The cloud is simply a location on the Internet where a company can store information and software. Having your company data and tools in the cloud can make them easier to protect and access because of built-in cloud security and the ability to reach the cloud from anywhere you happen to be.
Moving to the cloud will require an investment of time and money, but long-term savings typically more than make up for this effort. Lots of businesses agree – small business use of the cloud is expected to grow from 37 percent to 78 percent by 2020, according to a 2014 study by Emergent Research and Intuit.
Use this checklist to assess your company’s needs and find the best cloud option.
Understand cloud benefits
You can’t implement something you don’t understand. Review the following cloud features so you can determine how the payoff maps to your company’s needs:
- Security and updates are automatic. Cloud service providers manage these issues, reducing your technology burdens and ensuring that your services stay up to date.
- You can easily add extra storage and new capabilities. Cloud services tend to offer more flexibility if you need to suddenly increase or decrease your usage, so you don’t have to guess your future needs.
- It’s available anywhere. You and your team can access the latest versions of cloud-based files and software via any Internet connection.
- Cost structure is pay-as-you-go. Instead of buying and supporting office technology, most cloud services offer subscriptions for service.
Determine your priorities
Ask yourself which areas of your business stand to see the biggest gains from the cloud. Popular uses include:
- Information storage.Files from completed projects, reports and research can be housed in one place and accessed from any Internet connection. Many small businesses house items in the cloud that they don’t need every day but still might want to access on a moment’s notice.
- Creative collaboration. Collaborative programs let your team and its partners work together without the need to email documents back and forth. Cloud-based word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphic design and photo editing software are available.
- Project management. These programs create a single reference point for timelines, work assignments and project milestones.
- Staffing. Complete and store employee paperwork, manuals, performance reviews and time-off requests via the cloud. Provide access to training videos and tutorials.
- Accounting. Access cloud-based financial software, share reports with your accountant, and manage expense report submissions and credit card reconciliation.
Create a list of your top goals for cloud-based applications in the order you want to pursue them, and use that list to guide your search from there.
Select potential cloud vendors
Vendors usually offer a wide variety of features, so you won’t have to use a different vendor for each of your business priorities. Instead, find vendors whose particular strengths match as many of your top priorities as possible. Assemble a list of potential vendors by getting referrals from other businesses and accessing reviews from online resources such as PC Magazine and CNET. Vendor categories likely include:
- File management. The provider manages file storage, synchronization and backup. You pay based on how much space you need. Dropboxand Google Drive™ are services commonly used for file management.
- Virtual workspace. The vendor’s tools help teams exchange messages, share ideas and manage project timelines and assignments. Your business typically pays per user or buys unlimited access. Examples include Basecamp and ZoHo Projects.
- Specialty software.Some providers create tools for specific services, and your business pays for access to these instead of installing and managing your own copies on your local network. For example, Salesforce focuses on customer service tools and Constant Contact® specializes in email marketing. When you have a specific business requirement you need to meet, these types of cloud-based software tools are likely to be your answer.
- Infrastructure. Vendors such as Amazon Web Services and Rackspace Managed Cloudprovide a virtual network and servers to use to run your business. Businesses that host major Internet operations or whose main product is a Web platform are common users of these types of services.
Ask the right questions
After you’ve narrowed your list to a few potential vendors, ask these questions to find one that best fits your needs:
- What is your pricing structure?
- How much will it cost if we need more storage or additional services?
- How easy is your product to use? (Look for demos and tutorials.)
- What is the process for transitioning to your service?
- How long have you been in business?
- How do you provide technical support — by phone, email, text or chat? Is it available 24/7?
- How frequently is data on your servers backed up?
- What physical security do you have in place at your data centers?
- How do you protect against hackers and protect data in transit?
- What is your disaster recovery plan?
- Do you offer uptime guarantees? In other words, can you guarantee that your services are going to be up a certain percentage of the time, and that you’ll make up for any outages?
Moving to the cloud is a smart long-term plan for many small businesses. Work your way through this checklist and you’ll be able to start making decisions and finding the right services for you.Print this article