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Cloud Computing Can Make Your SMB a Lean, Mean Productivity Machine

There are some things that matter to all business owners, no matter the size of their company. Profitability, for example, is always a good thing. Who isn’t looking for ROI?

But you can’t have profits without performance. And performance will always be dependent on productivity. The more efficient you are, the more you’ll get done. The more you get done, the more opportunities you have to grow your customer base and improve your bottom line.

That’s more or less Business 101.

While every business out there is looking for ways to be more productive, small to medium-sized businesses need to be as efficient as possible. This is the make-or-break point for an SMB. You can’t afford to get this wrong.

Unlocking SMB Productivity

Unlock lock

If boosting productivity is the lifeblood of SMB growth (and it is), how do you tap into greater efficiency? There are some small things you can do, like limiting unnecessary meetings, scheduling your workday in advance, and getting serious about a practical task management strategy. Each of those is a genuinely helpful approach, which is why we’ve included links in case you’d like to follow up on any of them.

But do you notice something missing?

In each case, those tips are focused on individual productivity, not team productivity. And individual productivity is not the same as team productivity. Unless your SMB is a one-person organization, you need both.

The most powerful boost in efficiency will happen when you unleash organization-wide change.

Technology to the Rescue (Sort of)

When it comes to improving business productivity, you’re going to get the most bang for your buck in the area of technology . . . if you use it the right way.

Think about it. The technological advancements of the last 20 years have radically changed how we live, from the way we ask for directions to the way we buy groceries. All our new tech toys were supposed to make our lives easier, less chaotic and far more productive. Have they? According to the statistics, no.

In fact, it’s so well known that technology has failed to make us more productive that articles are written about it frequently. It’s been dubbed “the productivity paradox.” We can do more with fewer resources in a shorter amount of time, yet the cold, hard facts betray a startling reality. We’re simply not more productive.

A provocative, insightful article published by Vox suggests a straightforward reason for the disconnect. “Why isn’t all this technology improving the economy? Because it’s not changing how we work.”

New technology certainly has the potential to positively impact productivity, but there are no guarantees. If you don’t use it the right way, it won’t make you more efficient. It could even slow you down.

Cloud Computing & Productivity

Gears productivityAmong the game-changing technologies reshaping how SMBs work, few have been as powerful as cloud computing. Even if you don’t know exactly what cloud computing is, you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase. The cloud is taking over how business is done.

In general terms, “cloud computing” applies to any application or tool that you access remotely. Some cloud computing solutions are available for free, but these are primarily for private use. Gmail and Dropbox are both excellent examples.

Most business-oriented cloud computing solutions are available on a subscription basis that scales with your business needs and the number of users who require access. They include things like productivity suites (for example, Microsoft Office 365), project management systems, communication apps and even more sophisticated tools like backup solutions CRMs and ERP.

The beauty of cloud computing is that it pairs perfectly with the kind of workflow changes that make a real difference with team productivity.

The 4 C’s of Cloud Computing

The secret to turning cloud computing tools into productivity powerhouses comes down to how you use them. The technology alone won’t make you more efficient.

If you want to harness the power of cloud computing, stick to the 4 C’s.

Configuration

First and foremost, implement the right tools the right way. The most amazing CRM in the world will do you little good if you completely botch the implementation process, leaving your staff with a sour taste in their mouths and no inclination to actually utilize your shiny new tech toy.

Even if your employees are enthusiastic about a new solution, it won’t matter if poor configuration keeps it from being useful.

Configuration starts with the selection of the cloud computing solution and continues all the way through deployment and employee training. There are several critical steps here. If your organization is very small (say, 5 or fewer employees), it’s possible to handle configuration on your own. If you’re any bigger, it will likely pay off to talk to an IT consultant.

Collaboration

Most cloud computing solutions have collaboration baked right into them. The trick is adapting your work processes to include that collaboration.

Take Microsoft Office 365 as an example. All your favorite Office applications (like Word, Excel and PowerPoint) are available on your desktop and via the cloud. Using the cloud-based versions of documents, spreadsheets and presentations, you can easily write, edit and design as a team.

You just have to remember Office 365 (or Google Docs, or whatever productivity suite you use) has this new functionality. There’s no need to email versions of a document back and forth, leaving yourself open to possible mistakes or missed edits.

