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September 20, 2011 / TaskHoppers

Help For Business Is Written In The Cloud

Dee Ashurst talks about cloud computing, its significance in business and some pros and cons of being in the cloud

Why The Cloud Based Industry Is Significant

It is estimated that the value to the U.S. economy of the cloud based industry is currently in the region of about $1.25 trillion per annum. As the UK is generally approximately five to ten years behind the U.S. in terms of business trends, we can safely estimate that this is where entrepreneurs will be increasingly focussing their operations in the next ten years. There is a massive paradigm shift happening in terms of how daily business operations are conducted. For those still wondering what it all means, there are ways to help your business move operational tasks, originally performed ‘in house’ or ‘privately’ to being operated publicly ‘in the cloud’. In order to get your business the help needed, this article is an overview of how the Cloud might relate to you as an entrepreneur wanting to stay ahead of the competition.

What is driving this move is a combination of wider changes. For instance, ‘Apple’ is in the forefront of technological development, offering mobile hardware solutions, such as the iPad, and software moving work into an ‘iCloud’.  Socially, there is a culture change in how talented people are bringing their services to market.  Think about how many more people are working from home because of a need for greater working flexibility. The home-based employee and entrepreneur are a huge growing phenomenon for whom the Cloud based industries can offer tailored support.

At the same time, medium to large scale enterprises require new, cost-saving and flexible solutions as their businesses grow.  Cloud based solutions help entrepreneurs and businesses gain from greater economies of scale, without incurring huge increases in investment in infrastructure.  Those larger companies who have already built their businesses on traditional technologies and systems are waking up to a need to transition to ‘the cloud’.

How Does The Cloud Effect My Business?

If you are a company with established business practices incorporating disparate systems, clunkily stuck together over time, then rationalisation of e.g. software applications and data centres can be a costly challenge for growing businesses if they stick with traditional solutions.  Cloud based entrepreneurial companies can help in offering integrated hardware and software to build more flexible work environments fit for a mobile population of the future.

The move to the cloud is still in its early days, but the next decade is predicted to see a huge shift in I.T., recruitment and financial services being moved to cloud based services. This is partly because they offer cheaper business solutions – fewer requirements for office space, for staffing, servers and other still unforeseen advantages.

What Benefits Can The Transition To The Cloud Offer?

So what are ‘cloud based’ business solutions? Which cloud solutions are most useful for your business? Firstly, understand that virtualisation is not cloud. There are basically three defining characteristics to cloud based task management:

Firstly, the application layer, that is software services. For example: ‘Google’, ‘Salesforce’, ‘Workday’ are companies who provide applications which move business tasks away from ‘institutions’ to the cloud.  So recruitment and people management is no longer the jurisdiction of a costly and large in-house personnel department, with software developed and built into traditional business IT systems as we currently know them.  Companies can have all of their information stored without the need for servers and back up and IT staff.  But the software and technical solutions can still be tailor-made for your specific business objectives, but in a way that helps innovation between key staff groupings.  Business development can become more dynamic and staff, either less numerous and / or more mobile.

A second element of cloud based business operations is the ‘platform’ layer. For instance: the company, ‘Salesforce’ has ‘Force.com’ which allows employees and freelancers to work remotely and collaborate in real time on projects, or to shape their own work environment to suit work-streams and help deliver company objectives more flexibly via browsers.  This allows for better innovation as a flexible work force – who are not necessarily employees, but act as freelancers or contractors – pursue their passions and interests finding new ways of doing traditional business tasks.

Workday’ offers financial management packages, together with customer relationship management services, all in the cloud, accessed via a secure browser with secure log in facilities. Customer service professionals can work remotely and still have all of the information required to deliver effective customer service to new or existing customers.

Google’s platform is ‘AppEngine’. This offers users the ability to build and host web applications on Google’s infrastructure. For instance, an application such as ‘Autocad’ or any application on which others can collaborate can be uploaded to the cloud for designated users to access. This can be complemented by an application to video conference, so designs or projects can be developed in real time by people in different parts of the world.

The third layer of the cloud industry is infrastructure. Take a look at ‘Intact’ for I.T., accountancy and business management solutions. Intact can bring together the specialists and the technology to release an entrepreneur from time-consuming business management, to pursue the side of their business they wish to develop.

