A Cloud Computing Workshop for Small Business Owners

A Cloud Computing Workshop for Small Business Owners

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A Cloud Computing Workshop for Small Business Owners . Is cloud computing the most feasible approach to automating your customer relationship management (CRM) systems? You may have heard that cloud computing can save you money and make your life easier—but there’s more. A closer look at what “the cloud” can do for your business will help you understand the benefits and risks.

In its simplest terms, cloud computing means moving the data and/or software that runs your business from your office to the Internet “cloud” that spans the globe. In cloud computing, you do not buy software to run your CRM, word processing, e-mail and other enterprise applications. That software, along with your data, is no longer physically located at your office. Instead, you rent everything from an outside vendor that stores your information and makes applications available via the Internet. For this reason, cloud computing is also closely aligned with the terms “software as a service” (SaaS) and “hardware as a service” (HaaS).

Popular social media applications such as Facebook and LinkedIn are good examples of this approach—you log into a secure site on their Internet-accessible servers to access their applications and your stored data.

A major benefit of cloud computing is lower expense, with considerable savings in the initial hardware and software investment, as well as ongoing maintenance costs. “Renting” software means you (or your IT staff) no longer need to buy a CRM program, install the application on each machine in the office, or keep it up to date with bug fixes and new releases. You simply log into the “cloud” and access the most current version of that program. Similarly, for data storage, you no longer need to buy and manage disk drives and processing speed to keep your CRM system running; those headaches now belong to the service provider.

Cloud computing also offers easy scalability. As your processing needs grow, you obtain more capacity from the provider. From an accounting standpoint, you transform IT costs from a capital expenditure to an operating expense.

You can put as much—or as little—of your business operations in the Internet “cloud” as you’d like. If you have a highly customized CRM system already installed, you may only want to back up your data through an off-site storage provider. However, if your needs are more generic, you can use one of the many customizable CRM packages that are available from a vendor.

While cloud computing offers cheaper operating costs than in-office solutions, it also bears some of the same risks as a conventional approach. The “cloud” is a useful concept, but in reality, programs and data are stored in physical data centers that are susceptible to natural disasters, loss of power and human error. Cloud computing providers take extra steps to keep their systems running and to maintain data integrity, but there are occasional problems with accessibility, data security and even data loss. It is a good idea to take local backups of critical data as a precaution.

A Cloud Computing Workshop for Small Business Owners

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If your company decides cloud computing is worth exploring, you should follow the same steps as when evaluating an on-site CRM application and data storage. While expenses should be less in a cloud solution, make sure you understand what your real costs will be—per-user, per-application license, etc.

There are large players, such as Google and Amazon, plus smaller firms you probably have never heard of, so due diligence remains important. The bottom line is to make sure you know how much you’ll pay and what you’ll get in return.

Cost reduction, flexibility and convenience are often the main factors that lead companies to put CRM and other applications into a cloud computing environment. However, once that solution is in place, business leaders often find that cloud computing provides competitive advantages and new strategic opportunities for greater innovation.

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