Communication

Let’s explore Microsoft Office 365 a little deeper. If you pay the modest additional fee for Teams (currently only $5 per month per user), you also have a robust IM application at your disposal. You can use Teams to take collaboration and communication to a whole new level, embedding files into IM discussions right alongside your messages.

And Teams is just one of the many business communications apps available. In the IM arena alone there are several other worthy competitors, including Slack and Google Hangouts.

In each case, the challenge for you as the business owner is the same. Look at your business processes and provide your employees with clear direction about when and how to use IM tools for fast communication. There will, of course, be other times when face-to-face meetings or phone calls are preferable.

But cloud computing can help there, too. Options like video conferencing and hosted VoIP can supercharge your entire communications strategy.

Continuation

Finally, one of the more well-known cloud computing functionalities is still an essential business tool—backup.

Regular data backups ensure that you don’t lose valuable information in the event of a disaster, which could be anything from a simple power outage to an act of God. Not only that, but backups make it possible to get back on your feet (and back to business) much faster in the wake of the unexpected.

The productivity payoff is huge, especially for small to medium-sized businesses that don’t have the capital to operate for months on end without revenue.
Hand in shape of a bulb

What will you do with cloud computing?

There are more cloud options than we could possibly cover in this space. Cloud computing is a beast, and its potential to overhaul SMB productivity is nothing short of revolutionary.

If you know how to use it.

Be smart. Be strategic. Don’t ever deploy a cloud solution “just because.” Know what you’re using, what it’s capable of, and deliver clear instructions to your team so everyone gets the most out of every cloud computing solution your business adopts.

Why Hybrid Cloud Solutions Are a Big Deal

One can only imagine the woman’s surprise. She was simply going about her day when she encountered the beast. It was . . . unique.

Descriptions vary, but here’s what she saw, more or less. Its body was equine, bearing resemblance to a cross between a horse, a deer and an ox. It had scales along its body, like a fish, and its head looked more like a dragon than anything else. A dragon with antlers.

If you or I bumped into such an animal, we would probably not react as this woman did. She smiled, a hand on her belly. She was the mother of Confucius, and the creature in question was a Qilin, also known as a Chinese Unicorn.

A good-luck mutt.

The Qilun is, by western standards, a strange beast. A conglomeration of multiple animals, it looks nothing like anything you’ve seen in nature. And yet, it’s hardly the only mythological hybrid.

You’ve probably heard of others, like centaurs (half human, half horse), griffins (part lion and part eagle), and mermaids (beautiful woman on top, fish on the bottom). Hybrids pop up in mythology and folklore all over the world. Sometimes they’re meant to invoke fear, and sometimes wonder.

Or, as in the case of the Qilin, they represent an inspiring form of help.

As one article explains, “The Qilin or Chinese unicorn is a mythical beast that symbolizes good luck and prosperity.” Their presence signified the birth of a sage (like Confucius). They were so gentle and kind that they reportedly walked in the clouds to avoid harming even one blade of grass.

Basically, they were a good thing, even if hard to understand at first glance.

Introducing the hybrid cloud.

That’s the thing about hybrids. Because they’re a mashup of other things, sometimes they’re confusing.

We run into this all the time when we try to explain the benefits of hybrid cloud solutions. People who’ve never heard the term before look at us like you might look at a Qilin if you bumped into one tonight outside your home.

So let us set your mind at ease. The hybrid cloud isn’t as confusing as it sounds. Not only that, but like the Qilin, it’s a really good thing.

The beauty of the hybrid cloud.

Hybrid cloud solutions make use of two kinds of resources: local resources and cloud-based resources. One of the most common examples for small business is hybrid cloud storage.

A hybrid cloud storage solution gives you onsite storage space (which allows for speed and convenience) as well as offsite storage (which gives you remote access and the assurance of an additional backup). It’s an amazing fit for growing SMBs because it’s secure, scalable and cost-effective.

Secure

Security is a common concern for all cloud solutions, including hybrid cloud tools. However, it wasn’t that long ago that Gartner Research VP Jay Heiser made a bold claim: “Generally speaking, public cloud computing represents a more secure starting point than in-house implementations.”

In other words, hybrid cloud solutions tend to boost overall security rather than bringing it down a notch.

Scalable

Scalability is a big deal, especially for SMB owners. As your company grows, you need technology that can gracefully keep pace. Storage is a particularly critical component.

As Forbes points out, “A hybrid cloud can provide the architectural framework for a dynamic IT environment—one that can handle unpredictable fluctuations in usage and offer new possibilities for making the customer experience better across the entire organization.”

