By Terry Hicks, General Manager and Vice President, Intuit Global Small Business
With fast and affordable broadband connections throughout Singapore and a growing number of attractive Web-based services, cloud computing is set to become one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of a Singaporean small business. Cloud computing refers to the provision of computing resources via a computer network instead of a company’s physical premises. Whereas in the past, users had to rely on expensive and complex computing systems to be installed in the companies’ offices to use many applications, the cloud has seen the rise of software companies which rent out computing space and data to small businesses via the internet. Also referred to as ‘Software as a Service’ or SaaS, these pay-as-you-go software solutions level the playing field for small businesses by allowing them to access IT applications and solutions that were only previously available to large companies with huge IT budgets.
Though many small businesses are at the forefront of tapping on the benefits of the Cloud, a vast majority remain uncertain or unaware of what the Cloud can do for them. This sentiment was clearly reflected by participants of a recent seminar at the SME Internet Summit. Many were also wary of the potential security risks, particularly in recent high profile incidents of breaches by major companies.
So what are the clear benefits of the Cloud?
Ability to Respond Fast to Changes in the Business Environment
Generally available on a subscription-based model, companies are billed on an on-going monthly basis, with no hefty upfront payments. Fees vary depending on the software and the level of service provided, and the payment system is very useful for small businesses with a limited budget. Small Business owners can pick and choose a variety of solutions that they need, and just as easily cut the subscription if the service does not perform to their expectations.
This allows them to be agile in meeting changes in the business environment or in internal changes. SaaS offering such as Salesforce.com’s Sales Cloud allows companies to rapidly increase, or decrease, the number of subscribers they are using for a solution whereas traditional software costs are fixed. They can also easily subscribe to new services for short periods of time, allowing them use their limited budgets more efficiently and effectively.
Managing cost is a key pillar of running a successful business and this is one of the main areas the Cloud has a vast advantage over traditional software and hardware solutions. As already discussed, companies don’t have to pay a substantial upfront payment to purchase and install the IT infrastructure needed to run applications. They simply pay an ongoing subscription for as long as they use the product, and the savings can be substantial. For example, Intuit’s Cloud offering, QuickBooks Online (www.quickbooks.intuit.sg) is available for as little as ten dollars a month. This presents big cost savings as conventional accounting software solutions cost at least a few hundred dollars.
In addition, business owners save on hardware, software licenses and technical staff to manage a traditional IT infrastructure by using Google Apps (http://www.google.com/apps) or HyperOffice (http://hyperoffice.com). Upgrading is automatic and included in the subscription, thus allowing owners to cut back on expensive upgrade fees over time.
Many small and medium sized companies in Singapore can even tap on certain government grants to help them on their way. For example, IDA’s SME Infocomm Package provides support for a range of infocomm technology applications, allowing for a subsidy of up to 80 per cent of ICT costs including broadband access and website design (for more information, visit http://www.ida.gov.sg/sme).
Security and Data Safety
Data is hosted on remote data centres and most solution providers have multiple back-ups and redundancy systems in place. Thus, small business owners don’t have to worry about remembering to make hard copies or back-ups on their own. In the event of a computer crash, or in case of an emergency or disaster that renders a desktop computer useless, like a flood or fire, cloud-hosted applications allow businesses to remain functional as long as they have access to the Web.
Reputable software companies offering applications on the Cloud also tend to invest more in better security systems by putting in place more robust systems and a team of security technicians who are on duty 24/7. At Intuit, we have employees whose sole purpose is to run safeguarding programmes, monitor and adjust programmes as circumstances change. We also perform security audits and use industry-standard encryption technology – going as far as to perform extensive background checks on staff before hiring.
Security however begins with the individual, and small businesses must take necessary steps to protect themselves and their data – from using robust passwords to installing the necessary security products such as anti-virus programmes (try Panda Cloud Antivirus: www.cloudantivirus.com) – on their office PCs.
Document Access, Anytime, Anywhere
There are a number of document storage services available in the Cloud which allows small business owners the opportunity to store and access files online. This is very helpful for travelling business executives who have to check their accounts and financial statements in between meetings, or share large product photos easily.
Programmes like Flickr (www.flickr.com) allow users to send links to photos easily, and these can be disabled with a click of a button, protecting copyright and privacy. Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) is also a popular tool, allowing users to share entire folders, including presentations, photos and documents. Both solutions have tiered pricing, and the basic functions are available free.
With the Cloud, many of the IT applications that were once beyond the reach of small businesses are now readily available and affordable. It has revolutionised the way many small businesses operate, and is a tool that enterprising small businesses cannot ignore if they want to succeed in this digital age. Tapping on the Cloud is easy – it is exploiting its full potential that will be key in maintaining that competitive edge.
General Manager and Vice President for Intuit’s Global Small Business unit, Terry Hicks is responsible for leading and growing Intuit’s small business-focused operations around the globe. He currently manages teams in India, Canada, Singapore and the UK. Terry is focused on finding new markets and opportunities for Intuit in pursuit of the company goal of revolutionizing the financial lives of small businesses around the world.