How much of your business is happening in the cloud?
We're not talking about the blue sky above our heads but the world of cloud computing, in which a growing number of services and software are being offered online, rather than via desktop software.
Whether it is products such as Google Docs, DropBox, Hotmail or WordPress, a growing number of services are being delivered online via a Web browser. For small and large companies, it offers a new and different way to run their businesses.
Rather than having to install and maintain software on a personal computer or corporate server, everything is handled by the online service provider, including data storage.
And as high-speed Internet access, including wireless networks, becomes more common, the availability of cloud computing continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
At the forefront of cloud computing is Google, which is aggressively moving beyond its roots as the world's leading search engine to become the one of the leading providers of online services.
Google is raising the cloud computing stakes with the launch of its Chrome browser, which will transform it into a quasi-operating system. In an ideal world, Google envisions a computer landscape in which all the essential services will be provided online via browser – many of them, of course, delivered by Google.
At the same time, Google is also saying that Microsoft's Windows operating system will become less relevant because there will be a reduced need for desk software. It is a war that pits the world's two largest technology companies in a head-to-head battle, as each battles to outflank the other.
For business owners, online services have their pros and cons. There is no installation or maintenance, and services can be purchased on a monthly basis, as opposed to having pay upfront. As well, any employees can access online services if they have access to the Web, which makes it easy to work remotely and collaborate.
The downside to cloud computing is that you need to be connected to the Web. If there is a problem with your connection or you don't have access to the Web, online services are not available.
Another issue is that all of your data is stored on someone else's computer, which raises questions about security and the ability to have control over your information if and when needed.
Still, a growing number of companies are embracing the cloud, particularly smaller companies that like the idea of paying on a monthly or annual basis for whatever services they need. As more employees work out of the office or from home, online services are an easy and effective way to provide distributed computing.
Among the most popular online services are Google Docs (word processing), DropBox (data storage), WordPress (content management and blogging), Yahoo! Mail and Gmail (e-mail) and Salesforce.com (customer relationship management).
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.