The key features of the ‘public(-ly accessible) cloud must include true ‘multi-tenant’ capacity, access via a browser and delivered as an online service; you should not have to install anything. This latter feature is a real differentiator. Buyer, beware if a business claims to be cloud based, and then they ask you to install something onto your computer. You should hear the change jingling in your pocket they have put their hand into! Multiple licences, servers, hardware and lack of duplication are all lurking as fallout costs for your business.

One of the greatest benefits to business for all cloud based business tasks is that you can manage your operations for a fraction of the costs.  Labour is less intensive.

Are There Drawbacks To Operating In The Cloud?

Fears about stability and security in the move to the cloud are still significant in the UK.  Transition and change is stuttering.  Integration, customisation, security have been concerns, especially for regulated services such as the financial sector and health.  Contrary to expectation, the cloud makes information management potentially more secure.

Consider those news stories where data has been stored on a mobile device and subsequently left on a train, leaving thousands of peoples’ information at risk of being accessed.  However, keeping the information in the cloud means logging onto a secure system to access sensitive information which can have greater security systems built in, because the cloud based industries offering support will have security and confidentiality as central to their systems.

Check whether the partners you seek transitional help from have dedicated security teams.  Will data be compiled and encrypted? Architecting technology infrastructure solutions and security of data are the two sides of your business protection.

Increasingly however, as more cloud entrepreneurs have offered services with greater sophistication and innovation, more often nowadays, concern is over which path to take in the transition.

For existing businesses, development or transition to cloud based projects can be broken down, such that within any given project there may be e.g.  multiple separate units of work. A certain amount of these units can be carried out by cloud experts, who can be accessed via freelance networks online, as opposed to any requirement for hiring new staff.  Another work thread, such as sales, could be delivered by development of affiliates in the cloud community. Where a company needs to innovate, cloud communities can get involved in competitions to deliver new services.

If you are wondering how are your people will be managed, there definitely has to be a greater emphasis on collaboration, information access, use of e.g. video and virtual company meetings.  Mandatory attendance can be required for video conferencing, to maintain relationships during project management.  Also, the traditional annual general meetings in person can act as team gel and an opportunity for celebrations of successes can become part of such events.

There will also be more emphasis on innovative technology, for instance: flat screens, head sets, comprehensive software with compatible add-on capacity.

The key according to Appirio’s  (a market leader in the cloud solutions industry) co-founder Chris Barbin, is “over communication” in order to provide people with insights and information.  Offering interesting work keeps peoples’ creativity, commitment and passion going.

How Is It Working For Others?

Some of the biggest names are now moving business operations to the Cloud – Amazon, amongst many others.  These are companies who are paving the way for a cloud based business world of the future, by finding new routes to new results from the old processes and procedures, based on increasingly out-moded technology and work cultures.  Their experience help companies who may fear the risks involved, by proving the new ways pay off and offer the security and reliability every business needs.

Newbie entrepreneurs should have their business start ups immediately operating in the cloud. For Barbin, this is a no-brainer.  Costs for new businesses need to be kept to a minimum; cloud based solutions have proved their efficiency already in this respect. Mobile phones and iPads can offer your work-force mobile office solutions, freeing them being tied to ‘the server in the office’. Infrastructure can be completely in the cloud.

Change management isn’t just about cutting costs.  It is creating new cultures, “innovative supply chain routes, new marketing opportunities”, etc. The key for businesses currently in transition or entrepreneurs feeling their way in a business start up, is to take one step at a time.  A simple first step could be usage of email provider.  Move from ‘Outlook’ or exchange services to use ‘Googlemail’ instead, with its value added functionalities.

Customers are a business’s life blood, so look at your customer relationship management system; a license with ‘Salesforce’ for instance could cut down on people costs and administration time.

For your financials, if considering investing in a new system, check out those which are cloud based.  Forget installing costly software! Forget disparate access between branches of your company due to faulty servers!

Hardware, software and service sectors “will get disrupted” over coming decades, according to Barbin.  The cloud is still in early days; adoption may take decades. The transition will be a result of a combination of the best help solutions offered by the new breed of cloud entrepreneurs, those specialists who focus on the essential business building tasks of your business in collaboration with you, their partner. Tasks such as how you sell, bill, manage, support and change in the future will likely become cloud based activities.

In the UK, early adopters will be the companies who are best equipped to adapt to changes happening in the wider world and thus be sustainable for the future. Recommended reading: ‘The Big Switch’, by Nick Carr.

By Dee Ashurst – The writer thanks inc.com for the information collated here from the Chris Barbin webinar.

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