent data from falling into the wrong hands or becoming compromised.
Security is extremely important, but security protocols that are too cumbersome or time consuming are hardly productive and will deter employees from using the service, regardless of how it contributes to efficiency otherwise. The best cloud services will be accessible from anywhere, on a wide range of devices, but with security protocols that are manageable and efficient.
Cloud computing is clearly more than just a passing fad. With a growing range of business services and applications moving to the cloud, making the transition to cloud computing is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury in order to enhance productivity and gain a competitive advantage. By moving computing and business communications to the cloud, any size company can ensure reliable connectivity from anywhere across a wide range of devices with much lower IT cost and management.
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