How cloud computing supports flexible working

Cloud computing is an interesting solution for SMEs and independent professionals, in terms of providing more flexibility for facing market competition.

A major problem for small businesses is that resources and money for growth are not easily available. Cloud computing enables businesses to work with greater flexibility: the business can grow as necessary, without upfront investments. For instance, a company may contract servers from a cloud provider, instead of investing in their own machines and expertise before they are necessary. Another example: a company may use CRM (customer relationship management) in the cloud, avoiding investing in buying software before having clients.

Cloud computing is a sort of pay-as-you-go service. In the past, companies would be forced to either invest upfront in the business, without being sure the customers would pay for it, or to give up attracting a particular kind or volume of customers when investments have not been made. Today a small business may invest in having a good business plan, and start the business without much investment in computing power. If customers come, they are able to use the cloud infrastructure to grow quickly. If customers do not come, the company may redesign the business model and services, without concerning themselves with previous wasted investments.

Cloud computing is a fundamental instrument for bringing flexibility to work. On the other hand, the use of cloud computing also requires some research in knowing about the kind of services a company may buy, the differences between providers, the risks behind each option, and the legal system that protects consumers of cloud computing. Once this research has been done though, you are free to benefit from the ease and flexibility of use that cloud computing brings.

An example of cloud computing increasing a small business’s capability for flexible working is with Glasgow-based PR firm Real PR. With two full-timers and a pool of contractors, the company decided to dispense with a traditional office and the traditional IT infrastructure that goes with it. But they still needed a way to get business-class email and collaboration tools. They chose two programmes, one which took care of emails, shared diaries and contacts while the other to give them a central place to store important files.

‘Thanks to cloud technology, Real PR doesn’t need any servers or even a head office. It has gained a new lease of flexibility,’ says Joe Walton, consultant at Real PR. ‘We decided that we were going to work virtually – no head office, no infrastructure – and the cloud technology let us do that.’

Gary Reid, managing director of design agency Nude, was experiencing problems with his server, which led him to look into an alternative. ‘A new server would have cost around £5,000 with a service contract of £80 a month for support, so I investigated other options,’ he says. ‘As we were having problems with our own internet service provider I decided to give a Cloud solution a try, and it’s been great; completely scalable so we can add freelancers when things get busy without any real cost.’

Each user works out about £4 per month and for that Reid gets an email solution, live meeting web conference, a document management system and instant messaging. He then also moved data into the cloud with additional project management tools.

The overriding effect of the change was one of total flexibility. ‘Our whole business is set up around the flexible working model, and Cloud computing has allowed us to use this business model and cut our overheads dramatically with staff being able to work from home or wherever they like. You might just find you can be even more responsive to your clients as well as having a better quality of life because of the flexibility of having everything in the cloud.’

Authors: Dr. Magda David Hercheui, Senior Lecturer in Project Management, Westminster Business School and Ben Lobel, SmallBusiness.co.uk

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