You hear people talk about the cloud all the time, but do you understand what it is? Think of the cloud as a balloon of data and information that is stored somewhere other than your hard drive or on-premises server. Because your information is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, the cloud makes it easier for you to build new relationships with clients, connect with them remotely, share data with them and safely store your data. Because the cloud model works like a service instead of a product, you can scale how much you use and pay for as your needs increase and decrease.
According to a 2015 article in Forbes, 78 percent of U.S. small businesses will fully adopt cloud computing by 2020, more than doubling the 37 percent who were doing so in 2015. The cloud also makes it possible to run a majority of your business from your phone if you’re using the right apps.
So, What is the Cloud?
You’re already familiar with what the cloud is and does, even if you aren’t thinking about it. If you store your pictures and files on Google Drive, iCloud or Skydrive, you use the cloud. If you have participated in a meeting using Skype, Webex or Google Hangouts, you’ve used the cloud, too. But what else do you need to know about the cloud for your business?
First, most businesses either use a public or private cloud. A public cloud allows customers and clients to interface with your business. A great example of this is when you use a web form to receive customers’ addresses. When they input their addresses, they’re stored on a public cloud. Skydrive and Google Drive are examples of a public cloud.
A private cloud is typically used for larger businesses that have grown enough to need licenses for multiple users, servers and IT infrastructure that need to be stored in-house or on bigger servers. In this case, the network and servers can be hosted elsewhere, such as through companies like Rackspace. Think of these companies as an off-site IT department. Each employee desktop runs a cloud interface software that works with the applications your company uses.
How Do Cloud Services Enable Mobile Business?
Cloud computing enables you to run a mobile business. It gives you the ability to access data and information from any device and be more agile to respond to customer demands. For instance, if you need to collaborate with a client on a project, you can share documents through the cloud and work together from different locations on any device. You also can build a company app that your customers can download to their phone to receive on-the-go service. For example, your app could enable them to schedule appointments, get information about your products or interact with your customer service department.
In addition to engaging your customers, cloud computing can help you run your business. There are apps and tools for business tasks, such as note taking, accounting, account management and file storage. By keeping important tasks and documents in the cloud, you can access them even when you’re out of the office, making you more agile and efficient.
What are the Benefits of the Mobile Cloud?
- Expedite customer service. A mobile app allows your customers to find you on any device at any time. You can respond more easily and within a reasonable amount of time, ensuring a frustrated customer doesn’t go elsewhere for service. Salesforce’s out-of-the-box product Desk, for example, enables customers to report service issues and route those issues to the right employee. It also lets employees manage their caseload from anywhere 24/7. They also can prioritize customer tasks based on severity, ensuring critical needs are addressed first.
- Beat the competition. Customers are more likely to choose your business if they find a user-friendly app versus a hard-to-use mobile website. A cloud-based app makes your business look professional and well run. Additionally, you can create a customer loyalty program through your mobile app. Belly, for example, asserts that its loyalty app increases customer visits by 54 percent. Customers can access exclusive deals and promotions in real time. Plus, a mobile app such as Square lets you take mobile payments, empowering your company to secure customers before the competition does.
- Manage your marketing. A software-as-a-service (SAAS) such as Mailchimp allows you to market your business and target potential customers with email templates and automation analytics. You can connect Mailchimp to your online store, such as Shopify, to see how many customers are clicking through your marketing campaigns and then make a purchase.
- Enable real-time payments. Cloud software allows your employees to interface with client data and applications from the field. They can access information such as a customer’s billing history, and they can run payments or invoices. With the cloud, your employees don’t have to deal with paper receipts or unpaid invoices. Customers can pay and receive an email invoice with an app like QuickBooks Self-Employed at the time a service is rendered.
- Set up calendaring and scheduling. In your app, you can let customers request an appointment time and sync it to your technicians. You then can have the app send a calendar reminder to the customer to reduce no-shows and lost revenue. This also lets customers schedule appointments outside of your normal business hours.
- Focus on your core competencies. Cloud services can record your mileage, separate personal and business expenses, track your income and help you with tax filings. By removing these administrative tasks, you and your employees can focus on what you do best — running your business and securing new leads.
Are Some Tasks Better on a Desktop?
While one of the best benefits of cloud computing is its accessibility from mobile devices, it’s not made just for your smartphone. You can access your data, accounts, documents and leads from any device. This is especially helpful if you’re working while on vacation or attending a conference.
Some cloud computing tasks will naturally be easier to accomplish on a laptop or desktop because of the extra screen space and computing power. For example, if you need to conduct research or read extensive content, a larger screen will be helpful. If you are viewing detailed reports, presentations or large spreadsheets, you also should find a desktop to work on. Email is often easier on a computer because of the full-size keyboard as well.
Cloud computing and mobile devices offer a multitude of benefits to small businesses, which is why so many are adopting it. From its scalability to its cost savings, moving to the cloud just makes sense. As a business owner, you need to find the right apps, tools and services for your business so you can stay ahead of the competition and the best company for your customers.