In other words, hybrid cloud solutions are a great fit for growing organizations due to their scalable flexibility.

Cost-effective

Most business owners perk up at the idea of savings, and hybrid cloud solutions certainly have the potential to drive down costs. After all, why pay for storage space you don’t need? It makes far more sense to take advantage of the scalability of a hybrid approach, adjusting storage space as your storage needs change.

But a word of caution here. While hybrid cloud solutions can trim your budget, any solution that doesn’t really meet your needs isn’t worth it in the long run. Be sure to think strategically before making a change. You may even want to talk to an IT consultant first.

The future is now.

Hybrid cloud solutions are more than a passing fad. Big names like Microsoft and VMware are already duking it out for the top spot in the growing market. It’s estimated that by 2020 90% of companies will be utilizing hybrid options.

If you’ve been considering a move to a hybrid cloud infrastructure, you’re in good company. And if you need a little help navigating the change, don’t hesitate to let us know.

Why a Virtual Server Makes Sense for Your SMB

In Norse mythology, the end of the world is kind of a big deal.

According to Norse legend, everything ends with a very literal bang—a huge battle in which competing deities face off. All the major players are involved, including Odin, Thor and Loki, the great trickster, as well as some interesting lesser-known characters. Like a giant wolf named Fenrir . . . who is somehow Loki’s son.

The battle is both fierce and chaotic, ending in something of a draw. Gods and monsters slay one another, trading a death for a death. When the dust clears, everyone is defeated.

The world is destroyed, but mythology scholars believe that’s not the end of the story. The world does end, but shortly after it’s recreated. The gods return. New people form new civilizations. Reborn, the world goes on.

This world-ending/world-beginning battle is known as Ragnarök.

Endings and beginnings.

In the course of your company’s history, there will be several beginning/ending events. Major milestones will mark times when something huge changes.

You’ll move from your garage, where the business first started, to a proper office. You’ll hire your first staff members. You’ll seek investors or forge your first business-to-business partnership or completely discontinue one offering so you can focus on another.

Each shift is the end of one thing and the beginning of something else. Kind of like Ragnarök. And when it comes to your company’s technology, there will be several of these.

Introducing the virtual server.

One specific game-changing shift we’ve seen a lot is the shift from onsite hardware to cloud-based virtual servers.

The cloud, in general, is blowing up right now. Organizations of all sizes are moving critical business functionality to cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent survey found that 90% of companies use cloud-based tools for at least some of their business solutions, and 50% actually cite cloud services as their preferred option.

Even Forbes touts the benefits of cloud-based virtual servers, observing, “Today, it doesn’t seem rational to invest in hardware such as servers and backup drives that need constant care . . .” The preferred option? A move to the cloud.

Of all the business functionality you could move to the cloud, few solutions make as much sense as a virtual server.

Why you should use a virtual server.

Which begs the question, what makes a cloud-based virtual server so appealing for small businesses? Just because a new business trend is emerging doesn’t mean you should jump on the bandwagon without doing your due diligence.

What are the advantages?

No Maintenance

First and foremost, a cloud-based virtual server means absolutely no maintenance for you. You don’t have to buy it, store it, maintain it or service it. Ever. The cloud provider will do all of that for you. You get the benefit of a state-of-the-art server without any of the hassle.

Get Exactly What You Need

Then there’s the issue of storage. Upgrading your server space is a pain when you work with a physical, onsite server. But you can add (or remove) space on a virtual server with the click of a few buttons. That kind of scalability is ideal for small businesses.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

Remote access is another compelling advantage. Onsite servers are location-locked. There’s little you can do about that. But a cloud-based virtual server is accessed via the internet. As long as you have a WiFi connection, you have access—from your home computer, your laptop, your tablet or even your smartphone.

Superior Security

Finally, there’s the matter of security. Cloud-based virtual servers are extremely secure. Most likely far more secure than you could make an onsite server. Cloud providers have good reason to ensure redundancy and security. Not only are virtual servers more convenient—they’re safe, too.

The right virtual server for you.

Finding the right cloud-based virtual server for your business is simply a matter of doing your homework. Different providers offer a variety of subscription-based plans. As long as you go with a reputable company, you should be fine.

Of course, the move to a virtual server is significant. For that reason, some SMB owners choose to work with an IT consultant to guide them through the process. While not necessary, that’s an ideal place to start.

