With online tools taking over our everyday work life, it's increasingly clear that adopting the cloud is cheaper and more sustainable in the long term than not being in the cloud. There are hundreds of resources that discuss the benefits of the cloud, but they often project cloud technology as something small businesses should strive for and adopt from scratch. But that's not always the case.
You're likely already in the cloud—you're hybrid.
Most businesses—even small businesses who manage customer communications through a Facebook page—are partly in the cloud already. For example, consider these tools:
Productivity apps like email, spreadsheets, document management
Social business pages on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
WhatsApp business account, iMessages, Facebook Messenger and Instagram messages to keep up with customers about your orders
Online meeting tools like Zoho Meeting and Zoom
An online Point of Sale system
If you use any of these, you're already online. This is called a hybrid model, because you might be using these tools in conjunction with offline methods for other business operations, like bookkeeping and membership registrations.
Some government institutions are also partly in the cloud, but instead of using the public cloud storage, they purchase a portion of the public cloud for private use. This allows them to connect their private cloud to their on-premise data processing servers. They can also establish additional security systems to protect their private cloud. In this case, the business won't own the cloud infrastructure, but they may own the systems that temporarily store and distribute data to and from the cloud.
You could be completely off the cloud, too.
There's a tiny cohort of Australian businesses, especially in industries like finance, education, and government that deal with highly-sensitive data. These businesses have software installed in physical computers with data stored and managed in their own servers, often in the same premises. None of that information is available online, which means that every employee who needs to access and process any business information needs to physically be in the office to do so.
Moving into the cloud
When you adopt cloud technology, you move into the cloud entirely, meaning you use online software for every business operation. For example if you manage projects on sticky notes and accounts on physical balance sheets, you move those process to online systems that, ideally, integrate with your other services like your PoS.
For example, if you run a bakery business from a rental kitchen in Melbourne, you'll need a variety of apps to transition into the cloud.
You'll likely need:
CRM to manage your customer contacts, supplier information, and purchasing histories
Notebook and document management apps to record and maintain your recipes
A website manager to design and run your website and communications
Social media management to access notifications, and manage posts and messages across all your channels
Accounting software to generate invoices and maintain your books
Expense tracker to stay on top of your costs
Inventory manager to track your stock
You can choose individual vendors who will store your business data in their respective clouds so you can access them at any time. Or you can choose a suite that encompasses all individual apps. Either way, depending on your vendor's pricing policies, you'll likely pay a subscription fee for these apps.
I can take notes on paper and record transactions on a ledger. For free. Is that really worth paying for?
We hear you, and manual note-taking is great when you're a student. It helps us remember and recollect important points later. However, when dealing with sensitive business data, handwritten notes aren't secure or accurate enough. Most importantly, as your business grows, so will your physical stack of notes, making it increasingly harder to access information when you need it.
However, the alternative to traditional methods isn't always expensive. If you think about it, you're already using some form of note-taking app for free. Apple Notes, Google Notes, Zoho Notebook, and even Evernote are all free to use (to some extent).
The purpose of cloud software isn't to make you pay more, but to ensure that your data is safe and accessible when it's needed urgently. Consider accounting. It's a tedious but necessary process, and if you manually enter and verify every transaction, you'll spend a lot of time and likely still have some errors. Even if you hire a highly-efficient accountant, it's a lot of manual work and time which directly correlates to money.
When you shift this process online, you can automate some of the mundane tasks—your system can connect with your PoS and automatically record transactions. You can scan receipts to add expenses. You can even automate invoices so you don't have to spend your Mondays drafting them. Sure, you'll spend some money on the accounting software, but considering the time, resource, and the printing and stationary costs of manual bookkeeping, you'll be saving a lot more than a few dollars. What's more, you'll only be paying your accountant to verify your books, which takes far fewer hours than doing them all from scratch.
How expensive is it to move to the cloud?
Cloud implementation costs vary by tools. Here are three popular options:
Choose a cloud-based ERP solution: An Enterprise Resource Planner is designed to cover all aspects of an organisation. However, it can also come with complications. This option is ideal if you have the people to develop and customise apps on the ERP platform for every day use. You'll also need to purchase cloud space from a cloud provider to host your data. Some ERP providers offer hosting and some don't. If you're a baker in Richmond, this is probably not for you.
Choose individual cloud software providers: In this case, you might be using a piece of software for each business function from a range of companies such as Zoho, Google, Facebook, Zoom, SurveyMonkey, IQX, and more. You'll be paying subscription costs to each of these companies.
Choose a single suite of apps: Zoho, for example, gives you a wide spectrum of software products that integrate with each other and third-party apps, all for one price. Office 365 and Google for Work also offer similar packages. Before you choose, evaluate all the products and choose the one that gives you more value for your money.
Your savings, similarly, also depends on your type of transition. If you're moving from an entirely on-premise system to a cloud-based system, regardless of which of the three options above you choose, you'll still save a lot of time and money in the future that you'd otherwise spend on:
Procuring physical servers and server rooms, and maintenance and upkeep such as electricity, heating, air conditioning and ventilation
Installing and updating software packages
Training new recruits to use both the hardware and software systems that run your business
Salaries for IT experts for trouble-shooting your apps
Cloud apps eliminate the need for installation, maintenance, and internal troubleshooting. The most you have to do is to explain to new recruits how to use your app and communicate any issues to the cloud provider. The trade-off is considerably smaller and you'll certainly have a lot more time on your hands to manage your business. All that said, when you choose a cloud-service provider, make sure that they have clear and foolproof strategies to keep your data safe. Here's our guide to understanding cloud security and choosing a cloud service provider.
If you're moving from a hybrid cloud to a completely online system, you'll save time and resources that you'd otherwise spend on:
Double-checking and correcting inaccurate manual data entries
Cross-referencing information from one app to another
Transferring physical notes into an email or a document
Storing, managing, and destroying physical documents
When you have all of your business data in the cloud (and well integrated) information flows from one department to another without friction. Your sales person will know which campaign brought the customer in, your support team will have the contextual history to understand where a new user might be struggling, and the marketing intern sending out future campaigns will be able to create more targeted, relevant emails.
Moving to the cloud saves you the immense costs of buying, implementing, and maintaining physical storage and security systems. The longer you run an on-premise system, the more of your resources it'll consume just to keep your systems functioning. When you transition to the cloud, you'll spend some time and money upfront to move your processes, but once it's set up, the day-to-day upkeep takes minimal effort and thought, leaving you free to focus on growing your business. You'll also save money as automation makes your processes more efficient. You'll have empowered employees, fewer mundane tasks, and no technological hassles—that's peace of mind money can't buy.