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Cloud Computing for Business

Where in the Cloud am I?

Avalara

Are you lost in all the verbiage about “cloud computing,” “in the cloud” and “Software-as-a-Service”(Saas)? Well, it’s easier to get into the cloud than you think…

What exactly is cloud computing?

The term “cloud,” in general, merely means Internet. Let’s try interchanging the term to say “Internet computing” and “on the Internet.” When you think of the “cloud” as the Internet, the following explanations may make more sense:

Cloud computing – computing performed via the Internet
In the cloud – On the Internet

If you are performing computing such as word processing or accounting “in the cloud,” you are performing those activities via the Internet. Since you are using the Internet, you don’t require ownership of any hardware beyond your personal computer. In addition to no hardware expense, you usually don’t require any software to be installed on your computer.

By performing your computing over the Internet, you are receiving delivery of your applications as a service. This is how the term “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS) originated. Using a SaaS product is similar to playing a game online.

Playing games online is a way that people are starting to live their lives in the cloud. You either purchase points to play or pay a monthly fee to have access to the game via the Internet. No need to wait for a disc to install on your computer. No need to purchase any additional hardware. Using a SaaS, or cloud-based product means you have access to the software, regular updates and database information from any computer with Internet access.

How do I access and is it secure?

Accessing a service via the cloud is usually as simple as opening a browser on your computer and logging in. Two SaaS-based programs are SalesForce (customer relationship and sales tool) and Quickbooks Online (financial application). Many Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and office productivity software manufacturers are now offering their products via the Cloud.

Security is handled by the service, not you or your Information Technology (IT) team. Most SaaS companies have secure login and can provide you with information on how compliant their security measures are for your business. In addition, encryption technologies, privacy protection and other web-based applications help to ensure data and access is secure. However, we encourage you to research the security measures offered by any service you are considering that involves sensitive information.

How does this benefit my company?

SaaS-based offerings are increasing each year. Microsoft recently launched Office 365—a SaaS-based Office application that is provided as a subscription service, removing the capital expense of downloaded or disc-based software and maintenance costs associated with upgrades.

Benefits include:

Accessibility. The service is available from any computer that can access the Internet.

Affordability. By reducing the capital expense of additional hardware or software, you can reduce capital outlay and even identify certain subscriptions as an operating expense and show a return on investment.

Flexibility. No more purchasing a new software package every time a new employee is added or discovering the waste of software no longer being used when an employee leaves (and trying to find the registration information to assign to another employee)—that’s capital expense wasted. Most subscriptions allow you to identify the number of users and change when necessary; and discounts can apply depending on the number of users.

Automatic updates. With a SaaS-based service, updates are generally included, automatic and seamless.  No more staff time wasted with outdated software and reduced capabilities. No additional costs for new software versions, waiting for delivery of update CDs or hiring additional IT staff to manage an update project.

Ease of use. Using a cloud-based service means your business requires less in-depth IT knowledge. Implementation is usually fairly simple and the company providing the service will walk even non-tech-savvy employees through the process. Management of initial installation and ongoing support is typically included in your service subscription.

Many small- to medium-sized businesses can’t afford a full-time expert to ensure compliance with the myriad of changing sales and use tax laws and regulations. Using a service that employs a team of sales tax experts who manage and research sales tax for you gives your business access to the information without long term costs in capital, staff and research.

Moving into the cloud

Cloud-based services can benefit companies of all sizes. Reducing the overall capital expense of hardware and software investment makes critical services more available to smaller businesses. Additional benefits include increased competitive advantage and flexibility as well as the ability to focus on the core competencies of the business for growth and profit.

Some areas of business where companies are turning to cloud-based services are:

Answering services
Customer relationship management
Server provisions
Backup of data
IT support

Companies offering cloud-based solutions and services may provide a free trial. Quickbooks Online offers a free online trial and should you purchase the online version, all upgrades and support are included. You are not left alone to figure it out.

When considering a cloud-based solution for a business challenge, remember to consider the following aspects and ask questions:

Accessibility—Will using the service make information more accessible to you and your team? Will it improve productivity?
Availability—Is the service uptime good? Is there risk of downtime due to the service being unavailable?
Operating expense versus capital expense—Is the service going to save initial costs as well as costs over time?
Security—Can the company explain their security capability? Is there a risk of losing data?
Mobility—Is your team on the move? Do they need to have software, services and information accessible via the Internet (or “cloud”) at all times, from any mobile device? Do you have multiple locations that require the ability to collaborate?
Business Model—What changes need to happen in the business model to ensure this integrates into your way of doing business in order to improve performance?

Are you ready to be in the cloud?

All businesses must weigh factors such as investment, long term and short term benefits and impact to business processes when they consider entering the cloud. Cloud-based services now offer the availability of options that bring technology into the reach of businesses of all sizes. SaaS technologies and products can improve your business processes, reduce costs and provide access to knowledge and capabilities you might not otherwise afford.

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