COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. Business leaders who frowned at the idea of remote working are hailing the benefits of working from home and focusing on maximizing remote work productivity.
Unseen to the human eye, there is a piece of technology that is helping businesses continue without missing a beat. It is helping businesses not just survive the whiplash of the crisis but also thrive during it.
Cloud it is.
Cloud computing is not a new-age technology. It has been around for at least three decades as of now. It came to the spotlight when technology was consumerized with mobile and web apps.
According to an IDC report, Spending on software delivered via public cloud services will grow 19% a year and, by 2024, will account for nearly half of all software sales. The chart below shows how worldwide spending on cloud software will steeply increase from 2018 to 2024.
What is driving this massive adoption of cloud services?
What makes cloud a reliable infrastructure for businesses that do not have deep pockets but big ambitions?
The full value of the Cloud comes out as a digital transformation enabler and not just a tactical technology that solves a specific business function or challenge. Cloud touches across all business functions and radically transforms them for the good.
It offers unique advantages that make it the first technology to adopt, not just during a crisis, but even during normalcy.
The pay-per-use or Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model is what turned cloud a popular choice for businesses. This payment method is more or less similar to utility bills like power where you pay only for resources that you have used. This spares businesses from the burden of having to lock up working capital as upfront fees for services. It also saves the cost that otherwise would have to be for provisioning resources that may never be used at all.
Depending on the type of cloud service, the pay-per-use will again undergo a change. Broadly, there are three types of cloud services:
Infrastructure as a Service
Typically cloud infrastructure like storage which customers use and pay for on an hourly, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. The most common IaaS vendors include Microsoft, HP, IBM, and AWS.
Platform as a Service
PaaS is a model where customers use a common platform to host, develop, or manage their applications in a common ecosystem. These platforms help customers achieve consistency in operations without having to integrate too many components from multiple vendors for a single application to work.
Example: Oracle Public Cloud, Google Cloud Platform, Windows Azure.
Software as a Service
SaaS is perhaps the most widely known form of cloud services. It takes the shape of a web or mobile application that users can access from anywhere through a dedicated portal. The customers pay for the services or features they use. Again, the payment model could be for the features subscribed for or for storage space used, or a combination of both.
SaaS enables businesses to cherry pick the features or services they need and pay only for those choices instead of paying a lump sum amount for a universal set of features, most of which they may never use.
Example: Gsuite, Slack, Trello, Asana, Zoom, etc.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has forced a large chunk of the workforce to move indoors and work from the safe haven of their houses. If it were a decade ago, when dial-up internet connections and standalone software applications were the norms, work would have come to a standstill.
Today, companies across the globe, irrespective of the industry or sector they belong to are able to sustain their operational efficiency due to the cloud connectivity. Cloud is the invisible IT infrastructure that is enabling every working professional to set up a home office and continue working as if they are still in office. They are able to access work applications, data, and even connect with co-workers and external stakeholders due to the remote connectivity capabilities of the cloud.
A classic example of this is Zoom — the video conferencing tool that lets users have a quick video or audio conference call with a desktop, laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone.
Similar to Zoom, Google Meet has also been enabling users to transition into the remote work mode. The MACIF Group, a leading French mutual insurance provider, was able to ensure business continuity for more than 8,000 employees with Google Meet. The company conducts at least 1,300 meetings daily using virtual rooms on Google Meet for meetings and conferences.
Thanks to video conferencing tools like these, employees can have virtual huddles where tasks are planned and work is done without letting miscommunication hamper their productivity.
Drastic reduction of overheads
Cloud services can reduce IT overhead costs by at least 30 to 40%. A study conducted by Rackspace Hosting found that 88 percent of cloud users were able to achieve cost savings. At least 56% of them have also been able to increase profits.
Of course, the initial migration to the cloud might seem quite an inconvenience. But, considering the long-term benefits that cloud offers, it is the ideal way forward. Here is the proof.
- Reduces hardware requirements
Cloud does not require you to invest in on-premises hardware. Consequently it leads to power and rental cost savings as well which would otherwise be required to house the IT equipment.
All data is stored on online databases which can be accessed through any internet-connected device.
- Minimal maintenance costs
When there is minimal IT equipment, there is minimal maintenance to be carried out. The kind of maintenance that would be required will also be in the lines of a software upgrade. Cloud applications offer the convenience of over-the-air updates. A single version release can be implemented across multiple touchpoints simultaneously.
