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Five steps to getting your business in the cloud

Cloud computing may sound like some futuristic technological advance, but technology trend forecasters estimate, cloud computing will be mainstream in businesses within as little as two years. Find out what cloud computing is and what it can do for your business.

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Cloud computing may sound like some futuristic technological advance, but technology trend forecasters estimate cloud computing will be mainstream in businesses within as little as two years. Read on to find out what cloud computing is and what it can do for your business. What is cloud computing? On a very basic level: "Cloud computing involves vendors supplying computing services to lots of customers over the internet". It brings together lots of internet technologies and developments under one umbrella and essentially offers a new way of delivering IT services. And the good news is that there are numerous benefits for small businesses, allowing you to cut costs, cut IT requirements, offer flexible working, trade internationally, and improve business continuity and disaster recovery policies. In effect, it levels the playing field in terms of access to technology and software – it's no longer prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to source, buy, and implement. Cloud computing and your business The area of cloud computing that is most important for small businesses is SaaS (Software as a Service) – this is software delivered over the internet. It's called ‘as a Service' because you don't buy anything but subscribe (normally monthly) and pay for what you need, as you go. Generally you can therefore, change or cancel your subscription whenever you like. The big advantage to you of SaaS is that it's not dependent on what sort of computer you've got, which model and operating system, and you don't need any IT expertise to ‘install' or use it. As long as you've got access to the internet it should work. You will already have come across or may even be using SaaS (without perhaps even knowing it). The most common examples are the blogging platforms that are now being used to build websites, business and social media sites liked LinkedIn, ‘Office-style' products like Google Calendars, Google Docs, Gmail or Hotmail, and Google Maps. The most established and evolved SaaS business software you'll find will be CRM (customer relationship management) systems and online accounting software, as these areas have been leading SaaS development. Here are our top five tips for getting your business in the cloud in order to save time, money and make running your business easier: 1. Move your back-ups and file storage into the cloud. This is the easiest step because you can continue using all your existing desktop software, but because you're saving everything in the cloud, you get the advantages of automated backups, secure storage, remote access, and easy file sharing. 2. Move to an online bookkeeping/accounting package. The main advantages of this are: You can sign up and start using it instantly with no up-front costs on time-consuming implementation You can tailor the package to suit your business and only pay for the modules that you need and use (and change these whenever you want) for one low-cost monthly fee Your monthly subscription generally includes things like – free unlimited users, free automated upgrades, free support, free automated, secure encrypted back-ups and storage Internet access to your full accounts package, giving you the ability to work wherever you have access to an internet connection Most packages also include free remote access or even free software for your accountant or bookkeeper. 3. Move all your Office-type software into the cloud. There are already cloud alternatives to Word and Excel available and they're very similar to the existing desktop products. 4. Build your website on a blogging platform. It's a cheap and easy alternative to content management systems. A good web designer should be able to use something like WordPress to create you a website that you have ultimate control of and can update and change whenever you like. This is brilliant for improving your rankings on Google and for helping you build a social media strategy to directly target your ideal customers, promote your business and get sales. 5. Move to online tax filing. This is becoming compulsory and so is actually an essential step, but it may be easier to do once you've moved to a cloud accounting package which should have online filing capabilities built in as the new rules are implemented. About the author Matt Holmes is the MD of UK-based online accounting pioneer, Liquid Accounts Ltd, and Chair of the Cloud Computing Special Interest Group for BASDA (the Business Application Software Developers' Association) and as such is at the forefront of creating industry standards and guidelines for the newly-emerging field of cloud computing and SaaS. He is also on the governing body of the Cloud Industry Forum. Exclusive offer for Forum members: Sign up for a Liquid Accounts subscription before 1 January 2011 and get the first month free, on top of their standard one month free trial. Find out more here >