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Operating in the cloud

You’ve probably heard of “the cloud” – software and digital services accessed online instead of on your computer’s local hard drive or your company’s internal computer network. The cloud is a great way for businesses to use advanced programs for all sorts of tasks. You’ll find cloud services for communications, marketing, supply-chain management and other operations.

One big selling feature: cost. Cloud services are offered through pay-what-you-use plans, not expensive licensing agreements. So you get access to advanced technology without the heavy upfront price. Benefits like these make cloud service a top priority for many organizations, according to the Salesforce 2016 State of IT report.

Many start-ups already use cloud programs such as Google Apps for Work, Office 365 and Dropbox. Some companies turn to QuickBooks as a cloud-based way to track financial health. Social media is cloud-based, so you’re in the cloud if you’re on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Protecting Your Business

The benefits of the cloud are clear. But to the uninitiated, it may cause concerns, especially with respect to data security. How do you know the information you enter into a cloud system – whether that’s data on your customers, your products or your market – will be safe from hackers and viruses? After all, you’re not in charge of securing the service. That’s the service provider’s job.

But people in the know have long pointed out that cloud service providers are highly invested in security. A security breach could spell disaster for their technology, problems for their customers and overall bad news for their reputations. No wonder service providers are some of the most advanced when it comes to using sophisticated digital protection.

Making the Most of the Cloud

It’s easy to get started with cloud services. Just sign up and go. But it takes a bit of work to get the most out of them, says Jonathon Moody, president and chief operating officer of Versature, a company providing hosted voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications to Canadian businesses. He points out that to optimize the benefits of the cloud, start-ups need to have their basic, internal systems in place first.

"If you can’t do the basic stuff, there’s no point in having a conversation about all the fancy stuff,” he says.

Making use of cloud capabilities such as VoIP to make business calls is something you want to get right before integrating analytics, he adds.

Once you have those basics in place, you can ramp up your cloud experience. For example, Moody says you can integrate data collected from client calls into Salesforce for a more complete picture of your customers. Or you can use cloud services to record calls for quality control.

Before you commit to a cloud solution, he recommends doing your research – on the cloud company and the fine-print details of the service. For example, start-ups should remember the servers cloud companies use to host data could be located in another country, which might cause legal complications if your business needs to comply with access-to-information requests and data laws in specific jurisdictions. You may need to consult with a lawyer before you commit.

Moody also advises taking advantage of the trial period or demos to see if the service is right for you. Do your research and decide what results you want to achieve before signing a contract. Otherwise, that “crucial piece of data” such as incompatible software could be a costly error. “Don’t sign the contract until you make sure it’s going to be able to give you the results that you’re looking for because sometimes everyone says, ‘Yes’ and then that one crucial piece of data you need isn’t actually able to be connected,” he says. “You basically can’t look at the sales quote and just sign off.”

The cloud is an excellent business-building tool for start-ups. By attending to the basics of your operations and researching cloud services, you’ll optimize your experience – and maybe even see your business take off just as the cloud itself has done over the last few years.