First steps to the cloud for SMEs

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There is no doubt that there are a lot of advantages and benefits that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can gain from adopting cloud computing as explained in the last column yesterday.

But for many SMEs, two hurdles that normally stand in the way of them adopting new trends in technology are cost consciousness and the complexity of implementation.

This is why there is an increase in popularity of reputable public cloud providers such as Google, Microsoft and others who have come to the fore in the past few years with products that SMEs can turn to without the fear of incurring high cost and complex implementation.

The reason for this is simple: Public cloud providers such as Google and Microsoft own entire the data centres and run software application, computing, storage and network components without SMEs having to worry about running these equipment themselves. All they would need to do is to pay a subscription for all the services offered to them.

What the customer needs is a stable, reliable Internet connection via wired or wireless systems. This way, software such as email, word processors, spreadsheets, collaboration tools such as chat and messaging apps are managed by these companies instead of by individual SMEs.

Collectively, this kind of service is known as software-as-a-service, or SaaS for short.

Internet Laptop

Internet LaptopThe number one benefit of SaaS is that SMEs need not install on-premise software locally on PCs, laptops or even tablets anymore.

For instance, an organisation comprising 50 employees would only need a browser and a stable, robust Internet connection and it would be able to connect to software application, say a productivity suite such as Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365.

Secondly, an organisation’s data is also stored on the cloud storage, which means that anyone who is authorised can remotely access the data securely without having to carry data in a cumbersome way such as in a USB drive or a portable hard disk.

Thirdly, SMEs would not need to bother with cumbersome software upgrade, which is a real bane for many, as the software that is delivered to them via the browser is always the latest one. In the past, not upgrading software would also cause an SME to experience security vulnerabilities, as cyber criminals can exploit such weaknesses in the systems.

Last but not least, an SME would also not need to worry about issues to do with piracy as software on every PC, laptop or tablet used is complete legitimate.

Real life examples

To illustrate the power of SaaS, consider how the Malaysian operation of book publisher MPH Group benefited when it implemented Microsoft’s SaaS cloud solution, moving 350 employee email accounts into the cloud with Microsoft Exchange Online, part of Microsoft Office 365.

Company officials say the transition was easy, and the company reduced IT costs by US$3,000 each year, and employees now have richer, secure, reliable email they can easily access on their own mobile devices.

By subscribing to Microsoft Office 365 and replacing its email server with Exchange Online, MPH Group claimed to have improved email reliability while reducing costs and IT maintenance requirements.

Final words

SaaS has come a long way and there is no doubt that it is a viable option for SMEs to consider today, given the many benefits that it can gain by using such a delivery model.

That said, SMEs considering such a transition would still need to adhere to best practices. Below are some of these practices suggested by industry leaders as to what organisations could consider should it want to adopt SaaS.

Simple to Setup – You’ll want to find a service that is simple to set up. Especially for small business owners, since they have to do most things on their own, they should opt for a solution they can set up by themselves without needing to have an IT person.  Another feature you want to look for is being able to add new users quickly and effortlessly when your business grows.

Simple to Use – Pick a service that is easy and intuitive for non-technical users and that has a simple administration panel. Set which of your employees can access documents, who can edit them, and who can have even more access. Choose tools that are already familiar to your employees so there is minimal training required to get them going.

Study data privacy laws to ensure that none are violated before using the cloud. This is especially so since The Personal Data Protection Act 2010 is now in force.

Bring the right people including IT, corporate governance, legal, security, continuity, recovery, privacy and compliance managers, to the table when cloud decisions are being made.

Do not allow any ad-hoc usage of SaaS. Make it compulsory for business units to follow standardised enterprise-wide rules.

Be very clear on the cloud provider’s terms of service and negotiate them to cover the points above.

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