Encouraged by the rise of smartphones, people are becoming more comfortable having their information stored online. For consumers, putting photos, contacts, music, and other documents, into the cloud is second-nature.
Businesses have traditionally been more reticent to move company information away from on-site servers or office computers, however there is now a growing understanding of the benefits from business cloud storage, along with pressure from employees to introduce online storage solutions.
What is business cloud storage?
Business cloud storage means placing company documents (for example Word docs or Excel sheets), on a server outside the organisation’s network and accessing the files using standard internet technologies. Information is available from anywhere with an internet connection; rather than being held on a single PC in the office.
How do SMEs benefit from cloud storage?
Business cloud storage introduces more flexibility and efficiency into an organisation’s operations.
- Always available — Colleagues can access documents any time, without being limited to when the office is open.
- Any location — Multi-site operations, and those offering remote working, benefit from being able to access files from anywhere with an internet connection.
- Automatic back-up — Files on office PCs are rarely part of an organised back-up procedure. Cloud storage providers on the other-hand, maintain their own back-up programme to make prevent data-loss.
- Document sharing — With a central cloud storage space, colleagues can easily share files with internal and external people. Making collaboration simpler and delivering customer information faster.
- Cost — Running servers and obtaining software licences is expensive. In most cases cloud solutions are cheaper, and move costs from capital expenditure to operations.
Research shows employees are already putting business data on personal cloud storage without an employer's approval, bringing in an authorised business cloud service means people can continue using workflows they like and the IT department keep overal control.
Picking the best business cloud storage?
There are several options available to businesses looking to introduce cloud storage. The most popular from the big players are Microsoft OneDrive (usually taken as part of an Office 365 subscription), Google Drive, Dropbox for Business, and Box.
When deciding which provider to work with, the following criteria should be part of the process:
- Tech support — Being able to access proper technical support, both on the phone and via email / contact forms, is especially important for small businesses and sole traders.
- Enough storage space — Organisations should have enough storage to cover all current documents, with plenty of room for growth.
- Syncing — Files should automatically sync between desktop, mobile, and the cloud to prevent situations where a document is not available when required.
- Works within apps — Rather than have to use a file / folder system to access documents, information can be retrieved directly within an app (eg Word, Excel, or a mobile app).
- Encryption — Security is paramount for business information; encrypting files on the cloud server means only authorised people can see them.
- File versioning — Mistakes happen when editing documents. With versioning you can go back through previously saved versions of the same file to rectify errors.
- File undelete — Retrieve deleted files, to prevent ‘whoops I didn’t mean to get rid of that’ situations.
Any change to business operations involves risk assessment, and a plan to avoid disruption should be in place. Areas to focus on include:
- Data audit — Find out how much storage employees are using, and where the files are.
- Network access — Employees will need internet access from where they are working. Make sure their devices are fine, and the location has adequate internet provision. Fast networks are not necessarily required as most work documents are small (especially Word or Excel files).
- IT management — Make sure the IT department know how to adminster the new cloud storage service, including having admin rights and knowledge of the web admin portal.
- User login credentials — Every user will need to know in advance how to access files, including any in-app logins (eg using Microsoft Word on an iPad with OneDrive for Business).
- Mobile apps — Employees intending to use mobile apps (like Office apps on iOS) will need to download compatable versions from their app store.
- Moving data — Getting data into a cloud storage service can be left to employees or, better, the IT department can use specialist migration tools to move data automatically.
Finally, try and pick a migration date which interfers least in business operations, weekends are usually a popular choice for organisations which run on standard business hours.
Whichever cloud storage service your business chooses, make sure it matches the needs of your organisation and employees. Once the switch is made the always-there nature of cloud storage will bring many advantages; including flexible working practices, reduced running-costs, and easier IT management.