Cloud computing applications useful to small businesses include:
- sales tools
- office software
- customer relationship management (CRM) software
- human resources software
- payroll software
- collaborative working tools
Many such applications are available on a software as a service basis - where the software is maintained and upgraded by the provider and accessed through the customer's web browser. See more on cloud service models.
Cloud CRM and e-commerce
Online sales and CRM applications can help you target new business and service the needs of existing customers more effectively. Sales teams, for example, can use web-enabled devices such as smartphones to access and update customer information whilst on the move. For more information, see customer relationship management.
Most cloud human resource (HR) systems can be used for the entire recruitment process – from tracking applicants to comparing salaries and testing performance. They can help you to automate tasks, keep records and stay compliant with employment legislation. These systems are generally easy to use and they remove the need for infrastructure, maintenance and storage space.
Cloud collaboration and virtual offices
Office software and collaborative working tools available through 'the cloud' allow employees to work anywhere using web-enabled devices - exchanging emails and sharing information as needed. This supports more flexible working practices and allows employees to collaborate with colleagues, clients and customers. Read more about virtual office applications.
Choosing a cloud service
There are a wide range of providers that offer cloud services to businesses.
When selecting a service provider it is important to know how easy it would be for you to change the level of service you are receiving, or - if necessary - end the contract or service level agreement and move to another provider. To avoid being 'locked in' to a service, you should carefully consider your contractual obligations and how technically viable it would be for you to change service providers in the future.
As with all suppliers, you should do your research to find the provider most suited to your business requirements. Ask other businesses and carry out research online to ensure that the provider you choose is reputable. See how to choose an IT supplier for your business.