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Cloud services and small business

Embracing a cloud-based model allows flexibility and mobility to support a business plan.


July 1, 2013  


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any BICSI members are small business owners or are interested in making a transition to owning their own business. Cloud computing is becoming the engine that brings those businesses many of the enterprise level tools that, until recently, have only been available to the large publically traded companies. Previously, the cost of these tools that large firms take for granted would require a team of information technology (IT) personnel and an allocation of valuable real estate in their office for on-site servers.

Small business owners have to wear many hats. Not only do they have to learn the business aspects of a small business, they often become the chief technology officer, accountant, loan shark, etc. This requires them to complete a parallel process of developing their business plan and IT implementation plan.

Owners of small businesses need to deploy tools at company launch for a reasonable price. Because BICSI members and credential holders have the knowledge to assist customers with their technology purchases, it is often hard not to select products for your business that may not fall within your technology budget.

Instead, one might first look at the tools available within your budget that can compete with larger firms. Compile a list of the necessary applications your business will need, and it may become apparent that an outright purchase of these tools is out of the question.

A small business server or robust network attached storage (NAS) could be deployed to provide e-mail, storage, versioning and backups; however, embracing a cloud-based model allows flexibility and mobility to support a business plan that involves working on projects located in different areas of the country and internationally.

For a nominal monthly charge, you can get hosted e-mail, a Microsoft Office 2013 subscription, Web site hosting, online meeting capabilities, file sharing and video collaboration.

There are plenty of cloud-based file-sharing services available for your business, as well. It is important to standardize on one that could grow with you, reduce the complexity of multiple platforms and offer the maximum bang for your buck.

In the beginning, try free services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, YouSendIt, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, etc. Once you find the one that works for your business and storage requirements, plan to only use that service.

One of the limitations of some corporate-based e-mail servers is restrictions set by IT policies, which limit the size of incoming e-mails. This is quite common in large enterprise clients. One solution to this is to employ cloud-based file-sharing services that include corporate branding and a branded download site.

This is the easiest way to ensure the temporary file is deleted when it is no longer required, and many of these services offer notification of delivery and download.

You may also need a professional timekeeping, estimating and invoicing solution. There are a number of cloud-based and on-site solutions to consider, as some large firm solutions are expensive and require on-site servers. Easy-to-use programs such as Harvest integrate into on-site accounting programs and come with great smartphone apps.

A business telephone system could be out of the reach of your budget. A cloud-based private branch exchange (PBX) can give you the features you need at a cost you can afford.

The monthly cost per desktop VoIP phone is competitive to analogue offerings and allows for flexibility of adding phones as you grow or connecting your phones to an on-site business telephone system down the road. It also allows for deploying phones anywhere in the world to make cost-effective calls. It is a good idea to use local network routers and switches that support quality of service (QoS).

You will still need to have a reliable on-site file storage server, and a private cloud solution. Residential or Windows-based servers may not be viable for small businesses.

Instead, look at something like Synology NAS, which can support many redundant array of independent disks (RAID) versions and off-site backup. It is amazing the number of robust features and enterprise-level features you can get with a NAS. You can also look at cloud backup services; however, right now, the monthly cost of this feature can be prohibitive. It might be more cost-effective to purchase external hard drives for this purpose.

Set a budget in your business plan by embracing the cloud where it makes sense. By doing so, you can stay well within a minimal per-person budget to provide the present and future tools you need to expand and grow your business. CNS

 Kellie J. Orr, CD, CET, RCDD, CTS is president and CEO of HDK Consulting Inc., a Winnipeg-based engineering firm and BICSI Assistant Canadian Region Director. He can be reached at kellie.orr@hdkconsulting.com or via LinkedIn.