Cloud computing can transform a business. It provides increased efficiency, along with numerous options for improving business processes, applications and services, with little overhead. In my e-book Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth, I discuss the pros and cons of cloud services, how to migrate to the cloud and the best way to use the analytics cloud services provide. For more details, download the e-book here. To get you started, I’ve outlined the main reasons why so many businesses are choosing cloud-based applications.

Financial rewards

The cloud provides many financial advantages, and part of its rapid adoption has been the worldwide economic slowdown. Companies have fewer resources to commit to infrastructure investments, so they have turned to services. The financial benefits of cloud-based applications include:

  • Reduced up-front capital investment: Cloud-based applications do not require buying expensive software programs and the hardware necessary to run them.
  • Favorable tax treatment: Cloud subscriptions are treated as an operational expense. This means the full cost of the application subscription can be deducted every year, which many companies consider beneficial.
  • Predictable costs: You pay a fixed fee each month per user, with maintenance and support included.

Functionality, efficiency and innovation

Another powerful benefit the cloud offers is increased efficiency from spending less time learning, installing and maintaining applications, and more time advancing the business.

  • Greater innovation: Most cloud-based applications are continually being enhanced with incremental improvements. Also, cloud-based applications level the playing field by making advanced technology solutions equally available to and affordable for large and small companies.
  • Improved response time: The speed of deployment means businesses can be up and running with a new cloud application within days or even when a new market opportunity opens up, making businesses far more competitive.
  • Greater ease of use: Cloud-based applications are frequently designed to require minimal training, typically delivered via self-paced online videos and webinars.
  • Anytime/anywhere access: Because data is stored over the Internet on providers’ servers and accessed via a Web browser, employees can work anytime, virtually anywhere, on multiple devices, as long as they have high-speed Internet access.
  • Integrated data: Cloud integration tools allow businesses to share information across a broad range of applications, including traditional, on-premises software programs.

Management control

One rarely discussed positive aspect of adopting cloud computing is that it gives managers insight into businesses operations, while at the same time keeping company data secure. This is vital for short-term competitiveness and long-term survival.

  • Greater business visibility and transparency: Cloud-based applications enable managers to better monitor what’s going on in the company. Because data is stored and organized on the Web, a manager can access information that used to be distributed among employee desktops or server files. Cloud-based applications typically make it easier to extract the right data as well.
  • Secure company assets: The cloud centralizes critical company documents, like contact lists and project plans, which might otherwise reside on employee desks.
  • Real-time alerts in a dynamic business environment: Because of the combination of integration, real-time data access and analytics, the cloud can provide alerts when a business is near critical thresholds.
  • Backup and disaster recovery: Emergencies happen, but if data is stored in the cloud it will be more accessible, and businesses will be able to restart faster. Critical records can be retrieved and employees will have remote access to business applications.

--Rhonda Abrams is an acclaimed business author and columnist for USA Today.