Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.

“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.

Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?

IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.

Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.

Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.

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What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?

Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.

What do businesses need to know upfront?

The biggest things to know are:

 

 

  • There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.

 

 

  • Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system.  Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.

 

 

  • Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.

 

 

  • While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.

 

 

What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?

Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.

Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or upware_clouddesk@cable.comcast.com.

Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.

 

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Published in Philadelphia