One thing you’ve probably learned about running a small business is that you need to quickly adapt to change. That’s why having flexibility to respond to emerging trends, new competitors and evolving customer needs is so important. The need for flexibility is one of the driving forces behind the growing adoption of cloud computing by small businesses. According to a study conducted by Emergent Research and Intuit, 78 percent of U.S. small businesses intend to be fully adapted to cloud computing by 2020.

Cloud computing enables your employees to access important company information from anywhere at any time based on their permission rights. That’s a great boost to collaboration and productivity especially as more employees seek flexible and remote work options. A Plantronics survey of 270 small businesses found that 64 percent report that offering flexible, mobile and remote work options has assisted them in hiring or retaining key employees.

Cloud computing enhances flexibility at your small business in other ways.  With applications hosted by service providers on remote servers and accessed by your team over the Internet, now redefined as “the cloud,” you can more easily scale your IT resources to accommodate growth. You also have the advantage of platform independence. Any smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop can access your cloud services regardless of the operating system they are running.

Steps to get to the cloud

Assess your needs: There is a wide range of apps you can choose from. Email, document storage and management; accounting; communications, including phone, video and web conferencing; and customer relationship management are some of the more popular ones. Review your current IT tasks and consider what your future requirements will be as your business grows to help you decide what cloud-based applications you need.

Choose a platform: When moving your small business to the cloud, you have more than one option. Choose from the following  depending on what suits your requirements and budget.

  • Public cloud: With a public cloud option, services are provided remotely in a multi-tenant environment, which can make them more cost effective. You share hardware, storage and network resources with other companies. The benefit of the public cloud is reduced complexity and lead time to deployment. The downside may be greater security risks.
  • Private cloud: Private cloud also is remotely located but you use services and network resources entirely devoted to your business. The private cloud gives you more options for customization.
  • Hybrid cloud: The hybrid cloud is a combination of both public and private solutions. Your small business may use the public cloud for email management and the private cloud for data storage.

Evaluate providers: Do your homework before moving critical company data assets and operations to the cloud. You’ll want to ask vendors you are considering about:

  • Product: What are the features of the cloud-based applications you want to deploy? Are the applications stable and reliable? Will they be easy for your team to use? These issues along with cost will help you decide if there’s a match.
  • Security: Security is not only critical in terms of running your business; many laws today require you to protect the personal information of your customers. Find out what precautions a provider takes to protect data from security breaches, including encryption and firewalls as well as onsite security and possible natural disasters. Does the vendor back up data at more than one location, for example?  Also ask how soon you can expect to be notified if there is a data breach.
  • Performance: Is the compute power sufficient to handle peak loads or the rapid deployment of a business process? Will applications scale as your customer base grows? You want to make sure the performance you are getting is at least equal to or better than managing your own IT.
  • Availability: Downtime is something you can’t afford. Ask about uptime guarantees; in fact, find out if you get money back if the service goes down.  You also need to know who to contact if there is downtime or if you will be relegated to an automated call tree.

Try before you buy: Take advantage of the trial period that most cloud service providers allow. Trying out offerings enables you to determine which solution best suits your small business needs.

If you are looking to add more flexibility to your small business operations, you’ll want to take a close look at the cloud.