What Exactly is the Cloud?

"It went up to the cloud. You can’t get it down from the cloud? Nobody understands the cloud, it's a mystery”, a quote from a recent movie starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.

I was at a barbecue recently and someone asked me what I do for a living. When I told them I work in software and the cloud they asked me a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times: “what exactly is this cloud thing”. As IT people we live and breathe this industry, and the innovations, terminology, and acronyms that come with it. But a small business owner is not necessarily going to have the time or inclination to learn about the cloud, and how it can help them grow their business or run it more effectively. They’ve definitely heard about it, they are curious, but really what exactly is this cloud thing?

If you walked into any small, medium or large business a few years ago (and still today) you’d see some type of IT server. In a small business, this server device might have been stored under a person’s desk, or in a bigger business there would be a dedicated room in the corner of the building full of them. Unless you were the IT person this was strictly forbidden territory. Fast forward to 2016 and many businesses no longer need this infrastructure on premise. Whether they realize it or not, they’ve moved to storing and accessing information using the internet, and so we have the cloud.

According to recent Odin research, many SMBs are rapidly implementing new cloud based business applications such as file sharing, backup and storage, and online accounting. So what exactly are they doing, and where should an SMB start? What cloud services should they consider for their business, and more importantly how will this help them? Here are 4 real-life examples of cloud solutions that are making a big difference to the lives of small business owners. I have highlighted only a few things, but if you work with small businesses you may like to share this with them, or as a small business owner I hope this helps you navigate your cloud journey.

  1. Small Business Accounting Software. Running the accounts, bookkeeping, and invoicing must be one of the most time consuming (and possibly hated) tasks in a small business owner’s day. To add to the frustration, how many small businesses are still using manual processes to get the job done? Enter small business accounting software, a cloud innovation saving people bucket loads of time, money and frustration. We call this cloud innovation Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) because you can literally rent it for a period of time, and put it to use in your business. Someone else has spent millions of dollars creating the right accounting solution for you. What’s even better is that accounting software organizations like Xero and MYOB store your information and data (that you create using their SaaS) on servers in a data center, meaning you don’t have to. It’s intuitive, secure, backed-up and you're able to access it 24/7 on your PC, tablet or mobile device. Recently, a small-business owner friend of mine was visiting from overseas and I asked him what he was doing on his tablet. His reply "just doing some customer invoicing". Imagine trying to do that remotely before the cloud!
  2. Dropbox. Dropbox is a cloud storage service for all your documents, files, photos and videos. Anything you add to your Dropbox account can be accessed on all your internet enabled devices (phone, tablet, PC) so you can retrieve from anywhere at anytime. Dropbox also makes it super easy to share with others, whether they’re your colleagues, business partners or customers. Back in the day, if you wanted to share a large design document you would have tried emailing it; however, if the server receiving it couldn’t cope with the size of the file it would be rejected. You’d then have to save the document to a disc (or later a USB device) and physically get it to them. With Dropbox, your documents and files are readily accessible via the internet, they’re safe, recoverable, and you control what’s accessible. Dropbox actually states, "Even if you accidentally spill a latte on your laptop, have no fear! Relax knowing that your stuff is safe in Dropbox and will never be lost”. And if you only need to store 5GB or less of data it’s free! There are many different variations of Dropbox, like Microsoft OneDrive and Box.com for example, so go check them out.
  3. DocuSign. DocuSign has to be one of the coolest cloud services for small businesses. And did you know they’re adding 50,000 new users globally a day. Remember (and maybe you’re still doing this) receiving a legal document via email such as a contract or customer order form that requires your signature? You open the email, print the document, sign it, scan it, and finally email it back. Sounds exhausting, right? DocuSign lets you sign documents electronically and send them in just minutes. DocuSign electronic signatures are valid and legally binding around the world. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have each passed an Electronic Transactions Act which established the general rule that no transaction will be invalid simply because it was completed electronically. Whether you’re in an office, at home, or on-the-go, DocuSign makes sense.
  4. Square. Square, the global payments technology company, recently launched Square Reader in Australia. Square Reader is the smallest, most mobile and most affordable credit and debit card reader available, that allows small businesses to accept card payments quickly and securely on a smartphone or tablet device. Square Reader, which plugs directly into the headphone jack of your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, takes no time at all to get set up and start accepting card payments. Within minutes a café or hair salon can be securely accepting Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit or debit card payments. Small businesses using Square Reader pay only 1.9% per card transaction, allowing a powerful ecosystem of tools—from integrated card payments to powerful point of sale, analytics and reporting tools, inventory management, online invoices, and digital receipts.

Whether or not we fully understand it, the cloud is here to stay. In fact, before long the term “cloud” won’t even exist, but will instead just become 'business as usual' technology. Are you on board?


Posted on April 20, 2016 and filed under Industry & Market Insights.