What better way to start 2015 than by making simple changes to the way your business operates in order to save time, improve productivity and make more money.
The key to that resolution could be cloud computing, something you might be aware can have an impact on the way that you and your business uses technology, but which might not be something you have so far dared to use.
Fear about the cloud is understandable. Cloud computing is one of those hyped technology trends that is difficult to avoid but which can sometimes leave people feeling confused and cautious.
The best way to think of the cloud is as a series of IT resources that are owned and managed by someone else, but which you can use when you have a specific business demand.
For example, imagine you have a day out of the office and you’re in numerous meetings, taking notes or completing customer forms that need to be shared quickly with those back in the office to process. The cloud allows you to upload information quickly and remotely to a location that your colleagues can then access, to complete while you’re in your next meeting.
Not only does the cloud have the potential to increase productivity and efficiency, it also has the potential to deliver real cost benefits. It offers the flexibility to borrow software that you need occasionally for projects for a set period of time, rather than pay for the full set-up and implementation for something that your business won’t use on a daily basis.
In that respect, the cloud opens up access to technology that was previously beyond the reach of many smaller businesses and its popularity is growing. Analyst firm Gartner suggests that cloud computing will account for the majority of new investments in IT by 2016, while research company IDC expects small and medium-sized business (SMB) spending on cloud computing to grow by almost 20 per cent annually through 2018.
Small businesses are now turning to the cloud for a broad series of IT service and business activities, from storing data to running software. The cloud provides a great way to back-up your crucial information to a remote location rather than relying on storing data on-site. This protects the business should internal storage systems fail to ensure your backup files are always ready and waiting when you need them.
Small firms are also using specialist cloud providers for key business applications. Buying and managing sales, finance and HR software can be costly. Cloud computing allows small businesses to purchase a small number of licenses with the freedom to increase that provision as the business grows. In this respect, you only ever need to pay for what you use.
With all these benefits, it seems strange that some firms have shied away from a move to the cloud. Security is often a key factor, with some people understandably cautious of passing information to an external provider. Research by the Ponemon Institute suggests 70 per cent of IT professionals believe managing privacy within the cloud is more complex than in-house.
The great news is that, when it comes to security, smaller firms often have an advantage over their larger counterparts. While big companies can struggle to oversee how thousands of people across the organisation buy and use cloud services, smaller firms can create and better enforce tight policies about how employees interact with the cloud.
What might surprise you, as you start to set up a policy for how people connect, is the broad range of devices that are ready for the cloud. For many of us, it’s now second nature to use apps on mobile devices or tablets, to read, access and manipulate information.
What you might not know is that other devices are also cloud-ready. For example, many printers can now connect to the internet and recent models go a stage further, providing a direct link to popular cloud applications, such as Dropbox and Evernote, allowing you to quickly print from the cloud or scan and upload quickly.
The productivity benefits are clear. Someone scanning a document can upload information directly to the cloud from the printer so the document is then digitally filed and ready for use by others within your organisation, whether they’re in the office or out working on the move, without even needing to login to a PC.
Our recent research, which features in our guide to selecting your next printer, also revealed that many small businesses have simple connectivity options already at their fingertips that they’re not yet using. It could be a case of using smartphones or tablets more efficiently for work by downloading a free app or that you could easily start making use of latent capabilities within your existing IT set-up without any additional costs, such as connectivity features on printers or scanners that aren’t being fully utilised.
With the cloud being both cost effective and, potentially cost reducing, going on-demand in 2015 could well be one New Year’s resolution you will find easy to keep.