What Can Cloud-Based Solutions Do for SMEs?

What Can Cloud-Based Solutions Do for SMEs?

More SMEs are harnessing the flexibility of cloud services to increase day-to-day efficiencies, support scalability and boost security. Dean Gardner talks us through the benefits.

By Dean Gardner

With cloud adoption rates now standing at around 88 percent in the UK, employees are benefiting from the ability to access workloads and applications anytime, anywhere, and business owners are able to cut the costs of local data storage and IT infrastructure.

However, while the immediate benefits of cloud are clear, many businesses make the move without firstly considering how cloud can help them reach their long-term goals. Without fully leveraging it, cloud can prove to be a wasted resource and costly investment. Here’s how to ensure your SME reaps the rewards of your switch to cloud.

Room to grow

One of the key rewards of cloud is its scalability. Developing a successful cloud strategy takes time and careful planning. It will help your business from the get-go but to really leverage its benefits, you need to be thinking more long-term about what your business wants to achieve and preempt the need to scale your cloud infrastructure up or down at critical points in line with your business.

There are three types of cloud set-up:

1. Public cloud is the most popular and is accessed via a third-party provider. It’s simple to set up an account and provides the unlimited space needed as small businesses outgrow their local network or private cloud. Scalability is simple with public cloud, too, with most providers offering fees simply based on usage.

2. Private cloud, on the other hand, is an exclusive platform, meaning businesses can customize the cloud environment to match their exact needs and scale it according to their usage. 

The biggest benefit of private cloud networks is security. Sensitive data is not shared with any external parties, but it can be expensive for smaller businesses. At the outset, a sizeable investment is needed to purchase the required software and hardware, and you’ll need to hire a capable IT team to set it up and maintain it.

 3. Hybrid cloud options tie together the benefits of both private and public cloud. It offers the safety of a private network but adjusts to usage demands. Businesses can store their most sensitive data on a secure private network while utilising the size and scale of public cloud to store less sensitive information.

An investment, not a cost

Rolling out cloud isn’t cheap, but it’s important to view it as a platform to enable your business to innovate and grow, not just a business cost. Cloud connectivity makes flexible and collaborative working seamless. Employees can access files from anywhere at any time, giving greater flexibility to when and how people choose to work individually or as part of a team.

Big data analytics is another huge advantage of cloud, increasing your ability to make better decisions faster. Cloud handles the heavy lifting with simple user interfaces, giving even micro businesses the power to react to scenarios in real-time.

Transparency

To truly make the most of cloud, every team member must buy into it. When migrating systems and workloads over to cloud, ensure it’s a gradual process which isn’t leaving anyone behind. Communication and knowledge-transfer is key to a smooth migration. Be transparent with employees about the benefits of cloud migration to the business and their individual role, sharing positive results throughout each stage of the roll-out.

Most importantly though, create a culture where employees know it’s okay to not get it right straight away and are encouraged to experiment with the new technology.

Stay secure

It’s a sad fact but true; the growing popularity of cloud means it’s becoming a central target for digital criminals

However, when it comes to cloud security, it’s often not the platform itself that’s the problem, it’s how it is architected and used which results in security incidents. The first step is to ensure you have a backup service in place. This will give you peace of mind that your business data is being kept securely, meaning you won’t lose everything and suffer too much costly down time if you do become a victim of cybercrime or a systems failure. 

As most security incidents occur as a result of human error and not malicious external or internal threats, company security protocol should be outlined clearly to all staff. This could be as simple as requesting employees to regularly update their passwords - or 'passphrases' which are made up of separate random words with spacing - as well as testing how well your team can spot phishing attempts and whether they follow the correct reporting protocol.

It’s also recommended businesses add an extra layer of security to their sign-on process across company-issued devices, using Single Sign On, Password Managers and two factor authentication to ensure systems are hard to breach, without relying entirely on employees following best practice.

A final point to remember is to always keep your systems up-to-date. Regularly check your cloud software for any updates, as these will typically contain security patches to protect against the latest known threats.

Looking forward

The need for convenience and speed will shape cloud’s future as it adapts to the sheer amount of global data held. Looking forward, in the next 10 years, cloud will be so universal it’ll simply be known as 'computing', bringing down its price at the point of use. A hybrid cloud model will also be the norm, helping businesses keep agile in the fast-paced digital race and helping to solve the current problem of vendor lock-in, where businesses find it challenging to migrate between service providers.

As we move towards a world where cloud is the dominant computing infrastructure, new and more intelligent capabilities will be developed to process the huge quantities of data being collected which no human IT team could possibly handle. Predictive AI applications and cloud will go hand in hand, equipping businesses large and small with the capability to be one step ahead of their customers and competitors.

About the Author

Dean Gardner is the chief technologist for cloud at Softcat, one of the UK’s leading business technology and service providers and a FTSE 250 company. Dean is an experienced and enthusiastic technologist who provides strategic advice on how cloud computing and digital transformation can take business forward.