This is part two of a three-part series about how the cloud impacts business:
- Part 1: What is the Cloud?
- Part 2: Benefits of the Cloud for Businesses
- Part 3: The Cloud and Cradlepoint
Benefits of the Cloud for Businesses
The cloud simply makes businesses more efficient, which translates directly to the bottom line.
- Easily access applications with multiple devices (smartphone, tablet, etc.) wherever you are.
- Streamline collaboration.
- Extend your reach.
- Simplify and improve security.
- Share computing resources.
For any application, the fundamental question regarding the cloud is simple: Where does it make more sense for that application to live?
- On a local device or server
- On a cloud server
When an application lives on a local device or server, data processed with that application is only accessible on that device or within the local network. Transferring that information to another device requires an entirely new process (email, ftp, physical disk transfer) – a process that is often time-consuming, usually annoying, and sometimes impossible (e.g. incompatible devices or software). Integrating across networks may require painful development efforts like building data adapters for LAN/server systems.
Cloud services, meanwhile, are accessible 24/7 anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, usually through a regular browser window. Businesses can be confident in the security technologies available now for cloud apps (e.g. HTTPS, SSL, user authentication), so ease and agility is paired with security. That's why #2 is probably the best answer for a lot more applications than you realize.
Many of us have become accustomed to pre-cloud software applications, and we default to those applications without even considering cloud alternatives. Increasingly, the cloud alternatives are flat-out better.
Multiple Devices and Mobility
You may remember a time when all your work pretty much lived on one device: your work computer. For more and more people, those days are over.
Even without intentionally moving operations to the cloud, people are finding themselves accessing information that used to be restricted to the office in more and more places. With cloud applications lots of people work from home without missing a beat; business travelers use smartphones in airports and hotels; salespeople in the middle of a store have access to inventory and the POS system on tablets; all kinds of workers stay connected at remote and mobile job sites (e.g. construction, trucking companies); etc. When companies embrace the cloud, this mobile transition is often seamless; otherwise it's an IT headache.
There are lots and lots of work-related documents that require the contributions of a few people. How do you bring those contributions together?
- Print hard copies and gather manual edits. This is a great way to add inefficient layers of extra work (ineligible handwriting, edits that don't translate directly, and lots of back-and-forth).
- Email chains. If you send a document to five people at once and they all make edits, then you now have five different, likely contradictory versions of the document. (And sending it to them one by one is even more tedious.)
- The cloud!! Assuming the cloud software is the right fit for the task, there's simply no comparison. Everyone's edits are automatically integrated, and changes are made and published to the appropriate people in real time.
When it comes to collaboration, the cloud absolutely destroys local software.
As an example, I have a cloud-based spreadsheet, Smartsheet, to track my projects. I have a few different supervisors who can all view and edit my Smartsheet directly. I get updates telling me when they've made changes, and they can all see how busy I am with other projects. There are a lot of Excel spreadsheets out there living on local machines with local software that would be exponentially more valuable if they moved to the cloud for the ease of collaboration (perhaps with Smartsheet, but there are certainly other options as well, including Excel Web App).
I discussed earlier how with the cloud one person can access the same applications with lots of different devices, on-the-go. The inverse is also true: one person can leverage the cloud to manage devices and processes all over the world from a central location. If you work for a company with several scattered locations (e.g., kiosks, retail stores, buses, etc.), then you should move everything you can to the cloud. Cloud applications will dramatically increase your ability to manage processes at all of your distributed locations from wherever you happen to be, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.
Is it safer to stash your cash under your mattress, or at the bank?
I suppose there was a time when that was a serious question, but not anymore. Similarly, it's much safer to store information at a quality server run by professionals who know what they have to do to protect it. The cloud still feels unsafe to a lot of people, but that will change as people understand more about the cloud and how servers work.
World-class hosting companies have world-class facilities and world-class security systems in place; each successfully integrated cloud app will effectively outsource – and therefore eliminate – one of IT's numerous burdens. And because those hosting companies are a shared resource, you pay a small fraction of the price to get their full-level of expertise.
With cloud applications the most likely security breach is not at the well-protected server, nor during the well-encrypted Internet transfer: it's at the user's end of things (e.g. browser window left open; unprotected device; obvious password).
Cloud computing moves the server load to a more advanced, shared space, which has several advantages:
- Reduces peak load: The load is shared with lots of types of companies in lots of locations, so the stress on the system at any one time is reduced.
- Easily scalable: Server capacity and utilization rates are much easier to match to demand with cloud computing.
- Advanced infrastructure: The most advanced cloud servers have the most advanced, most efficient systems in place.
Are there caveats?
Ok, this much is clear: The benefits of the cloud are far-reaching, and they directly impact the bottom line. But surely there's a catch?
Maybe. Maybe not. Significant changes require new ways of thinking; there are certainly concerns you will have to address.
- Increased Internet reliability. The more applications you move to the cloud, the more dependent you are on your Internet connection. That's why we strongly recommend 4G failover as a fast, reliable, cost-effective backup Internet solution to increase your business continuity for cloud computing.
- Application readiness. The potential of cloud applications is remarkable – it reaches about as far as the imagination – but each new application requires significant development time. This development is happening at a breakneck pace right now all over the world, but there is still a long way to go. There are lots of potential cloud applications that are likely to blow their local software counterparts away, but they aren't fully baked yet. Discerning when to transition from the tried-and-true systems to newly developed cloud applications will require sharp navigation skills.
- User transition. Perhaps the biggest problem with the cloud is simply that people are comfortable with the old system, and it will take time to adapt to a new way of doing things. A cloud application may be much more intuitive and efficient than its antiquated rival, but there's still a learning curve that users will have to get over.