However you choose to proceed, we certainly recommend looking into a virtual server for your small business. This is the future of business technology. It’s one more new beginning, full of exciting potential.

Why Cloud Solutions Are a Good Fit for SMBs

There was once a drought. Rain was scarce and animals great and small were in search of water. The creek beds were bare. Ponds dried up. Even the rivers ran low.

During the dry spell, a crow happened across an abandoned pitcher with a little bit of water sitting at the bottom. But there was a problem. The neck of the pitcher was narrow, and the crow’s beak could not reach far enough in to touch the water.

But crows are clever creatures, and this crow set about devising a solution to the problem at hand.

Spotting some small stones near the pitcher, the crow plucked up a pebble and dropped it into the pitcher. The water rose just a bit. Seeing progress, the crow continued to drop rocks into the pitcher until the water rose high enough that he could drink.

Crows Flying

Where Fables Meet Reality

You may have heard that story before. It’s one of Aesop’s fables. What you may not know is that it’s closer to reality than you would expect.

A few years ago, a group of researchers wanted to see if actual crows would prove as clever as the crows of myth and legend. They were not disappointed.

Four crows were put to the test, presented with exactly the same dilemma: a pitcher with a narrow neck and water at the bottom. All four crows used rocks to raise the water level so they could take a drink. As one article summarized, “According to the researchers, the only other animal known to perform this kind of task is the orangutan . . . ”

What Do Crows Have to Do with Cloud Solutions?

If we were talking about clouds in the sky, you could probably think of several connections right off the top of your head. But cloud solutions? As in IT network tools? What do crows have to do with those?

From our point of view, a lot.

In the fable, the crow is met with a specific problem. Rather than lamenting the problem, giving up, or flying away in search of another source of water, the crow used the tools at hand to produce the desired results. That’s exactly the same kind of thinking that make cloud solutions a powerful resource for small businesses.

Cloud Stat

Are there other ways to deal with your day-to-day challenges? You bet. Do you have to adopt cloud solutions in order to be successful? No, not at all.

But the cloud provides SMBs with quick, flexible, intuitive solutions that solve several common business problems. And that’s why 90% of organizations use the cloud in some way. In fact, more than 50% of all organizations actually prefer cloud solutions.

Let’s explore a few of the advantages of cloud solutions.

Customized to the Hilt

Cloud solutions are hardly one-size-fits-all. Unlike so many out-of-the-box solutions, cloud solutions come with some impressive options. That just makes sense. Your business is unique. Your tools should be unique, as well.

Here’s what that looks like in practical terms.

You won’t have to rework your entire internal process to match what your new CRM (or inventory tracking software or recordkeeping platform or whatever) expects you to do. You can tweak your tools to match how YOU and YOUR TEAM work.

And you can achieve that level of customization without breaking the bank. (More on that in a bit.)

New York Business

Scalable for Any Size

One of the challenges for SMBs is that many are in a near-constant state of growth. If a large corporation adds 10 new employees, it’s likely no big deal. If your small business with a core team of only 20 adds 10 new heads, that’s game-changing.

As a result, it’s critical that your solutions be flexible and scalable. You can’t ditch one set of solutions and migrate to another every time you hit a new tier of growth. You need tools that will grow with you.

Cloud solutions are not only customizable but also extremely scalable. Adding new users won’t mess with the whole process. Instead, you can grow your team and your company with confidence that your cloud solutions will keep pace.

Working from Wherever

50% of all Americans have jobs that could be done remotely. Not only that but working remotely comes with a bunch of perks for your employees: greater productivity, boosts in employee satisfaction, lower stress and reduced turnover, to name a few. And cloud solutions make all that remote access magic possible.

Stat

But that’s not the only reason to embrace cloud solutions and working remotely. Even if you have no intention of giving your staff the option of remote access, there are still huge benefits to having it for yourself and your leadership team.

Imagine being on the road or in a face-to-face client meeting and still having access to all your files, tools and solutions, as if you were sitting at your own desk in your office. When you work in the cloud, you’re always connected as long as you have access to the internet.

More Secure Than You Think

Forbes recently reported that an increasing number of cybersecurity platforms take cloud solutions into account. That’s important because security has long been a concern when considering the move to cloud solutions. After all, if your precious data is out there in the cloud, how can you be sure it’s safe from cyber criminals?

As McAfee’s 2017 report, “Building Trust in a Cloudy Sky: The State of Cloud Adoption and Security,” infers, the real question for business leaders isn’t whether or not to make the move to the cloud, but how to move to the cloud securely.

