Similar to the desktop computing revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, cloud computing is transforming how business today gets done — and at organizations of all sizes.
In the latest Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report from Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), more than half of U.S. financial leaders said their companies are either already taking advantage of the cloud in their businesses (24 percent) or plan to do so soon (27 percent).
Small businesses have been a little slower to make the move, according to the report: Just over half (54 percent) of these firms still opt to keep all of their data in-house. However, the tide is turning, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for small business owners to ignore the potential benefits of the cloud.
Here are just few ways that cloud computing can enhance small business operations:
1. Cost reduction
A key advantage of cloud computing is cost savings. And as your business grows, you can expand your use of cloud services — without extra hardware purchases and with little or no software costs.
The cloud helps small businesses to preserve office resources, too. That’s why many companies — of all sizes — now choose to outsource their payroll and tax duties using cloud-based computing systems. Software-as-a-Service solutions also use the cloud for departmental applications like human resources management software.
2. Simplified information sharing
One chief financial officer interviewed for the Benchmarking report said that, for accountants, “the spreadsheet cannot be beaten” when it comes to technological tools. “There will always be a place for some type of worksheet tool to capture data and convert it into actionable information,” the CFO said.
However, the spreadsheet doesn’t necessarily have to reside locally. If you want to make it easier for your staff to share information using the tool they love most, you can still look to the cloud for a solution.
For example, Microsoft SharePoint provides complimentary cloud-based services, including spreadsheets, for creating recurring reports. And the Office Online suite or a file storage service like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Docs and Apple’s iCloud Drive can make collaborating on shared spreadsheets and documents much simpler, too.
3. Better collaboration
Without question, cloud computing enhances staff mobility. When your firm’s files and information are stored remotely via the cloud, working on the go is a snap. Cloud-based computing provides companies with a continuous, mobile-ready connection that syncs data instantly wherever there’s Internet access.
You and your employees can travel, or work from home, and still have access to (and the ability to modify and save) all stored files from any device in any location with a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. You can also collaborate more effectively with contractors and clients, no matter where they are located.
Additional upside for your staff: Automatic software updates from the cloud are routine and regular. This helps employees stay productive because they don’t have to spend time installing new application versions and updating their devices.
4. Data management
There were early concerns about the potential security risks of cloud-based computing, and according to the Benchmarking report, those concerns still linger for some financial executives. One CFO interviewed for the report said, “I’m not 100 percent comfortable with having my company’s information up in the cloud just yet.”
However, safer data handling is actually one of the cloud’s many security benefits. The cloud provides an added layer of protection above data stored on laptops or USB drives, which can easily be stolen or lost.
There are still compliance issues to be mindful of with the cloud — especially around mandates like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Payment Card Industry and Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). But leading cloud providers, and other expert consultants, can help you to ensure your business meets relevant regulatory policies and processes.
Another benefit: Cloud-based computing lets you back up your business data off-site. If bad weather or a power outage prevents your team from working at the office temporarily, they can still access necessary electronic files from any location — and from their mobile devices. Disaster recovery is also more manageable.
There are many ways for your small business to employ cloud computing today — and as the organization grows. You can look to business systems and IT consultants for assistance with evaluating, implementing and getting the most value from cloud-based solutions for your firm.
How we can help
Working with our company’s Protiviti subsidiary, Robert Half offers a full range of business systems services, from system recommendations to implementation and ongoing support. For more information, please call (800) 803-8367.
Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function: Download a free copy of our sixth annual report, based on data derived from a survey of nearly 1,400 executives in North America, to find out how your accounting and finance operations compare to those of your peers.
Rising Demand for Consultants to Support Business Systems Initiatives: A recent Robert Half Management Resources survey found that 61 percent of CFOs whose companies work with consultants said they are likely to engage project professionals for business systems and performance improvement initiatives. This post outlines five ways businesses can benefit from the services of financial consultants.
Robert Half Technology: Need help moving to the cloud or setting up the necessary security protocols? Robert Half Technology can help you find the IT professionals you need.
Robert Half Management Resources: Our consultants can assist with systems implementations, conversions and upgrades and support initiatives such as financial systems report writing and information governance.
Tim Hird is the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. John Reed is the senior executive director of Robert Half Technology.