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Cloud computing for small business

Find out how you can improve your business efficiency with cloud computing, helping you to save time and money.

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Improve your business efficiency In a recent Forum poll, 56% of businesses told us they are using cloud computing but 21% were still not sure what it was; a clear sign that popularity of the cloud' is growing, but also that there is some work to do to raise awareness of the benefits it can have to smaller businesses. What is 'the cloud'? Put simply, the cloud is like a big virtual computer accessed via the internet. Instead of running your IT systems and/or software on your computer or server, you can choose to run them on this external storage. Your data is saved to the cloud and the provider is responsible for things like upgrades, maintenance and backups. Increasingly more software providers are moving their services online, where software is delivered as a service (SaaS) which you subscribe to by monthly or annual subscription, rather than licensing software for a large one-off payment. Adobe recently became the first major software company to announce it's moving towards a subscription-based only model for its Creative Suite software and Microsoft appear to be pushing their cloud-based Office 365 solution over more traditional out-of-the box software a sign of things to come perhaps? There are three ways to store data in the cloud. Most business will use the public cloud, which is third party storage. Contrary to what the name suggests, your data isn't publically available but it will be in remote data storage shared with other businesses. The private cloud is remote data storage that you own yourself and only use for your business. Or you can choose a hybrid of the two where you might opt to keep some sensitive data privately but less sensitive information with a third party. Benefits of cloud computing As the cloud model is more efficient in many ways, it is becoming cheaper to run and upgrade, and more flexible to the changing needs of your business. Good news if you're on a tight budget. With a subscription model you only pay for what you need and many providers offer different options depending on the size or need of your business, meaning you only pay for what you need (or in many cases basic packages are free) but you can also easily upgrade as you grow. Updates and maintenance are also included in the price. This takes some of the pressure of you as a business owner for security and disaster recovery because, if the worst were to happen and your hardware was lost or damaged, your software and data wouldn't go with it. Because your data is in the cloud it is easily accessible from any device, making it available to you from any place you can access internet. However, as with any technology, there are also some pitfalls to be aware of when getting involved with cloud computing. As we've mentioned above, cloud software needs the internet so a reliable internet connection is a must. You also have to consider what the impact of outages at the providers end would be on your business, so make sure you choose a reliable provider and have service level agreements in place. Services delivered by the cloud There are a number of ways small businesses can use cloud computing, but the two most popular are for their software and IT infrastructure. Moving your whole infrastructure to the cloud can be a big task, which an IT consultant can help you with, but anyone can get started with cloud software. Types of cloud software Many types of software can be run in the cloud, but the most popular ones businesses will use can be found below: Office applications read emails, and create documents, spreadsheets and presentations using Microsoft's paid-for solution or Google Apps, which can be used for free Online accounting all major online accounting providers offer online versions of their software meaning you can access your accounts on the go and easily share access with your accountant E-invoicing manage invoices and other documents online to make sure trading partners have received them and increase your chances of getting paid on time File storage Free up space on your computer or server and share files with others using a service like Dropbox Collaboration Work collaboratively and share documents with teams anywhere in the world using software that acts like an intranet Customer management keep track of your customer contact and identify warm leads with cloud CRM software Marketing software as well as CRM software you might also use marketing automation software to send communications to your customers and track the success of your marketing campaigns. Cloud computing offers for Forum members Members of the Forum of Private Business can move their accounting to the cloud with a 20% discount off Sage One accounting software. Plus, we're working with another partner to give you free access to their online credit risk software which links in seamlessly with Sage accounting packages. To find out how the Forum can help your business manage your finances online, call us now on 0845 130 1722 and choose option 2.

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