Even with today’s plethora of cloud-based services, many small or medium business (SMB) owners or managers view information technology (IT) as a necessary business expense. They make a significant investment in IT. This can include equipment, software and licensing, only to have it sit in a closet, server room, data center, or even under a desk (true story). Often, only a fraction of its functionality is used, and the full benefits or desired outcomes are never achieved. No one really understands what it does until the day it stops working. Productivity grinds to a halt and the business starts losing money due to the outage.

Does this scenario sound familiar? What if you shifted your thinking? Instead viewing technology as an investment that can give you the competitive advantage in your market.

As an SMB owner, and someone who frequently speaks with other SMB owners, managers, and employees, I am amazed by the speed of change. From the increasing competitiveness of various markets, to the role technology plays in it all. Like you, we are always looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage, reduce risk, increase efficiencies, reduce cost, and increase profits. What we discovered is that cloud-based services can help your business achieve all these desired outcomes. Here’s how.

Competitive Advantage

There are lots of ways leveraging the cloud can give you a competitive advantage. Software as a Service (SaaS) provides accessibility, ease of deployment, and enterprise level software and features that are out of reach for most SMBs. It is now possible for a 30-person law firm in Atlanta to use the same enterprise software as a 1500-person law firm in Phoenix.

For example, internally at Snap Tech IT and with our clients, we leverage Microsoft Teams for communication and collaboration. We currently have offices in Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco and Microsoft Teams allows us to quickly and efficiently communicate across our locations using real time chat, sharing of documents, and truth be told, post funny pictures from time to time. Isn’t that how people communicate now anyway?

With the ease of communication and information in a single tool, we find that Microsoft Teams gives us a competitive advantage.

Reduce Risk

There are many ways to reduce risk in an organization. But, when I think specifically about cloud computing, several examples come to mind. Many SMBs still rely on local Email Exchange servers to support their email, and file servers for data storage, without thinking about what could happen to if the hardware fails or the internet goes out.

Take email, for example. If your company only has one internet connection and it goes down, email stops. You’re not backing up your email server and it fails, you could lose it all. If you are hacked, and the server is encrypted, your email could be gone. Moving email to Microsoft Office 365 is a great way to reduce this risk. Likewise, backing up as much of your data to the cloud as you can reduces the risk of data loss and improves disaster recovery.

Moving applications and services out of your office or data center and instead leveraging the SaaS infrastructure reduces this risk. This is because SaaS companies invest in back-up generators, redundant systems and the latest cybersecurity tools to keep your important data safe.

Increase Efficiencies

Using cloud-based services improves productivity in several ways. For employees on the go, connecting to the cloud allows them to access company data remotely. This means they can connect anytime, anywhere, on any device so they can collaborate with colleagues in real-time.

For example, at Snap Tech IT, we moved our file system to a secure cloud solution. We have access to it on our laptops and mobile devices, anytime and from anywhere. As someone who occasionally works remotely, I think this is awesome. Before we moved our file system to the cloud, I had to connect my laptop to the VPN and enter my two-factor authentication to access our files. Now, all I need is an Internet connection. My files are then a mapped drive on my laptop, or I can access them on my iPhone. All the same security measures are still in place, but it’s infinitely more convenient.

Reduce Cost & Increase Profits

One of the biggest benefits of the cloud-computing model is the utility pricing concept. Cloud-computing pricing models are based either on a per user price per month or you pay as you go. For many SaaS based applications like Office 365, your monthly fee is based on the number of employees or mailboxes used that month. If the numbers change in subsequent months, so does your cost. This flexibility combined with moving these costs from a capital expense to an operating expense is a huge benefit for SMB businesses. We no longer have to invest capital into hardware and licensing that may not be fully utilized and instead can consume and pay for these services as we need them.

By Shawn Brown, COO and President