By Jonathan Davies

Almost half of the UK's small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) have now adopted 'the cloud' to make the company more flexible, according to research by Vistage.

Just under half (49%) of SMEs surveyed are now using cloud services, with 11% planning to invest in the cloud in the near future. However, nearly a quarter (24%) are not making use of or planning to use of the cloud.

Vistage said that flexibility and easy access to company data are considered as key benefits of the cloud for SMEs. In both cases, 45% of respondents consider them as main advantages of cloud systems. The third most important benefit of the cloud (for 28% of respondents) is its superiority over the traditional systems in case of disaster recovery.

Thirty-six percent of survey respondents said that the main reason for using or planning to move to the cloud is to assist their mobile flexible workforce. For 21%, the cloud is also a tool for accessing new systems. A fifth of respondents (20%) say that it enables access to new products and services and for 21% it is a tool for greater automation.

Almost a quarter (22%) of smaller businesses expect the cloud to bring them cost savings, particularly capital expenditure savings in relation to IT function. In fact, Gartner, the world's leading information technology research analysts, report that companies are already allocating almost a third of existing IT budgets to cloud services.

Over a third (34%) of SMEs use the cloud for CRM or for contact management. Almost the same percentage (32%) utilise it for web hosting. A further 28% use the cloud for storing work documents and standard office systems.

Vistage said that cloud services are becoming an integral part of smaller businesses’ standard work systems. In response to the question of how the cloud affected the company’s overall business strategy, 39% of respondents say that “our strategy has changed very little/not at all”. A further 22% confirm that their strategy “changed somewhat” because of the cloud.

Steve Gilroy, CEO of Vistage, said: “Our research shows the cloud has clearly moved out of the realm of novelty in the mid-sized business sector. Britain's mittelstand business owners have wholeheartedly adopted cloud services and use them not only for web hosting but also for their CRM and contact management, and are now starting to use cloud-based systems to enable a more mobile and flexible workforce.

"Dynamic and highly innovative smaller businesses take full advantage of the cloud’s flexibility and its ability to offer financial savings. The safety benefits of the cloud are also of great importance to SMEs and mid-sized businesses which unlike their larger counterparts are not able to afford expensive IT support functions.

"Many SMEs are now also experimenting with new solutions and giving departments and staff much more freedom to identify new tools and solutions that allow them to work faster, with increased flexibility. In addition, many of the latest cloud-based solutions offer better visibility of work processes and results. Many solutions also allow organisations to try new things at lower cost and lower risk. Yes there will no-doubt be new risks and challenges to come, but at the minute there’s a lot to be gained by using new cloud-based solutions.”

Is your company making full use of the cloud and flexible working? You can email your reactions to editor@freshbusinessthinking.com

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