The cloud has made our working lives easier, with everything from virtually unlimited email storage to access-from-anywhere enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. It’s no wonder the 2013 cloud computing research IDG survey revealed at least 84 percent of the companies surveyed run at least one cloud-based application. The cloud allows businesses to focus on their core competencies. For most of us, this isn’t running servers or email, so if someone can do it better, that’s good news. Over the past several years, businesses have put more faith and resources into the cloud, and it’s changed the nature of work in many ways, for the better.
Cloud software runs online through a third-party provider, and users access it on their browser. They don’t have to install it, maintain it, update it, or worry about security. Users don’t have to set up additional servers to run the new software. Whereas before, IT departments spent a good deal of their day (and sometimes nights) “keeping the lights on” and troubleshooting equipment, when the majority of a company’s software is cloud-based (and such tasks are handled by the provider), it frees up the IT team. They can work on other critical projects, while IT execs can spend more time planning and thinking strategically.
Both literally and figuratively. Many companies have forgone their own physical data centers, storing scads of data in the cloud.
Paying a low, predictable, flat monthly fee for software is game-changing for companies that can’t afford to shell out lots of cash upfront. Mission-critical applications can run in the cloud, so businesses don’t have to buy costly new servers. Hybrid models let companies keep one foot in both worlds.
Many data-hosting services charge only for the space a company is using, so no money is wasted. Try arguing with your self-storage provider that only half your unit is filled with old VCRs and busted furniture, and see if they’ll lower your rate.
Those $10-per-month software and web-hosting subscriptions have leveled the playing field, and many of the smartest companies aren’t charging per user. Start-ups and entrepreneurs can get their businesses running more quickly and cost-efficiently than ever, which means they can play in the same field as their bigger counterparts.
Unlike installed software, when a new version of a cloud-service is released, subscribers get instant access. This means software is always up-to-date, and patches can fix potentially harmful bugs as soon as they’re ready.
Once upon a time, you couldn’t take software installed on your desktop with you. Today, whether you’re at home, at the airport, or in a coffee shop, the cloud lets you log in and access your software from any Internet-ready device. Thousands of apps use the cloud to connect employees’ smartphones to their offices, and for more and more businesses, mobile is becoming a must.
Collaborating with co-workers has never been easier, no matter where they’re located. Sharing and comparing documents, proposals, and presentations happens in an instant, allowing users to stay in sync with the latest changes, reducing version-control confusion. Cloud-based social tools — whether they be wikis, chat programs, or video conferencing software — encourage communication between employees across branches and continents.
The cloud is even enabling mergers by cutting down on the time it takes to transfer data and records from one system into another.
Mobile computing continues to grow. If your smartphone’s word processor isn’t connected to the cloud, any work you do on that system won’t show up on your laptop’s version. The cloud provides a backup and synchronization, no matter which device you’re working from.
Good cloud providers need to have the best security to stay in business — often better than small and medium-sized businesses can afford. Backup hosting facilities take over when there’s an outage, which likely means you won’t be affected even when there’s a natural disaster or other threat to a data center.
On-demand cloud resources keep businesses agile, allowing them to test new product lines, set up new configurations, and experiment with new tools. If the new idea doesn’t work, no huge time or money investment minimizes the impact. If the idea takes hold, the cloud can help scale.
Business has been getting more global for decades, but virtual meetings and web conferencing means that now all the branches can talk and collaborate on the same software. If only the cloud could solve that time zone problem.
In a 2012 Cloud Connect presentation by McKinsey, consultants Will Forrest and Kara Sprague said, “Unless companies are asking themselves how to use the cloud to disrupt their own business models or someone else’s, then adopting the cloud is just another IT project.” Businesses have to figure out how to harness the cloud to keep themselves competitive, beyond just saving themselves time and money. How will the cloud take you to the next level?
By Jon Roskill