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Transitioning to Cloud Computing

Small businesses always need affordable solutions fast, especially if they are growing. That usually requires more computers — and more software.

Some business owners like Pete Cooper, owner of Spring Creek Design, a construction company in Honey Brook, Pa., that specializes in creative design/build residential remodeling, are turning to cloud computing to save money. Cloud computing is helping the company reduce their IT and software expenses, and improve collaboration with clients and within the office by creating a virtual workplace.

Think of cloud computing as renting software online instead of purchasing and installing it on a computer. It’s an affordable way for small business owners to increase their data storage capacity and improve IT capabilities to a scale that has been previously associated with large companies, says Ramanath Subramanyam, an associate professor of business administration at University of Illinois.

“I’m excited that as a small company, we might be able to expand into an adjacent market without a lot of additional overhead,” Cooper says.

Here are some things to consider before making the leap to cloud computing.

Improve Communication and Business Potential

For small businesses, constant communication is vital to completing projects correctly and on time. For example, in the cloud, both employees and clients can gain access to the most updated version of plans and specifications, reducing the possibility for mistakes, Cooper says. “Everything is in real-time,” he says, “and that eliminates enormous amounts of confusion.”

Because they can all review the latest versions of documents online, cloud computing has also broadened the geographic area in which Cooper and his team can work. Cooper and his team spend more time in the field instead of the office because the cloud eliminates the need to come into an office, make changes to documents and distribute changes to the staff, Cooper says.

All of Cooper’s employees now work from home or in the field, which has allowed Cooper to ditch the physical office that was once a major expense for his company.

Decrease Software and Hardware Problems

Because software and programs are hosted virtually, cloud computing eliminates in-house software troubleshooting, which reduces downtime and IT expenses, Cooper says.

Caleb Brunz, CEO and president of Paul Davis Restoration, a chain of restoration and remodeling companies in St. Paul, Minn., says switching to the cloud decreased his hardware costs, too. A computer on the cloud only needs a low-budget interface, keyboard and Internet access instead of multiple programs. Instead of carrying around a bulky laptop, employees can carry around lightweight tablets and log into the cloud, Brunz says. This allows employees to access information conveniently and saves business owners the expense of buying computers.

Minimize Possible Data Loss

If you live in a region prone to natural disasters, cloud computing can minimize the time it takes to get your business up and running again in the case of a disaster.  Large cloud providers are likely to back up data around the world so it remains safe and at your disposal, Subramanyam says.  Finding reliable Internet access in the immediate aftermath of a disaster may be challenging, but once you do, you should be able to find your data intact and ready to use, he says.

Prepare for the Transition Period

If you decide to make the leap, shifting your business operations to cloud computing should be a relatively simple task, as long as you plan ahead.  Brunz recommends implementing the new system during the weekend to minimize interruption to workflow. Walk your staff through the transition schedule and anticipate the possibility of working without Internet if the migration takes longer than expected, Brunz says.

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