- No carbon emissions
A rather under-rated benefit of the cloud is that it drastically reduces carbon emissions. The reduction in e-waste from IT equipment, limited power consumption, and also online accessibility helps reduce carbon emissions to a large extent.
Seamless data access
Documents. Spreadsheets. Slides. Even video and audio content is being accessed and shared online due to the scalable bandwidth of cloud servers. Before the cloud became the norm, information existed in silos. There were individual files whose access was restricted only to its owners.
Thanks to the cloud, it is now possible for users to have real-time access to data. They can collaborate easily, implement changes, and get work done without any restrictions on file access or controls.
Seamless data access means users are able to perform their duties irrespective of whether they are working from home or from anywhere else.
Here is another allied benefit of cloud’s seamless data access. It is now possible for businesses to build a virtual team without borders. They can hire the best talent from across the globe based on credentials and experience. Their proximity to the business is no longer a parameter. Seamless data access ensures that these remote employees can also connect virtually and participate like any other full-time employee to get work done.
Until a crisis made it necessary, there was one primary reason why businesses were reluctant to adopt remote work.
A study conducted by Check Point and Cybersecurity Insiders found that public cloud has 4 major vulnerabilities:
- Unauthorized cloud access,
- Insecure interfaces,
- Misconfiguration of the cloud platform, and
- Account hijacking.
The truth is, like any other IT infrastructure, cloud also has its own share of vulnerabilities. But, what makes it a better choice is that there are multiple security measures that can put up a defense as well.
- Automated data backup
Cloud gives the facility to take data backup automatically at pre-fixed intervals. The backup can be stored in separate data centers dedicated to the purpose or moved to offline storage devices for adding a second layer of security.
- Virtual Private Networks
The risk of infiltration, eavesdropping, Man-in-the-middle-attacks are highly probable when employees access critical business applications through public networks like cafes, airports, or even home-based WiFI connections. Virtual Private Networks create a safety tunnel of sorts through which employees can access applications through encrypted connections.
- Managed security services
The security of cloud data centers can be entrusted with managed security service providers who are experts in the field and can reduce risk more effectively. You can see if these security providers hold adequate certifications like PCI or HIPAA which proves that they are ideal choices for the purpose.
Now that we have seen the numerous benefits that cloud can bring to a business, let’s take a quick glance at the many applications that a business can use over the cloud.
When a crisis hits, there are two major functions that bear the maximum brunt — Sales and Marketing. Both these functions need access to customer data and campaigns to keep the business afloat.
A cloud-based CRM system makes it possible for sales reps and marketers to easily fetch data from a central repository and run their operations without missing a beat. A cloud-based CRM in specific ensures that data is not kept in silos. Sales reps do not approach customers who have unsubscribed from marketing communication. Marketers won’t run campaigns for the target audience who do not yield any returns. There are also several other benefits to a cloud-based CRM like quick scalability, integrations with other apps, and scheduled or automatic data backups.
Billing and Invoicing
All the sales and marketing activities would prove to be futile if the billing and invoicing process of the business is broken. These processes are extremely reliant on paperwork, and data from sales and finance teams.
When a crisis keeps everyone locked indoors, cloud makes it possible to carry out billing and invoicing processes with digital records. The data from the CRM system can be integrated to a billing and invoicing system. Cloud makes it possible to ensure that there is data concurrency between the CRM and the billing software.
There is no delay or duplication of work since the billing system fetches customer information straight from the CRM. All that would be required from the finance team would be a cross-check to ensure that the final invoice sent to the customer is proper.
Call centers and contact centers are on-premise operations. Customer support agents need phone connections that can transfer calls to agents, accommodate call conferencing, and also perform a plethora of other functionalities that will help deliver a smooth customer experience.
Cloud-based contact center software enables businesses of all sizes to run their help desks and customer support systems smoothly even if agents are not at their desks. In fact, these customer support systems can also be integrated with CRM or accounting software to maximize customer service productivity.
Why the future of businesses is on cloud nine
COVID-19 started in 2019. Almost half a year into 2020, we are yet to find a feasible solution to wiping it out. The virus has thrown a wrench into the smooth schedule with which we used to run our personal and work lives.
Businesses which are built on the foundation of communication and collaboration found themselves at crossroads when the crisis took over. Cloud, which has been the forte of large enterprises so far, has now become the go-to technology for every business.
Be it a one-person company offering digital design services or a small business running an online store, everybody can benefit from cloud infrastructure. It offers an array of benefits that can help businesses keep their people and processes together while continuously optimizing their operational efficiency.