Cloud computing, as well as web-based solutions, refers to services hosted by third-parties on the Internet. Cloud services can include file storage and sharing (e.g. Dropbox, OneDrive, Box.com) and monthly access services, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS). Web based solutions are websites that provide the functionality of traditional desktop applications.
Cloud computing is an excellent way to share resources and data on various devices with people who can be located anywhere. There are numerous advantages for using “the cloud”. Just a few of them are:
Anywhere access by multiple people (usually only limited by internet accessibility)
Save paper and energy – studies published in Scientific American and by
U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reveal that it typically takes less energy to run computers than the paper or processes they replace.
Economy – while many cloud solutions charge a monthly or per user fee, the combination of other benefits will typically justify the cost of cloud services. PLUS, technology changes so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up with ever-changing hardware needs.
Security – a debate could be lodged between the security of cloud services and locally hosted services, both of which have their own merits and caveats. Each has their own unique associated risks which can be mitigated by following consistent security measures and maintenance.
Off-site storage and backups.
With all the advantages of cloud computing, however, there are still some valid reasons companies do not want to switch to the cloud. These reasons usually fall into one of four categories: Regulatory requirements; Cash flow; Control issues; and Increased training requirements.
There are many regulatory requirements surrounding collecting, storing and using personal data collected from customers, employees, or vendors. PCI and HIPPA both have certain requirements for compliance that can be challenging to meet regardless of whether you use local or cloud hosting.
In addition to HIPPA (data privacy and security provisions for medical information) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (requiring financial institutions to explain their information sharing practices) there are federal and state laws surrounding the collection, storage and disposal of customer and employee data that all businesses need to adhere to. I recommend this FTC link for additional information: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/privacy-and-security
Many companies do not want sensitive data to be on the cloud for fear that it is not private or secure and prefer this data be isolated on private servers. Many cloud hosting options provide or include encryption as part of their service that is equivalent to options available for locally hosted solutions. Determining what will meet your business requirements for security and data protection is something that should be discussed with an IT professional while evaluating potential products.
Cash flow is a critical component to the success of any business. With more and more applications turning from one-time purchase downloaded software to monthly SaaS (frequently on a per user basis), the impact on monthly cash flow can be significant for companies with numerous employees. However, there is typically a trade-off with locally hosted solutions that presents itself as a larger up front cost, due to software costs, paid updates, and hardware upgrades. Deciding which solution is best and most economical will depend on current and future business requirements.
Control – concerns around the control of both software and data in the cloud are; the software company going out of business, hackers gaining access to accounts, inability to access software during internet interruptions, service provider downtime, data loss, managing credentials, compliance risk, and lack of trust in the handling of data. While these are valid concerns, they are also equally applicable to traditional self-hosted options.
Software training, whether it’s for desktop or web-based software solutions, is frequently not planned for as part of a company’s on-going resource needs. Training on the use (and security) of current technology being utilized is sorely neglected. We’re going to address this issue in an upcoming blog.
Most businesses will end up with a combination of cloud based and on-premise based systems. There are some unique software options that provide integration between local and cloud platforms.
Qbox is a desktop application that utilizes the cloud to share QuickBooks desktop company file. This software keeps the file local to your machine, but has the ability to share that file with other QB desktop users.
Qbox has also started a niche website dedicated to desktop applications at www.desktoptime.com.
Another software tool for melding QB desktop with online e-commerce cloud solutions (BigCommerce and Shopify) is SoftCookies. The SoftCookies app imports sales and inventory data from these two ecommerce platforms into a QB desktop file. Soon, SoftCookies will also be able to integrate seamlessly with QuickBooks Online (QBO).
While going with cloud based services can seem frightening, it can offer value and features that are comparable and sometimes better than traditional options. The key to finding the right solutions for your business lies in communicating with business, software and IT professionals to ensure all aspects of your business needs are met.