From The Expert Feature Article
October 28, 2014

The Benefits of Cloud Services for SMBs

The cloud is a game changer. Cloud services let organizations automate time-consuming and repetitive IT tasks, access real-time operational information and have easy remote access to business data and programs. Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2016, cloud computing growth will become the bulk of new IT spending and that nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017. Large companies have been moving to the cloud in droves, but small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) rarely have the capital necessary to set up their own cloud infrastructure. Instead, they have struggled to deploy their limited IT budgets in an effective and efficient way.

Fortunately, a new crop of cloud-based services has sprung up, offering the same benefits to SMBs that large companies already enjoy, and scaled to meet their smaller budgets. For SMBs, this presents a tremendous opportunity to simplify underlying IT management costs and relieve some of the burden of small IT teams; in some cases, teams of one. Many managed service providers (MSPs) have begun to leverage the cloud to deliver and manage network-based services, applications and equipment as well.

To better understand the value that SMBs can gain from leveraging this new wave of business services in the cloud, let’s take a look at one popular offering as a case study: Microsoft (News - Alert) Office 365.

A Case in Point

Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud service that enables anytime, anywhere work on any device by providing remote access to a company’s email and Microsoft Office products. Instead of having to buy and maintain a Microsoft Word license for each machine, for instance, the license resides in the cloud. Subscribers automatically receive all software updates and the latest versions. This reduces costs and the IT team’s workload. For SMBs with limited budgets, this kind of streamlining can be a godsend.

Office 365 enables users to manage all services easily in their own admin center, which can be accessed from anywhere. No specialized IT knowledge is required on the part of the user. Files can be shared easily with others inside and outside the organization and synced with PCs and devices. It’s possible to control who can see and edit each file, which allows for collaboration with reduced confusion. SMBs trying to set up all these capabilities would find the task time-consuming and expensive.

Some companies are worried about moving to the cloud due to security concerns. In fact, it makes a great deal of sense to leverage the security expertise and capabilities of cloud service providers. In the case of cloud email providers like Office 365, SMBs are better off letting Microsoft’s skilled set of security teams manage their email system. The IT team is free to perform other functions, as Office 365 manages the entire system as part of the subscription.

Cloud services may seem more expensive initially, but the tangible costs of managing an on-premise service must be taken into consideration. Cloud services back up and manage the server, which would otherwise have to be done by IT staff. Cloud management of the email system therefore takes another time- and resource-intensive off the IT staff’s to-do list. If the average size of a small business is one to 100 employees, and 100-200 employees for mid-sized businesses, how much time does the business want its IT staff to spend on repetitive tasks? Could those hours be better spent in other areas, such as IT projects related to revenue growth or new customer attainment? From a business perspective, cloud services make a great deal of sense for SMBs.

Enterprise Power, SMB Budget

With all the efficiencies and cost savings of cloud services, it’s understandable why Office 365 is one of the most popular products that Microsoft has ever released. The number one comment from most IT staff in SMBs who are trying to support multiple offices is that they don’t have enough time. Therefore, eliminating the need for complicated deployments and empowering users with enterprise-grade automation and management capabilities gives IT more time in other areas such as business applications or enabling technologies. These activities enable the IT staff to be a value center rather than a cost center, enabling limited resources to be allocated more strategically. MSPs also benefit by being enabled to offer more varied, flexible and secure services to their clients.

Looking Ahead

The cloud has matured from saving photos and online banking to offering significant business benefits to organizations of all sizes. The availability, scalability and flexibility of cloud-based services give SMBs access to enterprise-grade solutions previously out of their reach. Moving IT infrastructure like Office 365 to the cloud and making it accessible to all employees, regardless of location, helps SMBs manage multiple remote locations, multiple customers and machines that rarely connect to the corporate network. Cloud services give SMBs capabilities beyond their budget, enabling them to focus on their value proposition by better allocating limited resources and streamlining efficiencies.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi