At least once a month someone asks me about the cloud, and what it can do for his/her business. My answer is everything…maybe.

What is the Cloud:

The cloud encompasses a few concepts. I’m focusing on the most common business related uses for this post; being able to read/edit/create documents.

in its simplest form, the cloud can work as storage for your files. In this scenario your files are sent to a server on the internet for storage. This means that you can download your files from any computer with an internet connection. This is very useful for people that don’t want to carry a USB thumbdrive, or similar. It’s also useful for groups if people are in different locations since each person can update the files as needed, and everyone in the group can see those changes. In this version of the cloud, you must bring your own software. That is, you have to install Office, or Adobe Acrobat, or Photoshop on your device to open/edit your Office Documents, PDF’s, or pictures for example.

In a more complicated version, the cloud is not only storage, it’s where you you can open, edit, and create your files. This means that in general, you don’t need to have software pre-installed on computers you want to use, and you can much more easily use a smartphone, or tablet to work on your files.

What can cloud software do for my business?

Cloud software is still a maturing market. In general, most business needs can be met with the software that is available, but if you’re moving from desktop software, you should be careful that the cloud version supports all of the features you use, even if you are moving from the desktop version of software to an online version. Quickbooks 2014 for the desktop has more features than Quickbooks online edition, for example. Further, If you use custom plugins for your desktop software, you will have to confirm that there is a cloud version of the plugin available. In the long term, cloud software will eventually have all of the same features as the desktop equivalent, but as of now, you should be aware of the differences.

Is the cloud right for my business?

…maybe. Businesses that move to the cloud will generally find that they can do business in ways they never imagined. Some business owners really enjoy being able to work from home, or being able to get sensitive data away from the office as they need it. Others enjoy the flexibility it allows for employees, leading to more productive employees. In general, the benefits of the cloud are clear. You will have greater flexibility in how you work so the answer tends to depend more on the features you are using. Overall, it’s definitely worth keeping up with the latest trends in cloud computing for your small business.