SMBs

Cloud computing tools for small businesses

Small businesses looking to save on resources and increase productivity stand to benefit most from platforms that offer these scalable services.

We all use cloud services in one way or another. When you access your Gmail, use Facebook and store photos online, you are actually leveraging cloud services. For small businesses, saving money, increasing productivity and enhancing uptime are some of the major reasons why a move toward the cloud computing platforms available today should be given priority. Regardless of what industry you are in, there are enough cloud computing tools to help you run your company in the cloud. Let's take a look at some of the more common cloud computing platforms that you can leverage as a small business owner:

Harvest

Harvest is a time-tracking and online invoicing cloud service. It offers users the ability to see a distributed visual report of a company's resources. With Harvest, you can create online invoices, bill clients, get paid online and view employee and contractor timesheets. Harvest also offers detailed data reports that can be filtered by project, staff and in other ways. You can then determine how time is being spent, which easily helps to manage projects. The time-tracking feature is especially handy when working on time-sensitive projects or projects that are paid on an hourly basis. Time tracking using Harvest can be done anytime and anywhere. You can even track time via your mobile device, widgets, Twitter or Gmail.

Carbonite

If you deal with large amounts of data that need to be backed up frequently, then Carbonite is a handy cloud platform to easily manage your backups. It works for multiple computers within a small organization and keeps track of each computer that is running the application. Once installed, Carbonite does all the backing up in the background for each computer every time it detects an internet connection. Restoring backed up files is as easy as backing them up. With a few mouse clicks, files are restored to their original computers or to another designated drive. A browser-based dashboard lets you monitor the backup status of each computer in your organization.

ZenDesk

ZenDesk is a customer help cloud platform that lets you centralize your customer conversations making it easy to offer support services. It offers ticket management, reporting and analytics tools, self service, branding & integration services and tools to make the customer experience quick, efficient and more manageable. Ticket management is especially critical to a business since it helps to quickly identify high-priority issues and respond to them, automate certain responses and collaborate with others. ZenDesk allows a user to monitor support trends, ticket volume metrics and analyze customer satisfaction ratings to better provide support to clients. ZenDesk also integrates with other products to provide a seamless experience across your organization.

In addition to the above platforms, Google and Microsoft have created their own cloud tools and services, and integrated them with their already existing services. When selecting a cloud computing platform, determine your industry, customers and employees and choose a platform that will result into a smooth seamless transition and that will most effectively serve the needs of all three.

What cloud tools and services have you been using and which would you recommend to other small business owners? Share your comments below.

About

David Gitonga is an avid reader and writer and has worked with various companies to design, develop, and maintain their websites. He has worked with websites as an online content marketing strategist in the field of tech, social media, design, and de...

5 comments
DavGit
DavGit

Hosting a cloud service is an expense in addition to managing and improving its services. This is the reason why some cloud services charge. Compared to stand-alone services though, a cloud service ROI is what makes it a much more attractive option.

mark1408
mark1408

I agree with HypnoToad72 - you have to understand what terms you're operating under, what the SLA is - whether there are any Data Protection implications, and so on. Is there a chance they could lose all your data? Can you export it to do your own backup, just in case? What reputation does the service have for security and support? Just ask as many "What if?" questions as you can think of. The same applies, of course, to non-cloud solutions. If you're backing up to USB hard drives, what if the disk fails? What if the building burns down? What if I take one home and it's lost or stolen? What if...? Having done all that, then decide which model works best for your business.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Oh, I love "Carbonite" (amazingly, George Lucas isn't suing over whatever infringement since everybody will think of the star wars movie where the hero was encased in it for protection, but whatever...) -- see, the CEO gave us his emotional shlock about his daughter and unsympathetic professor. Without telling us what degree she was studying, or why she didn't make backups... or if she knew HOW to make backups. His emotional drivel isn't compelling me to buy into his service. Using buzzwords like "promise" turn me off because everybody makes promises and everybody betrays them. And their ToS is really hard to find. If I am putting up money, I want to know the details. People have been facebooked enough in terms of what they don't realize because they don't read the ToS. The fact both companies presented hide their ToS, rather than putting it as an easy-to-find link upfront, does not engender confidence. Their FAQ answered nothing of pertinence here... For $149/PC/yr, I could buy a whole 2TB hard drive. Most people don't even need half that... I wonder what DMCA regulations that these companies have to work out. If people are backing up songs, doesn't that outright violate the DMCA? ;) If not other such laws... I know, get rid of that and I bet a lot of other small businesses providing cloud services would crop up, and at costs far more affordable than an outrageously expensive $149/yr. Okay, $149 is Windows-only and top of the line, but it's interesting that each package's title doesn't have a clickable link to get to the details... and why does only the lowest-end package support Macs and none of the higher ones? (yes, there is a "compare" button, but a more instinctive approach would be to enable the link in the headers, rather than putting it in comparatively tiny text on the lower-right corner of the box...) I could write questions all day...

DavGit
DavGit

You are right Mark1408 - There are so many risks associated with cloud services today that you need to take time and decide what works best for your business. Fortunately, the proliferation of these cloud services gives you a variety of options. I say that going for a service that allows you to liberate your data any time and that offers integration with other services where your data is saved elsewhere is the best. Companies like Google even offer data liberation services where you pull out every piece of your data from their servers and take it elsewhere in a format compatible with their rival companies.

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