Let’s clear some things up about cloud computing

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Cloud computing, which can produce greater efficiency and cost savings for woodshops and many other businesses, has recently enjoyed greater acceptance and growth. Yet, in many quarters, particularly among small-business owners, it is still not known well. One seldom realizes in this technological age how soon we get out of date.

What is it?

The term “cloud computing” is a catchphrase for accessing computer power to run software and store records, information and data of all sorts on a third-party server, using their know-how and infrastructure. Its purpose is to take advantage of the latest technological devices, to facilitate and reduce the volume of paperwork through the shop and office, increase data accessibility, increase productivity and reduce expenses. The cloud can be used for all office systems such as accounting, cash control, accounts receivable and payable, record keeping, bids and tenders preparation, recording customer input and specifications and cut lists, converting them to production machinery drivers. The cloud is a broad umbrella under which infrastructure such as SaaS (Software as a Service) is provided. In total, it helps in the entire manufacturing process, from shop drawing to finished and delivered product.

Although not realized, most people and businesses use the cloud daily. This is for online purposes such as banking, sending and receiving emails, credit card purchases, e-commerce and a host of computer-originated applications. Providing multiple storage options, cloud computing is an Internet-driven way for businesses, including woodshops, to store data and related information on worldwide platforms, the large, high-powered servers that are operated by Amazon, Microsoft and Google, for example.

What does it do?

Cloud computing takes local computer programs, whether on an office PC or portable laptop, to retrieve forms and data, documents, analytical figures and more.

Instead of a program residing on an office or shop computer, it exists on another computer, usually that of a large powerful server under the domain of a service provider. When you use the program, you are running from an off-site computer, not yours. It is not totally unlike a utility where you get full use and benefit from it for a regular monthly charge. You view your data on your computer, but its source sits elsewhere, allowing you access from any Internet-connected computer. In the future, the most significant technological changes will center on computing services “in the cloud.”

The cloud concept suggests the “paper free” office. The great advantage to cloud computing is that it provides a greater level of efficiency throughout your entire operation, which is cost-effective.

For example, most in-house computer systems require frequent updating, both of equipment and programs, which can be costly. With the cloud, this is automatic. You are always using the latest versions.

Security

While the risk is very low, there can be some concerns about confidentiality and related matters. It is a given that many managers are reluctant to let any of their valuable data leave their premises. However, you can be assured that all of your data — and that of all other users — is protected. Still, you will want to know what your exposure is; who is looking at what you have placed on the server’s computer; what benefit, if any, the snoop would derive from it and what, if anything, you can do about ensuring this does not occur.

One of the biggest cloud security risks is theft or loss of transactional and other private data. If the leaked information is proprietary only to your company, liability isn’t a concern. But if your confidential information goes astray you need to know where responsibility lies. Usually it is the individual or company that placed the information on the cloud in the first place. It’s seldom the provider that’s on the hook. Still, no server would have any customers if they did not assure a high measure of protection and confidentiality.

The other side

Technology is just another enabler, another tool. You must provide the vision of where you want to take your shop and the direction to get it there. All that cloud computing can do is improve the way you operate. It is not a miracle made in heaven. It is you who must focus on efficiency, improved marketplace acceptance and strive to improve on how you deliver products and services to your customers while keeping the cost of doing business at the minimum.

Aaron McGowan of Appnovation Technologies, an international software development company, says the decision to move to the cloud really depends on whether a shop wants to embrace new technology rather than sticking with standard operating procedures. In his experience, larger businesses welcome change more easily, while small businesses are more resistant.

“Cloud computing is not for everyone,” he said in an e-mail discussion with Woodshop News. “Although not all that complicated, for the older manager it could be a bit intimidating. Companies need to consider all of the ramifications prior to buying into the cloud. In some cases, buying the required equipment to do all of these things may be cheaper than paying a server a monthly time and space fee. It’s the old axiom of leasing versus buying equipment.”

The lesson is to do your own investigation. Ask questions and be meticulous. Don’t rush into it. Measure and compare all benefits and detriments, especially comparative efficiency and costs. Talk to your senior staff and see where the cloud can make improvements in your overall operation.

Cloud-computing technology will allow the woodshop owner to be more independent and knowledgeable in his/her dealing with customers, suppliers and associates of all types. Still, it does not remove the hands on or face-to-face professional conduct that effective management requires.

Lloyd R. Manning is a semiretired commercial real estate and business appraiser, financial analyst and author. He can be reached at lloydmann@shaw.ca.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue.

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