This post first appeared on the Sage Business Expert Blog on 19th November 2015
What can I use the Cloud for?
Nowadays, pretty much anything. Not only can you sign up for Accounting or Customer Relationship Management applications in the cloud, but with the use of integrated office systems like Microsoft Office 365, or Google Docs, you can genuinely run your entire business from a tablet.
In fact, I am writing this blog post in a café, while waiting for someone. The document is linked to my cloud storage, so when I fold up the Surface and go back to my office in an hour or so, I can open the same file on my desktop machine, and finish it off. It really could not be simpler, and there is no additional effort required over and above the creation of this content – everything else just happens, with no need for memory sticks or manual moving about of files.
Why is the Cloud complicated?
It isn’t in many ways. You have been able to log into remote business systems for many years, albeit with some aggravation; the cloud is essentially the same thing – it enables you to work on anything from anywhere, with nothing more than a simple internet connection.
It really is as simple as that – connect up, sign in and work. Some years ago you would have needed facilities really only available to larger businesses in order to access data that was in fact still stored in-house in any event! Today, you can still do this, but use cloud technologies to access the systems, even if they are internal – no need to use two different methods depending on where the information is being held.
I’m worried about security – is my business data is just ‘out there’?
Yes, it is. However, it is protected by layers of security, and is also (crucially) backed up by the cloud provider you are using. You are using a collaborative system with the data being shared amongst signed-in users.
Compare this with data being shared via email or on memory sticks, and stored on the office server subject to hardware failure, fire, flood, or theft, with a backup that is either not running properly, or not taken offsite, and very often is not regularly tested and verified as being able to restore your data, and you can see that the fears about cloud security are often misplaced.
What if my provider does fail, though?
Even the large, widely publicised failures of providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google tend to be brief. Critically, you may lose access for a period of time, but very rarely do you lose data. As soon as the system comes up again, you can carry on pretty much where you left off.
Compare this with having to repair a server, obtain new parts, install and configure them, and then start restoring applications and data – again, there is no comparison between the cloud risk and the traditional risk.
What if my data gets hacked?
Consider the motivation of hackers – they are either trying to cause mischief and inconvenience, or they are trying to obtain data that they can sell. Therefore the likelihood of them targeting Bloggs and Son Limited is minimal. Even if they did, they would perhaps obtain some financial details that can be purchased for less than a fiver from Companies House, or they would get a list of your customers.
Unless they located a direct competitor and sold them your customer list, this is unlikely to turn into anything serious for your business, aside from a significant PR disaster! I don’t make light of the risk that hackers can pose, and clients of mine have been targeted and affected, but it’s a matter of considering what data you are storing, and the implications of it being stolen.
If I was sitting on the recipe for Coca Cola then I may be more concerned, but the thought of somebody pinching my quarterly VAT Return is not something that I will lose sleep over.
I’m dependent on the internet, then?
Yes, you are – there’s no getting away from that! However, even if your internet connection fails it’s a simple matter to relocate until it is fixed – you can go home, or even to a local hotel or coffee shop (I’m still in the café, by the way!) and you will have access to all your business systems. Obviously this doesn’t work for everyone – you may need to answer the phone, or have access to files, but it does provide a Plan B for many.
The biggest risk is the cloud provider you sign up with – this is where you need to do your due diligence at the start of the process. If you use a major provider, then you should be relatively secure – however, if you sign up with AllYourEggsInOneBasket Software Inc., and they go under with all your business data you are going to have a problem.
It makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to back up and extract the data held in the cloud on your behalf, but that’s a subject for another day…
In the meantime, embrace the cloud, and don’t be frightened of it. It isn’t perfect, but it is massively powerful, exciting and (most importantly) enabling. It is no exaggeration to say that you can run an entire business from a tablet, and of course it enables you to work with anyone, anywhere, and at any time – what more could you ask for in today’s connected world?