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The Forecast is Cloudy: Taking the Next Steps With Cloud-Based IT

So you’ve dabbled in cloud, but what’s the next step? There’s more cloud in the forecast for Canadian SMBs; allowing you to move beyond simple apps like cloud-based email and start getting innovative.

Cloud is the new IT infrastructure solution for SMBs according to a report by SMB Group. Indeed, 92 per cent of SMBs are using at least one cloud business solution and more will take a cloud-first approach to drive product, service and business innovation. However, most will stick with a public cloud approach due to limited internal IT resources, says the report, while medium businesses will increasingly embrace a hybrid approach.

Canada has historically lagged behind other nations (particularly our southerly neighbour) when it comes to cloud adoption, thanks to our strict privacy regulations about storing data offshore. You may have been sitting on the sidelines wondering if it’s safe to ‘cloudify’ your data, especially if that data ends up residing in U.S. data centres.

But cloud is now a mainstream option in Canada and new services — plus Canadian-based data centres — are popping up on a regular basis.

SEE RELATED: 5 Ways to Think Through the Data Centre Decision in Canada.

According to a report from the Information and Communications Technology Council, the Canadian cloud economy contributes $4.6 billion annually to our GDP and is projected to climb to $8.2 billion by 2018.

So now is a good time to start embracing cloud — especially since customer expectations are evolving faster than the speed of technological change. They’re demanding speed, simplicity and more personalization. This is tough for any business to deliver, but particularly smaller businesses that may not have the staff or resources to invest in innovation.

Here’s where cloud comes in. Perhaps you’ve started with something basic such as a cloud email service to increase your email storage and take advantage of handy features like scheduling capabilities. Or perhaps you’ve decided to take a cloud-based approach when replacing some of your aging IT infrastructure.

These are great ways to get familiar with cloud — but it holds much more potential. There are cloud-based solutions for everything from data backup and disaster recovery to supply chain management and customer relationship management.

And cloud makes it easier and more affordable for smaller businesses to adopt enterprise-grade technology, from unified communications to mobile device management and advanced collaboration tools.

READ: 5 Reasons Why Your Small Business Should Consider the Cloud

Using the sheer size and scale of cloud, you can test new projects — perhaps a new mobile app — or start analyzing your customer data. Cloud-based analytics systems allow smaller businesses to reap the benefits of statistical analysis and predictive modeling. And you don’t need an analytics background to understand it.

It’s important to note, though, that cloud services don’t always save money in the long run, since paying a monthly subscription fee can add up over the years. But, it allows you to get in the game without big upfront capital costs and you automatically get the latest versions, upgrades and security patches.

And it doesn’t mean you can save money by getting rid of the IT guy. In fact, if you plan to expand your cloud services, you’ll need someone to manage those relationships. IT staff will be critical, though their role will evolve from ‘break-fix’ to cloud management.

Cloud isn’t a panacea; it’s not going to be the best fit for every business requirement. But, as a small business it opens up new possibilities that simply weren’t possible just a few years ago. Start small and learn from your mistakes and successes. Then you can start looking at cloud as a way to not only run your business, but to change your business processes.

Has this given you some food for thought? Tell us what you’d like to hear more about as we write new articles on cloud computing.

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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