The term “cloud-based” is one of a large number of computing terms that have become very fashionable to band around in recent times, but I wonder how many people actually know what it means and the relevance to our business lives?
Cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (or SAAS), multi-tenanted platforms, private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud – it all sounds like some of kind of nightmare that only IT bods can find their way through.
If you peel back the layers of buzz words however, you actually find the potential for something which is scalable and highly affordable and all of a sudden very interesting, especially to small businesses.
Each of the terms mentioned above basically refer to the same thing. Cloud-based software services are not owned as such by your organisation, you don’t need dedicated IT hardware and personnel on your premises. Instead all you need is a reasonable speed connection to the internet and a modern computer and you can be up and running in a relatively short space of time.
The concept of cloud-based is that the hardware and support personnel are supplied by the software vendor and effectively your business simply rents a space on servers, some of support people’s time and lastly, the use of software. Typically no specialist software has to be installed on your own equipment, you just need one of the mainstream browsers e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
You pay a monthly or annual subscription which allows you to have access to the system, generally through a highly secure and encrypted login page and you are on your way. Cloud-based services are usually highly scalable, that is to say you only pay for the parts of the software you intend to use.
Therefore, a small company buying its first HR service (for example) may only want a basic personnel records database. Then as it grows in staff numbers and its HR requirements also grow, the business can add extra functionality as it simply pays for what it uses. If the company later requires self-service, appraisals, expenses, time recording functionality etc. these can all be added at a time and a budget to suit.
Of course, as a small business owner, you may ask “is my data safe with one of these cloud-based systems?” This question comes on the back of several notable hacking cases that have hit the news of late. The answer however is yes, your data will be be safe, as the service supplier would not last long at all if there were any data corruption issues.
One way to check a supplier’s credibility is by making sure that it has a cloud computing security certification. Of course, the prudent approach will always be to make sure you carry out your own due diligence and ask for reassurances as to how the data is secured, how often and the types of security testing that takes place. A popular service for cloud-based systems is offered through the Microsoft Azure data centres, which exist all over the world, having the full support and backing of Microsoft itself and some of the highest levels of security on the planet.
Cloud-based software is always maintained to the latest versions of the software. Updates are typically applied out of business hours and the amount of downtime due to support and maintenance is always minimal. A clear advantage of cloud-based software is that you as a the small business owner can get on with running your business and making it a success, while leaving the software that supports your business to be maintained by experts elsewhere.
My company works as a reseller of Exelsys, while also using its solution to manage our own Human Capital. Exelsys HCM is a cloud-based HR service using the Microsoft Azure platform and we are constantly impressed with the quality of the software and the support of their team. We also use Intuit QuickBooks for all of our accounting and payroll requirements, again another leading and highly affordable cloud-based service.
In the constantly evolving world of software service and as a small business owner, it is reassuring to know that for a relatively modest outlay, you can have the latest software available, prices that are attractive and none of the other expenditure required. It sounds too good to be true, but why not give it a try? You might find that you are surprised as to the art of the possible, for a price your business really can afford.
Bryan Pritchard is managing director of HR and payroll solutions supplier AvalonVale.
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