In today’s parlance, ‘the cloud’ is a term about which many have only a vague understanding. This is due, in part, to the nebulous nature of the concept, and the way in which it evokes images of intangible vapour, drifting through the air. It seems odd to associate such an indistinct idea with the clear and well-defined work of business. After all, in commercial operation, specificity and accuracy is needed to increase the likelihood of success. Despite this seeming incongruity, however, ‘the cloud’ as a descriptive reference is quite appropriate. It denotes a system that is based on the internet and, despite requiring hardwired technology to function, the advent of WiFi and Bluetooth connections has given rise to a popular embrace of wireless communications.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is the delivery of IT services using the internet as a medium. These services can include digital storage, digital back-ups, and the provision of software platforms. There are four main types of cloud computing, each providing a different range of tools and resources.
- IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service allows business to rent IT infrastructure from a cloud provider. This hire agreement is usually undertaken on a pay-as-you-go schedule, and includes the use of storage, operating systems, servers, virtual machines (VMs) and networks.
- SaaS – Software as a Service allows business to pay a subscription to a cloud provider for the use of software applications, to which they connect using the internet. The software is hosted, managed, and maintained by the cloud provider.
- PaaS – Platform as a Service is aimed at providing solutions for software development, enabling the creation, testing, delivery, and management of software applications without the additional step of implementing the necessary infrastructure. Instead, this is hosted by the cloud provider.
- Serverless computing – Similar to PaaS, serverless computing sees the digital environment hosted by the cloud provider. The difference is largely in the set-up, with serverless computing allowing for very little control over the digital environment, though applications can scale automatically.
In exploring this understanding of cloud computing and the detail of its main types, we can begin to see why this method delivers some important advantages for modern business.
A competitive edge has always been essential for success in business, and, in modern times, this has increasingly involved digitization and the most advanced technologies. Gone are the days of whole rooms within business premises being given over to server space and filing cabinets. In the global marketplace of today, it is necessary for commercial operations to engage with up-to-the-minute developments in software applications and infrastructure to retain pole position, and cloud computing is chief among these improvements.
There are eight main advantages to the use of cloud computing in business:
- Flexibility and scalability
When a business has invested in physical IT infrastructure, opportunities for flexibility and scalability are limited. A finite capacity has been created, and any expansion comes with significant cost that the business alone must bear. When infrastructure is hosted by an external provider, by contrast, flexibility and scalability can be achieved at lower cost, and with negligible disruption. This, coupled with a ‘pay-as-you-go’ arrangement with cloud providers means that capacity can be as responsive as necessary, for as long as needed.
When we refer to something as being cost-effective, we mean that it provides good value – usually measured by comparing associated revenue with outlay. This makes cloud computing highly cost-effective, because the business reaps the revenue rewards without having to meet the cost of buying and maintaining IT infrastructure. Instead, a simple payment plan is agreed to suit the business needs, and the cost and risk incurred by infrastructure ownership and maintenance are met by the cloud provider. Furthermore, the flexibility and scalability of cloud computing means that the impact on revenue has the potential to far outweigh cost, even as the business grows into new markets and territories.
- Green credentials
By removing the need to house and power as much physical IT infrastructure within premises, the carbon footprint of the business is greatly reduced. This contributes to the cost-effectiveness of the cloud computing strategy, but also helps boost revenue by enhancing the reputation of the business. In addition, the fact that cloud computing ensures business data and systems are accessible remotely means that business can be conducted with less travel by personnel, and with less need of manual postage or delivery services. This is perhaps the biggest reduction in carbon emissions that a business can create, and further contributes to reputation enhancement.
- Business continuity
With the cloud being accessible remotely, the business can continue – even under the most challenging of circumstances. When a global health emergency prevents personnel from attending the business premises in person, or when the business premises are negatively impacted by environmental change, the business is not necessarily disrupted, provided the server location is still operational and that the internet is functioning in all necessary areas. This kind of business continuity has proven to be invaluable in recent times and is the surest way for commercial operations to future-proof their interests. Scalability is protected by the agility that cloud computing provides.
- Disaster recovery
The worst-case scenario for most businesses is that disaster wipes out the business operation and, with physical IT infrastructure on the premises, this is always a possibility. Using cloud computing means that all data is kept securely off-site, making disaster recovery a quicker and more straightforward task. While the idea of ‘disaster’ in business may conjure thoughts of fire or flood, any amount of downtime can lead to disruptions in the operation, so even a temporary power outage or time-limited cyber-attack can require disaster recovery protocols. Most cloud providers design their services with this in mind.
- Ease of collaboration
Cloud computing makes business data and systems accessible remotely, which means that authorized personnel can log in from any web-enabled device in any internet-connected location. Collaboration is made far easier by this core feature and, therefore, increased efficiencies are seen throughout the operation. Negotiations can be completed more quickly, and contracts can be approved and activated instantly, where electronic signatures are applied and accepted. This leads to shorter sales cycles, with resources being freed up faster to pursue further leads. The ease of collaboration generated by cloud computing is not only beneficial to the early stages of the Contract Lifecycle, however. When issues arise - including delays, conflict and changes to risk assessments and profiles – all parties involved can work more closely together to resolve them at the point of identification. This reduces the possibility of legal action or financial penalty, increasing cost-effectiveness further.
- Security and compliance
Data security is a high priority for all businesses, particularly in the modern age of technological advancement. With the advantages of cloud computing comes concern about data vulnerability, however. It is easy to assume that commercial data is safer within a system that is entirely housed on-site, as opposed to an off-site digital storage platform or system. These concerns are emphasised by the fact that you can remotely access business data in the cloud. It is the case, though, that cloud computing actually increases the security of business data. This is because, in addition to the security measures of the business – in terms of personnel authorization – the data is also subject to the security protocols of the cloud provider. This includes encrypted data transfer and secure electronic signature facilities.
- Increased efficiency
The advantages of cloud computing have the cumulative impact of increasing efficiency throughout the commercial operation. By storing data off-site with cloud providers that take care of software and infrastructure maintenance and management, the business can concentrate on revenue generating activities. This allows for the allocation of resources in ways that streamline internal systems and processes, while the ease of secure access to essential materials also speeds the operation up. In this way, increased efficiency leads to greater profitability, because the business is achieving high levels of cost-effectiveness.
Making use of the cloud
For businesses, the cloud is an invaluable tool – especially for those areas that require collaboration with external organizations and individuals, or internal personnel working off-site. As contracts work at the heart of the business, governing all relationships, as well as the flow of money and resources, a cloud-based Contract Management solution can be considered best practice. This is because when you deploy a Contract Management solution that creates advantages and efficiencies, those advantages and efficiencies are quickly disseminated throughout the operation by virtue of the contract collection.
With a cutting-edge, cloud-based Contract Management Software platform that is easily implemented and integrated with existing systems, Symfact is the ideal solution for any business, in any industry. Its scalability is additionally supported by multi-language, multi-location and multi-currency features which, in conjunction with the cloud, makes worldwide enterprise easier to achieve. Contract Management becomes entirely unrestricted, with limitless potential for business growth, profitability, and success. To learn more about how cloud computing can help your business keep pace with evolving global markets in a cost-effective way, contact Symfact today.