How can cloud computing help entrepreneurs on the go? Or small businesses with employees who spend most of their time on the road, and need access to company information anywhere, anytime?
ShopTalk put those questions to Deanna Gibbs Lanier, who serves as a director in advisory for KPMG LLP, an audit, tax and advisory services firm with 87 offices, including Charlotte and Raleigh. Lanier helps clients see what it means to conduct business “in the cloud” – accessing emails, documents and applications through a combination of the Internet, plus hardware and software as a service.
Lanier speaks at a Charlotte seminar on Feb. 12, sponsored by the Strategic Leadership Forum of the Carolinas, about what companies should consider before migrating business functions to the cloud. (For details, click the events tab at www.slf-carolinas.org.)
Some firms find cloud computing to be a less expensive alternative to the traditional software licensing model, where companies are contracted to pay for a set number of users -- even if that number shrinks over time. Cloud computing allows companies to add or decrease users as they go, and pay only for what they use, Lanier said. Some cloud models for small offices can start as low as $7 per user, per month, she said.
KPMG recently surveyed more than 200 senior corporate tax professionals, and found that cloud computing is being embraced by more companies, according to Lanier. But 52 percent of respondents said they are generally not included in company discussions on making the switch.
That illustrates an important first step that some firms overlook – involving all members of a business in the cloud discussion, and not only the tech gurus facilitating the switch.
“Cloud computing is a business decision, it’s not just an IT decision,” Lanier said. “(Needs) can vary by organization. It’s not a one-size fits all model.”
Companies should discuss how cloud solutions can match their specific industry needs. A human resources division might use a cloud solution that manages health benefits enrollments and payroll. A small doctor’s office might consider the cloud for storing electronic medical records. A sales force can stay on the road -- responding to emails on the fly, and inputting data from meetings without heading back to the office at 5.
“Which business functions do you want to move to the cloud, and why? In some ways, the cloud is another way to outsource,” Lanier said.
“It takes a lot of overhead and maintenance off (companies’) shoulders, especially for small businesses....Maintaining software and IT resources is probably not something they want to spend their time doing.”
It’s also crucial that companies talk about security concerns, Lanier said. For the doctor’s office considering the cloud, for example, maintaining the privacy of an individual’s health information is key.
“That’s when you have to think about HIPAA, and high-tech compliances,” Lanier said.
“We recommend that our clients create a security-risk assessment, so they understand what the risks are, and they have standard security practices across their organization.”