Are you ready to embrace the cloud?

Small biz? Get a hand up

You’re not a Silicon Valley, venture firm-based startup. You’re not building the latest and greatest app to change the world. You’re not valued at $10 billion. You’re just a small business. But that’s OK … you’re still a good person.

You’ve been around for a few years. And you’re not a big fan of change. That’s OK, too. You’ve got a few PCs, maybe some laptops and a couple of Macbooks. You’ve got accounting software, Microsoft Office®, some files, a database or two. It’s not perfect, but it’s OK.

Everywhere you hear cloud, cloud, cloud. Is there something you’re missing? Not really. But this could be the year that you really do start taking advantage of the cloud. Yes, YOU may make this change; can you believe it? But only if it makes business sense, of course.

So here are three questions to ask to figure out if you’re ready for the cloud:

Do I have a real security concern?

Every business is exposed, at some level, to security issues. You might be collecting your customers’ credit card information to process orders. Or maybe you’re keeping payroll records, which include social security numbers or other confidential information. Or your salespeople are prone to losing laptops with customer data on them. Perhaps you’ve got a friend whose business was crippled by a virus or some other type of malware. Or you employ a customer service person who just loves clicking on anything that’s attached to an email, no matter how many times you yell at her not to.

You know that a good cloud-based provider’s security model is likely way better than yours.

You read the news: if a hacker can work his way into some of the largest, most secure places in the world, he can most certainly get into your system, too. Then moving all of your applications, files and databases to a managed server might be the best solution for you. No one’s perfect, and no cloud-based provider can promise 100-percent protection. But you know that a good cloud-based provider’s security model is likely way better than yours. Their business depends on it. They allocate more (and more intelligent) resources to it.

Are my people demanding more remote access?

Your customer service manager has a newborn and wants to work a few days a week from home. You’ve just hired a great salesperson but she lives a thousand miles away. Meanwhile, your local reps are mostly out of the office seeing customers (a good thing). Your accountant wants to deeply scrutinize your books from his office every month (might not be a good thing!). A project team is spread out around the area but they want to collaborate, conference, share files, and review designs together without traveling back to the office.

All this means you need a good cloud-based collaboration system. Try Microsoft Office 365, for example, which will let you share all of your files and data together online, in addition to offering you a professional email system.

Do I want less IT responsibility?

Sure you do. Back in the day you used to enjoy all the tech stuff. Then, it just got too complicated. Now you’ve got to worry about performance, backups, security, malware, viruses, remote connections, upgrades, new builds and subscription updates. Your IT guy charges you every time he blinks, fixes one thing and then breaks 10 others. You don’t have time to learn all this stuff yourself.

Moving everything to a cloud-based service takes away all of this responsibility. Sure, you still need wiring, printers and routers. But a good cloud-based managed service provider will be able to support all of this remotely. They’ll take the backups, make sure everyone’s connected and that you’re running the latest and greatest operating system builds. For now, you’ll pay a little more for this convenience. But if you continue to do it yourself, the cost of maintaining your systems or even fixing a problem could be prohibitive.

Yeah, you’re just a small business owner. You know what you know and if you’re like me, it really isn’t very much. And let’s face it: you really don’t know much about IT. So the cloud might have some big advantages for you. Now.

Image by: Ricardo Bouyett via Compfight cc

Gene Marks
Gene Marks writes a daily column for the Washington Post on business and public policy. He also writes weekly for Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine, and periodically for The Huffington Post and Foxbusiness.com. Gene also regularly appears on Fox News, MSNBC, Sirius XM Radio and ABC radio. His work reaches hundreds of thousands of business owners and executives each week. Gene is a Certified Public Accountant and runs the Marks Group PC - a 10-person technology and management consulting firm located near Philadelphia. He spent nine years with the international firm KPMG, most recently as Senior Manager. Gene speaks frequently to business groups so they can better understand the trends affecting their businesses and - most importantly - the actions they should take to continue to grow and profit. http://www.genemarks.com/