Staying ahead

The latest online tools can transform your operations

Revolution may be slightly overstating it, but cloud computing, and the new breed of agile business tools it has unleashed, are certainly changing the way SMEs run their businesses.

Freed from costly hardware, and empowered by an internet or 4G connection, SMEs can now punch above their weight without needing the kind of infrastructure or capital investment that may slow down bigger rivals.

There are Software as a Service (SaaS) tools for everything from small business accounting and HR to email marketing and document storage. And they bring loads of extra benefits, including better collaboration, automatic updates and pay-as-you-go pricing models.

Up in the cloud

For the cost of a few monthly subscriptions, SMEs are able to use online planning and collaboration tools such as Trello and Slack to communicate and manage internal projects. Likewise, lightweight, cloud-based data management services, such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox can all be integrated with an SME’s core business systems.

These types of tools make it easier for employees to share data, collaborate and be confident they are working with the most up-to-date information – whether they are in or out of the office. Working in the cloud and in real time also removes the inefficiencies caused by splintered data that often results from staff sharing versions of documents and spreadsheets via USB sticks or email.

And these kinds of enterprise apps are becoming almost… fun. With designs and user interfaces more akin to consumer apps, the new breed of business software is bringing hearts and emojis to the workplace.

However that shouldn’t lead to complacency about security risks that exist in the cloud. Almost three-quarters of UK SMEs think they are safe from cyber attack, even though half of them admit to having suffered a data breach, according to a report by Juniper Research*. More than a quarter think they are safe from attack because they are small and of no interest to cyber criminals.

Cybersecurity

But according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)**, smaller firms in the UK are collectively targeted seven million times a year – often because SMEs can act as gateways for attacks on the larger corporations they supply. Small firms are vulnerable to hacking and credit card fraud, as well as phishing emails and malware attacks.

Aside from choosing a trusted cloud service provider, SMEs can keep their data safe by ensuring their authentication processes, usernames and passwords are all strong. SMEs can also secure their networks and Wi-Fi routers with firewalls, which help to lock down open ports in the network – the back doors often used by cyber attackers to introduce malware and other harmful software. Web application firewalls can also prevent attacks on specific applications.

*Juniper Research, September 2016, surveyed 200 companies
**The Cyber Resilience report, June 2016, was based on a survey of 1,006 SMEs