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Business Feature: Cloud Computing – A cost effective solution for your tech needs

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There’s a cloud on the horizon, but this one could just save your business a lot of money and headaches.

Cloud computing is catching on with Canadian small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) as a way to offload the burdens of buying and maintaining information and communication technologies (ICT).

Cloud computing lets your company use software or hardware owned by a third party, instead of purchasing and managing it yourself. Instead of buying new software and downloading it onto your computer, for example, you use the internet to access the application on a third party’s servers.

That means employees, including a salesperson on the road, can access your company computer system from anywhere there’s web access. A simple version is Google Docs, a service that allows users to work and collaborate from anywhere on Word, Excel and other files hosted on Google’s servers.

Best of all, the cloud computing provider takes care of all those nagging ICT problems that you don’t have the time or expertise to handle.

  • The provider secures and backs up your data.
  • Your systems don’t go offline because your software has crashed.
  • You don’t need to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of upgrading a system— only to learn you bought the wrong one or it’s obsolete two years later.
  • You don’t need to shell out big bucks for in-house ICT personnel.

Cloud computing providers offer a growing list of services—everything from secure data storage to the latest enterprise resource planning systems and remote access to data.

“It’s a huge cost saving,” says Richard Shaw, a BDC consultant in Toronto who helps companies implement cloud-computing solutions.

As a rule of thumb, he said, a company can save about 65 per cent on an enterprise resource planning system by implementing it through ‘the cloud’ versus the usual route of buying the software and running it on the business’s computers.

Little wonder then that cloud computing was identified as “among the top technologies for both cost reductions and growth” for SMEs in a recent internal BDC study.

One of the main cost savings is maintenance. Businesses often don’t budget enough for maintaining new ICT systems and don’t have the expertise to handle the job in-house, Shaw says. “Many systems fail because of a lack of maintenance, discipline in process, training and retaining of users.”

Despite the benefits, many entrepreneurs remain skeptical, the BDC study says. SMEs “are still cautious” and unsure how cloud computing can help them, it says.

One of the main question marks is about hosting sensitive business data offsite. How secure will it be?

Shaw understands the caution: “I personally had a lot of mistrust about cloud computing. Nobody trusts their data not to be onsite.”

However, he says data tend to be more secure ‘on the cloud’ because SMEs often neglect computer security and data backup—two basic services that cloud computing offers. Business owners are slowly putting aside misgivings about data security as they get more comfortable with online consumer transactions, Shaw says. “They already do banking and shopping through the internet and pay their taxes online. So they are getting more comfortable putting business data on the cloud.”

Besides versatile applications and remote access to applications and data, cloud computing also allows businesses to pay for software or hardware on a per-use basis.

“You’re paying for expertise and infrastructure only when you need it,” Shaw says. “Once you see how cloud computing works, the mistrust goes away.”

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