I read an article this week from the November 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review titled What Every CEO Needs to Know About the Cloud, by Andrew McAfee.
Most of the HBR articles are geared towards leaders at large companies and this one is no exception. But there are some great points that are also useful to small-business entrepreneurs. Here’s my takeaway on the cloud for small business.
But first, what is “the cloud”? This term has been thrown around so much lately that nobody is really sure what it means. Essentially it means that you are storing and using your documents, or your software, or your databases on a computer that’s not in your office; instead you access it over the internet.
For example, if you’re using Gmail for an email account, that’s having your email “in the cloud,” because Google stores your mail on its computers. Or if you’re using Dropbox to sync files across computers, you’re also using “the cloud,” because Dropbox maintains the master copy of your files on its computers.
Okay, back to the HBR article. Here are advantages small businesses may get from using the cloud, whether they’re on Macs or PCs. Here are some things to consider:
Cost and time savings:
Pay for only what you need, as you need it: With the cloud you have no hardware costs (you don’t need to buy a server for your office). And no expansion costs (if in a year your server is too small). With the cloud, you pay for as much storage as you need at the time, and it’s easy to upsize or downsize.
Maintenance and reliability: If you’re managing your own file server or mail server, you have to deal with it when it goes down or stops working. In the cloud, that’s the provider’s responsibility.
Access: You and your team can have access to all important documents, emails, files from anywhere, quickly and easily. Even if on vacation in Jamaica or Aspen (as long as there’s a computer with internet).
Collaboration: Certain cloud systems like Dropbox for Teams allow you to quickly give access to specific files to certain people and not to others. No more emailing giant documents around.
Management: With some of these cloud systems you can get a report of which documents people have edited, how many people are sharing documents, what stage a project is at, and other useful information that allows you to manage how a project is proceeding.
Here’s where I include the disclaimer: The cloud isn’t right for every business. It depends on your industry, your setup, your needs. But it’s something you as an entrepreneur may want to investigate.
The dramatic cloud photo is by Sideshow Bruce, from Flickr Creative Commons.