It's hard to have any discussion about IT these days without the cloud cropping up at some point. A few years ago, this technology was still an emerging solution limited to ambitious early adopters, but in 2015, it has become a mainstream solution that is impossible to ignore.
Indeed, figures from the Cloud Industry Forum reveal 84 per cent of businesses in the UK now deploy at least one cloud technology, whether this is software, infrastructure or any other IT solution. With almost four-fifths of firms using two or more tools, it's clear that the cloud is here to stay.
But many small and medium-sized businesses - particularly those without a large IT department - may still be uncertain about what the cloud offers, or how it could benefit their operations. So understanding what the advantages of this approach are will be vital if businesses are to make it work for them.
With this in mind, here are three key benefits of the cloud that all small firms should be aware of.
1. Cut your costs
Because cloud service are delivered via the internet, it means businesses will not have to invest in the same level of hardware, such as servers and data storage solutions, that they would need if they were to run their entire operations through traditional methods. However, this reduced capital expenditure is not the only way a well-managed cloud service can have a positive impact on a company's expenses.
For instance, software-as-a-service solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 are provided on a monthly basis, so there is no upfront cost. And with the tools these solutions can provide all under one subscription, businesses can make a wide range of savings on everything from reduced third-party software to travel costs.
The results of this can be significant. A study by Forrester Research, for instance, found that a midsize business can expect to see a return on investment of over 320 per cent for Office 365, with results being seen in as little as two months.
2. Work anywhere, anytime
Another key trend that is transforming the way companies do business is the rise of mobility. In the past few years, more powerful smartphones and tablets have given users all the capabilities of a PC in the palm of their hand, so it is natural employees will want to take advantage of this to work whenever and wherever they want.
If companies are still relying on traditional, on-premise solutions, enabling mobile working can be a major headache. They will have to set up solutions to securely deliver applications and data to mobile devices and spend time and resources ensuring that they are able to be used properly on a range of gadgets.
Cloud tools can eliminate many of these issues. With applications delivered via this method, all a user needs to be productive is a reliable internet connection. Plus, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions such as Office 365 have been tailored specifically to work on all major operating systems - including Windows Phone, iOS and Android - so small and medium-sized firms will not have to worry about any compatibility issues.
3. Grow with your business
For many firms with on-premise systems, the expense and time needed to upgrade servers and other hardware as they grow may be one of the biggest barriers that prevents them from reaching their full potential.
However, the cloud promises to avoid many of this issues, thanks to its flexibility and easy scalability. For instance, if a business wishes to increase its headcount, it will be very straightforward to add new users to a cloud SaaS solution - whereas obtaining licenses for on-premise alternatives may be more difficult.
Similarly, adding computing resources to cope with a growing business or a short-term spike in traffic is also made simple with the cloud, while flexible solutions enable businesses to select only the functionality they require and avoid wasting money on tools or capacity they do not need.