For small-to-midsize businesses, tackling IT challenges can be daunting. After all, you went into business to pursue your passion, not to manage technology. But, technology is key to your success — you have to keep up with an increasingly mobile workforce and stay nimble and secure as you grow.
Thanks in part to the cloud, SMBs can now access technology solutions formerly available only to corporations with large IT teams. You no longer need to rely on in-house IT personnel or on-call consultants. Cloud-based services employ large, highly-skilled staffs to address the IT needs of many clients, so you’ll benefit from lower overhead while retaining access to the knowledge base of a large team.
But how does an SMB go about choosing a cloud-based platform for their IT needs?
Here are 5 key features to look for when kicking off your search for cloud-based IT systems:
1) A secure environment
Keeping company and customer data secure is a major concern for SMBs and you need to be confident that all data on your platform is protected. When choosing which service to work with, make sure they offer active protection against viruses, malware, and security breaches. In addition, look for data encryption and regular penetration testing, which proactively protect against known and emerging threats. All information transactions should be fed through a PCI-compliant gateway. Finally, even though your platform’s in the cloud, the servers that your data is stored on are still vulnerable. Make sure to verify that the actual servers are in a physically secure location.
2) Built-in mobile and remote access
An increasing number of workers and companies are turning to handheld devices to stay productive on the go. And your staff want to access work documents via smartphones or tablets, which make it easier for them to get work done during business travel, commutes, even client lunches. Look to cloud-based services that offer direct access to desktops, files, software, and apps from a variety of devices. In addition to convenience, platforms that integrate mobile access offer enhanced security since sensitive company information lives on a secure server rather than on the device itself, so your data is still protected, even if a device is lost or stolen.
3) Apps that get the job done
Another IT challenge is ensuring that your workforce is equipped with all the software it needs to work efficiently. If your business uses contractors often or if you only need to use certain programs intermittently, consider an option that lets you rent popular apps such as Microsoft Office only when you need them. A key benefit of renting is that software that is the provider handles updates, which means you don’t have to worry about managing software licenses and versions. Plus, renting cloud-based software means that it can be used on any OS, so you can get Microsoft Excel on your iPad, Power Point on your Android tablet, or Internet Explorer on your Chromebook.
4) Room to grow
Most SMBs don’t have the budget or the space to keep a server onsite — heck, you may not even have an office in which to store a server. The cloud not only provides a less expensive, less bulky solution, it also allows you to easily expand your storage as your company grows. Plus, many services provide a simple dashboard that lets you allocate storage to your employees on an as-needed basis. Often, this same tool will let you customize permissions for each user, which is particularly handy if you’re working with outside vendors or contractors that require access to only some files or folders on your server.
5) Friendly to your bottom-line
Choosing a cloud-based platform means shifting many IT expenses from huge investments in servers, software, and other infrastructure to monthly, pay-as you go and per-user fees. For SMBs who don’t have a lot of capital to invest, closely compare the per-user-per-month expense, versus the initial cost of hardware, software licensing, and the staff to set up and install everything you need to get your business up and running. You’ll quickly find that a pay-as-you go approach is far friendlier to the bottom line of a growing business.