With winter on the horizon and the weather turning wet and windy, you’d be forgiven for looking up at the dark clouds rolling in with a little trepidation. But whilst the clouds that fill our skies signal more unpleasant weather, ‘the cloud’ we use in technology offers quite the opposite to businesses – assurance and opportunity.
Sage Business Expert, David Hardstaff, is passionate about bridging the gap between business and technology. We recently spoke to him about Cloud technology and he told us more about why the cloud doesn’t bring rain.
What can the Cloud be used for?
Nowadays, pretty much anything. Not only can you sign up for Accounting or CRM applications, but with the use of integrated office systems like Google Docs, you can run your entire business from a tablet, on the go.
In fact, I am writing this blog post in a café, while waiting for someone. The document is linked to my cloud storage, so when I fold up the Surface and go back to my office later today, I’ll be able to open the same file on my desktop and finish it off. It really could not be simpler. Furthermore, there is no additional effort required over and above the creation of this content – everything else just happens, with no need for memory sticks or manual moving about of files.
Why is the Cloud complicated?
In many ways, it isn’t. For many years now, it’s been possible to log into remote business systems; the cloud is essentially the same thing – enabling you to work on anything from anywhere, with nothing more than an internet connection. There’s no need for complex network infrastructures – just take your phone or tablet out and away you go!
It’s as simple as that – connect up, sign in and work.
What about security – is my business data is just ‘out there’?
Yes, but it’s protected by layers of security, and is also (crucially) backed up by the cloud provider you are using. You’re using a collaborative system with the data being shared amongst signed-in users.
Compare this with data being shared via email or on memory sticks, stored on the office server which is subject to hardware failure, fire, flood, or theft – and with a backup that is either not running properly, or not taken offsite, and you can see that the fears about cloud security are often misplaced.
But what if my provider does fail?
You may lose access for a period of time, but very rarely do you lose data. As soon as the system comes up again, you can carry on pretty much where you left off.
Compare this with having to repair a server, obtain new parts, install and configure them, and then start restoring applications and data – again, there is no comparison between the cloud risk and the traditional risk.
What if my data gets hacked?
I don’t make light of the risk that hackers can pose, and clients of mine have been targeted and affected, but it’s a matter of considering what data you are storing, and the implications of it being stolen.
If I was sitting on the recipe for Coca Cola then I may be more concerned, but the thought of somebody pinching my quarterly VAT Return is not something that I will lose sleep over.
Consider the motivation of hackers – they are either trying to cause mischief and inconvenience, or they are trying to obtain data that they can sell. Therefore the likelihood of them targeting Bloggs and Son Limited is minimal. Even if they did, they would perhaps obtain some financial details that can be purchased for less than a fiver from Companies House, or they would get a list of your customers.
Unless they located a direct competitor and sold them your customer list, this is unlikely to turn into anything serious for your business, aside from a significant PR disaster!
Does the cloud make me dependent on the internet, then?
Yes – there’s no getting away from that. However, even if your internet connection fails it’s a simple matter of relocating yourself until it is fixed; go and work from home, or to a local hotel or café and you will have access to all your business systems. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone – you may need to answer the phone, or have access to files, but it does provide a Plan B.
The biggest risk is the cloud provider you sign up with. If you use a major provider, then you should be relatively secure – however, if you sign up with AllYourEggsInOneBasket Software Inc., and they go under with all your business data you are going to have a problem.
It makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to back up and extract the data held in the cloud on your behalf, but that’s a subject for another day…
In the meantime, embrace the cloud, and don’t be frightened of it. It isn’t perfect, but it is massively powerful, exciting and (most importantly) enabling. It is no exaggeration to say that you can run an entire business from a tablet, and of course it enables you to work with anyone, anywhere, and at any time – what more could you ask for in today’s connected world?
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