the cloud can benefit businesses both big and small, especially when it comes to cutting IT costs. If you haven't yet taken the plunge, the ringing in of 2011 may be the perfect excuse to get started.In 2010, we continued to hear a lot about how
Gartner recently put cloud computing at the top of its list of top strategic technologies for 2011 and they're far from the only experts extolling the glory of the Web-hosted software these days.
As a business, the number of things you can't do in the cloud seemingly dwindles by the day. From project management and collaboration to billing and CRM, there's a Web-based solution for any number of business needs.
This year, we watched as Google Apps added over sixty new Web-based applications to its suite of offerings for businesses. New features and integrations were added to online invoicing app FreshBooks, and a new startup called InDinero gave small businesses an all-in-one financial dashboard akin to Mint.com.
Of course, the cloud doesn't come without it's own risks and challenges. Up-time is critical, and a cloud service going down can mean that business grinds to a halt. But on the whole, Web-based options tend to be more affordable, which is hugely significant for smaller businesses, whose budgets and resources are often stretched thin.
The cloud has perks beyond cost savings. The more your business's applications are hosted online, the easier it will be to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce. It also helps enable collaboration. By virtue of their very design, VoIP services like Skype are inherently more collaborative than old school telephony. The same is true of Google Apps, where colleagues can work on documents simultaneously. For project management, there's BaseCamp, Apollo and literally dozens more. And of course, when business lives in the cloud, meeting with colleagues is no problem thanks to a range of virtual meeting services like GoToMeeting, DimDim, Fuze and WebEx, some of which have apps for iOS and Android.
Unlike many of their legacy, desktop counterparts, cloud-based applications can usually integrate with one another quite easily. Thanks to robust API and integration tools, I can tie my Web forms on Wufoo directly to my email subscriber database in MailChimp. I can make Salesforce talk to social media tools and connect billing services to bookkeeping software in a few clicks.
There's little doubt that the cloud is going to be a huge part of the future of business. If you've been putting off the transition, there's no better excuse than the arrival of a new year to get things moving.