Just two years ago, when Ted Gorsline launched MobileVantage, the Toronto-based entrepreneur relied heavily on USB thumb drives and email to share files between devices and colleagues.
“It was hard to keep everything and everyone up-to-date,” recalls Gorsline. “We always had multiple versions of one document.” And if you forgot your laptop or smartphone, you couldn’t access what you needed.”
Fast-forward two years: The staff at Gorsline’s growing telecommunications company can now access files anywhere, anytime and on virtually any device. That’s thanks to a product called Microsoft Office 365, which synchronizes content in real time. (So if you update a contact, for example, on a mobile phone, the info is updated on all employee laptops.)
That’s just one example of what the cloud can do for business. For some IT pros, moving business operations to the cloud can seem like surrendering control. But you can’t afford to overlook the advantages of working in the cloud. Here is a list of the advantages the cloud brings, compared to life without the cloud.
1. You can access your data on the cloud from anywhere
The best thing about the cloud is that you can access information — email, documents, photos, productivity info — from virtually any Internet-connected computer, tablet or smartphone in the world. So if you forget an important PowerPoint presentation when you leave on a business trip, you can simply access the file from any device wherever you are.
Without the cloud: Your organization isn’t as nimble or flexible. You lose valuable time moving data between devices and have to deal with version control.
2. Your data is safer in the cloud
Because your files are stored offsite — available via a password-protected website in cyberspace — they’re also protected from local damage, such as fire, a nasty virus or computer theft. Naturally, you’re going to want to choose a cloud provider that has a good track record of protecting user data.
“IT security is about trust,” says Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and author. “With any outsourcing model, whether it be cloud computing or something else … you have to trust the outsourcer’s security, reliability, availability and its business continuity.”
Without the cloud: Too often, small businesses don’t have backup plans in place for data recovery after a disaster. And they’re at risk for lost data when transporting data via mobile devices.
3. The cloud makes it easier to collaborate
With cloud computing, employees can work together on projects — such as colleagues tweaking a sales report — all in real time, even though they might be in different physical locations. Cloud collaboration tools abound, and version control isn’t a problem.
The cloud can also help reduce email congestion and streamline communication. For example, rather than trying to email a number of large files to colleagues — which could clog an inbox — sending a link to click on instead is a smarter alternative.
Without the cloud: The constant renaming of documents (v1.3, v1.4a, v1.4b and so on) can get confusing; you lose the immediacy of real-time collaboration, and you might end up footing the bill for travel as it’s more difficult to work from various locations. Large attachments can also be difficult to view on a mobile device.
4. The cloud saves you money
Using a cloud provider also can save your organization money. The aforementioned Microsoft Office 365, for example, is only $6 per user per month. Or you can use a service like Microsoft’s Windows Live SkyDrive, which gives you up to 25 GB of online storage for free.
The cloud also offers scalability and flexibility. Expanding your workforce for a few weeks? It’s usually easy to add or subtract workers to a service you’re utilizing in the cloud. For small-to-midsized businesses, the cloud offers the opportunity to compete with far larger organizations, without committing big bucks.
Without the cloud: You’re likely locked into more rigid service agreements, and you’ll probably spend more on personnel, hardware and data storage.
And if you’re an IT pro, will moving to a cloud service put you out of work? Of course not: Someone’s got to coordinate the cloud services your organization uses, work with cloud providers and integrate the cloud with in-house operations.