27/05/2015

By Simon Osman, CEO of iFollowOffice


If you’re running a small business, you’re probably sick of hearing about cloud technology. It’s supposed to have revolutionised the way we work for years, and yet for many of you, all it will have accomplished is trading old frustrations for newer ones in shinier packaging.

Of course, much of this perception can be attributed to the fact that what’s being sold as ‘cloud technology’ isn’t really cloud at all, but good old-fashioned hosted services made up to look like it: often the difference literally amounts to dragging your server onto their premises. Issues like downtime, insecurity, and lack of scalability will remain, but with a large geographical divide – meaning your data is at the provider’s mercy.

The suspicion is perhaps understandable, but it’s also mistaken: while hosted services might not be working for you, that’s no reason to stay with an aging server room – it may be comfortable now, but in the long-term, it will inhibit your operations. The truth is, this technology can redefine the way your company works: you just have to know what to look for.

Here are a few of the key benefits a ‘true cloud’ provider offers:

A new way of working

Rail unions recently threatened to hold a strike. They eventually backed out, and SME owners everywhere breathed a sigh of relief: many organisations rely heavily on commuting employees: a lack of trains could conceivably cripple their workforce for an entire day or more.

If their applications were stored with the right provider, however, there would have been no reason to get worked up in the first place. Cloud desktop technology means employees can access the software and data from anywhere: whether you’re at home, stuck on public transport, or on the International Space Station, if you have an internet connection, you can do your job.

Naturally, it’s not just applicable to moments of great inconvenience: if you’re in charge of a business, you don’t want to be completely AWOL while you’re out of office. If you’re flying abroad to an international conference, true cloud technology will allow you to log-in quickly and conveniently.

It keeps the accountants happy

Of course, most people aren’t apt to balk at something that promises speed and efficiency – money likely puts decision-makers off more than anything. While hosted providers might offer a cheap initial package, if you require more users you’ll often have to pay a premium for the next package up – in some instances, buying 10 additional licenses when you only need one. The growth of most organisations is usually more incremental than meteoric, and it’s simply not practical to either invest that heavily in onboarding one new hire or wait until you’ve got enough employees to justify the upgrade.

Fortunately, true cloud can offer another way: highly specific levels of scalability mean that ‘per user, per month’ models are now a reality. If you need one new license, you’ll pay for one new license – giving your business a microscopic level of control over your costs.

You’ll save elsewhere, too. Every penny counts for an SME, and running an in-house IT department these days requires Scrooge McDuck-level money: with true cloud tech, you don’t need to hire dedicated engineers to solve your network issues or pay contractors to do it for you.

Peerless security

Another unfortunate byproduct of hosted services wearing a Silence of the Lambs-style true cloud skin suit is that cloud technology has received a reputation for being insecure and unsafe.

This reputation is entirely undeserved. True cloud, done correctly, is as safe as any other means of hosting your applications – and in many cases, moreso. Look at Amazon Web Services, which is trusted by several major brands and organisations: UCAS uses it to protect the data of thousands of UK schoolchildren, Netflix uses it to host thousands of hours of licensed entertainment alongside their own creative offerings, and it provides HTC’s entire IT architecture. And if that doesn’t sell you on it, it’s used by the Pentagon – if it is insecure, we’re all in trouble!

True cloud enables watertight security. Ex-employees are denied access to company information the second they leave the business: when they’re gone, so are their credentials. No irate posts on the business’s social media accounts, no vengeful dismantling of the company website – the right technology can give you unprecedented control over your IT privileges and permissions.

This sort of problem plagues many SME owners and senior managers, and because their focus is rightly on driving the business forward, they won’t have time to properly investigate the relative merits of each over-promising ‘cloud’ company – and will take one bad experience as reflective of the whole.

‘Once bitten, twice shy’ is a rule many SME owners and managers follow, and for good reason: one experience of an under-delivering, vaguely shambolic hosted services company is enough to put anyone off, and they often won’t have the resources to try others. But you’d be wise not to take these bad experiences as reflective of the whole. A true cloud provider will save you money, time, and energy. Differentiating the hosted service providers from the real thing is always worth it in the end.