With the increase in “cloud-based” services, we asked one of our Sage Business Experts, Jacky Tustain, to discuss the pros and cons and what you need to consider when thinking of moving to the cloud.
As web-based software improves, a greater choice of online business software suited to small businesses is becoming available.
This software is often termed as ‘in the cloud’, which means it is accessed through the internet, without being downloaded to your machine and is either provided free or by subscription. You sign on, use the software and store your data through the system.
The range and quality of online business products has grown very quickly over the last couple of years; include the development of applications for tablets and smart phones and you are faced with a great range of potential tools.
Advantages of online business tools
Online business tools present you with many advantages. You do not need to worry about storage requirements for your machine, initial spend is often less, there are less concerns about the software becoming out-dated and data backed up is normally taken care of for you.
As long as you can gain internet access you will be able to sign in and often can set up other people to log in to your account if needed. Good design will mean that many of these online business tools have a similar look and feel and if you are reasonably comfortable with current browser based software you will find many quite intuitive and quick to pick up.
Many providers also allow you a free trial, giving you the chance to try the software and test it for yourself before making a decision.
Disadvantages of online business tools
Although online business tools may seem to be the way forward, there are some possible disadvantages to think about before signing up. Subscription costs have a cumulative effect and can be increased. A few pounds or dollars a month over a couple of years can soon become a larger sum than a one off investment. You may find yourself having to spend time getting to grips with new methods if major upgrades and re-designs are made to the tools, or even discover that features you like are no longer available.
Other points to consider are the risks associated with relying on online software. You need to be sure the company providing it will stay around and continue to provide the service. You are trusting them to protect your data, both from external access and from loss, for example, due to hardware failure. And of course, if you cannot get internet access, you will have a problem.
Making the choice
Aside from obvious comparisons between products, online and offline, such as which one has the most useful features, how easy it is to understand and use, how secure is the software provider, what is the support like and even personal preference about the design there are other things to take into consideration when making your choice of software.
- Will you have good internet access, wherever you may want to access the software?
- If you will be relying heavily on the software do you have a backup source for internet access if your main ISP has a problem with your access?
- Does the total cost over time represent good value? For example, if you know you are likely to buy software and replace it after three years would the total subscription cost over the period be competitive?
- How secure is your data? What measures has the provider put in place to store and protect it from attack?
- Can you export or extract in a standard format as a secondary backup?
- Do you require additional user access as provided by the online supplier?
Personally, I love the growth of online business tools and as long as care is taken when choosing and using, remembering that you are still responsible for your data, then online business tools provides a great, more flexible choice for small businesses today.
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