By Ash Patel at Cobweb Solutions

The cloud rising

In recent years, the surge in the number of businesses turning to “the cloud” has been substantial. Cloud computing has come to occupy a central role in the modern IT landscape for small businesses and large enterprises alike. Why? It facilitates flexibility, agility and scalability.

The latest research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) revealed that 84 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Britain currently use the cloud, demonstrating a significant increase in usage since 2010, when this figure stood at 48 per cent. Furthermore, almost four in five of these firms have adopted at least two cloud services.

The services businesses are most likely to base in the cloud include email, webhosting, collaboration services, ecommerce and online marketing services. But what exactly is the business case for cloud computing, and why are so many small and medium sized businesses moving their operations to the cloud?

Business benefits of the cloud

The primary motivation for turning to the cloud is to cut capital expenditure. Cost savings are appealing, with UK businesses currently saving around 11 per cent from their use of cloud services, a figure predicted to increase to 19 per cent by 2020.

By hosting software and IT systems outside of the business infrastructure, SMEs can benefit from greater resilience and reliability, along with 24/7 access to IT support. Using a cloud provider is a more efficient use of a limited IT budget, as there are fewer in-house costs, but business information is always readily available and the risk of data loss significantly reduced.

Intangible competitive advantage

The advantages the cloud delivers do not start and end with the bottom line. For small and medium sized businesses to stay ahead of the curve in today’s competitive landscape, they must be agile. “Pay as you go" style cloud services facilitate this, enabling businesses to easily scale up their use of cloud as they grow, or temporarily reduce spend should business requirements dictate.

Cloud computing also offers a variety of benefits that are less easy to quantify. CIF’s latest research found that the majority of SMEs in the UK value benefits such as higher levels of customer service and engagement, improved collaboration between departments and increased employee satisfaction, along with a more motivated, loyal workforce.

For instance, empowering your staff to work remotely and being flexible with working hours can be transformative. However, staff must have access to important data at all times, even when not working from the office. This applies to all communications and processes, from emails and invoicing, to sales data and telephony. For email, calendar and file-sharing, businesses should consider using cloud-based productivity tools such as Office 365.

The cloud also enables a more collaborative way of working. As information is stored and managed centrally, employees can access and work in the same documents in real-time, without the need for hundreds of emails, sharing documents in attachments.

Cloudy concerns

The Cloud Industry Forum’s latest insight into the UK business cloud landscape revealed that security concerns remain the principal reason why businesses are failing to migrate their applications to the cloud. There also remains a lack of clarity among Britain’s SMEs around the complexity of migration, data sovereignty and dependency on internet access.

For example, over the last 12 months, concerns about data security in the cloud have risen by almost 10 per cent, with 70 per cent of UK SMEs citing this as the primary inhibitor of cloud adoption. However, the reality experienced by cloud users does not reflect these concerns, with the research revealing that 99 per cent of firms have never been subject to a data breach.

The perception remains that by storing company data “outside” the business it is insecure. Yet cloud computing is often more robust than on premise IT solutions, as established cloud providers employ leading security experts, invest large amounts of resource into securing their applications and develop technology significantly beyond the means of any SME.

What’s more, cloud software diminishes the risk of losing confidential data on a mobile device, laptop or USB stick.

The outlook is sunny

Security concerns aside, the forecast for the industry looks bright, with cloud penetration among UK businesses having reached an all-time high.

This year more organisations than ever are planning to venture into the cloud for the first time to take advantage of the benefits it offers. For those businesses already in the cloud, additional services are being added every day. Indeed CIF’s findings predict that CRM, data backup, disaster recovery services and data storage are among the areas set to see the largest increase in adoption over the next 12 months.

The research demonstrates that UK SMEs have reached a point where entire businesses can be run from the cloud. It’s now simply a matter of when they opt to move to the cloud, not if.