Large multinational firms have been excited about cloud computing for years. For them, cloud computing means freeing up technology resources, software, and hardware needed to build and run parts of their businesses.
The move toward the cloud has enabled companies like Salesforce and Amazon, to turn traditional technology solutions into value-added services. By moving resources to the cloud, Fortune 500 firms have abandoned developing their own business-critical applications and instead, essentially rent them from another company whose specialty is in delivering services over the Internet. This has saved these firms big money in time and resources.
The value proposition of using cloud computing is clear for large businesses but what about us small businesses?
Here are some ways small businesses can best leverage the cloud:
Scale when ready: Cloud computing means non-essential business activities can be addressed using third-party solutions. For example, online media companies are using Amazon’s Web Services (AWS), or Rackspace’s hosting platform, to stream video. With a pay-as-you-go model, firms can match the supply of their services with demand, and avoid a costly infrastructure investment. Scalability becomes almost infinite.
Competitiveness: Cloud technology has enabled service providers to make niche offerings. Companies like SuccessFactors have put the power of HR optimization—once out of reach of smaller businesses—in the hands of companies without the internal resources to develop or buy a platform of their own.
Work with true specialists: The move to the cloud has made service providers so good at what they do; it makes little sense for businesses to build their own. For example, Google’s got plenty of cloud services it provides to small businesses, including the very popular Gmail. Google handles the infrastructure, and businesses brand the look and feel. As for websites, why build your own and manage your own server, when in a couple of minutes, you can have a professional-looking website hosted on Wordpress?
Get real time views: Google Analytics is a free tool that gives businesses insight into what's happening on their website. Omniture, now owned by Adobe, offers social media analytics on steroids. Other services, like Geckoboard, provide an affordable dashboard view of all the real-time activity that matters across a small business.
Ready, automate: Cloud services take the stress off many of the ancillary parts of business management. Activities, like invoicing, can be partly or fully automated through Freshbooks, while inbound marketing management can be handled by Hubspot. By putting non-crucial activities on auto-pilot, small business owners can spend more time focusing on activities central to their business.
Collaborate: Successful collaboration makes for successful products and services. File sharing systems like Dropbox, make it easy for teams to share and collaborate on media documents, such as presentations. Other productivity suites, like 37Signals, mimic the tools larger companies use to streamline global teams. Start-ups and entrepreneurs can now use the same tools.
Manage cash flow: Instead of plunking thousands of dollars down to buy or develop a system, cloud computing providers offer a subscription model that turns payments into bite-size chunks. This pay-as-you-go model is essentially a layaway plan for capital investment. Small businesses can pay for these systems out of cash flow.
As important as cloud computing has been to big business, it is even more important to smaller companies. By using cloud computing, small business owners can take advantage of the tools large businesses have had access to for years, and level the playing field.