There are secure cloud solutions. Finding them and implementing them is more a matter of the right cybersecurity strategy than an issue with cloud solution security in general. Our advice is to work with an IT consulting expert to ensure the right level of security for your company.

Cybersecurity

Budget-friendly Value

Finally, the benefit you’ve been hoping for all along. Sort of.

Many business owners are able to save money by making the move to cloud solutions. But we know better than to make lofty promises about how much the right cloud solutions will cost for your business. Instead, we’d rather speak to value.

We’re confident that the sum total of the benefits of cloud solutions will make for a better overall value for your business. Think of it as more bang for your buck. You may save money . . . or you might pay a little more for way more agility. Either way, we consider that a win.

Getting to the Good Stuff

Like the crow working to get to the water in the bottom of the pitcher, SMB owners have to tap into creativity and ingenuity to grow their businesses. Cloud solutions are an effective way to help in that effort.

If you want a leg up on the competition, the right cloud solutions can make a powerful difference.

How Cloud Solutions Can Make Your Life Easier

The story is told of a promising martial arts student who wanted to advance his skill as quickly as possible. Having seen the value of working with one master, the clever student thought it wise to double-up his training.

“Master,” he said, “I’ve learned so much from you. You know I’m a devoted student. I’d like to learn even more. I’m considering working with a second master to learn another style. I think it could strengthen my understanding, coordination and skill.”

The master looked at his student. He was silent for a moment, and then he exhaled deeply. The wisdom of his years showed on his face as he shook his head.

“No,” he said. “You should not do this.”

“Why not?” the student asked with respect.

The master smiled. “Because,” he explained, “the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

Simple is better.

Ready for confirmation of something you already know? Here goes.

The key to making your business a success doesn’t lie in being busy. It lies in creating a productive environment for yourself and your employees.

A recent survey found the average professional is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes during an 8-hour work day. Too many of us spend too much time on stuff that doesn’t contribute to growth.

But there’s a better way.

Greater focus leads to better results.

The more you can focus on your goals, the more likely you are to hit them. That’s why it’s important to use every available tool to make the tasks of running a business easier.

Why waste your valuable time and energy on tedious administrative stuff? Wouldn’t you rather hone in on the things that really matter? If so, cloud solutions are a good fit for your small business.

How cloud solutions can improve your focus.

Cloud solutions aren’t a passing fad. They’re a powerful way to narrow your focus, getting more done without working insane hours. In fact, 60% of small businesses that use the cloud see a significant boost in productivity.

Below are 6 ways cloud solutions can help you get more done in less time.

1. Less time spent on grunt work.

Installing, updating and maintaining software and hardware is critical. It’s also a huge time commitment. Cloud solutions eliminate much of that time. Cloud services don’t require any of that kind of routine maintenance, freeing you to spend your valuable time on something else.

2. Unreal flexibility.

Growing a small business is a delicate balancing act. When you’re in rapid growth mode, just keeping up with the demands of more customers and more employees can become a huge distraction. Cloud solutions are a great fit because they’re scalable, allowing you to easily adjust as your needs change.

3. Unleash collaboration.

Cloud solutions focused on team collaboration are in vogue right now, and for good reason. When your people are able to effortlessly pool their efforts, you’re guaranteed better results. And some of the best collaborative tools on the market right now are cloud-based.

4. Big business solutions.

Just because you run a small business doesn’t mean you can’t have access to enterprise-level tools. Cloud solutions are the great equalizer. Because they scale easily, you can use the very same top-tier options Fortune 500 companies use to stay at the top of their game.

5. Work from wherever.

As a small business owner, you can’t be in the office every single day. Sometimes the many hats you wear force you to work on the go. Cloud solutions give you the ability to stay connected and productive, even if you’re on the other side of the globe.

6. More value (and maybe lower costs).

Cloud solutions can absolutely deliver high value. You can see that in the previous five points. They might also lower costs. It’s great when that happens, but the important thing here is value. Any tool that helps you sharpen your focus and grow your company is worth investing in.

Cloud Solutions with Intelligent IT

Of course, you only get the benefits of cloud solutions if you choose the right cloud solutions. That’s a tall order for most SMB owners because of the sheer number of options available. But there’s a way to make that easier, too.

The experts at Intelligent IT can help identify, setup and support the cloud solutions that will work best for your company. Just give us a call to get the process started today.