Moving to the Cloud

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If you are a small business, either starting up, or already established, you may have heard of cloud computing. The question is: what kind of value can moving to the cloud add to your business? To gain insight we decided to talk to Vend, a cloud service provider that offers online  point-of-sale (POS) software.  We also talked to several small businesses that have made the leap into the cloud: Hamilton based United Sweets, Velo Boutique in Freemans Bay and Whoopie Pies in New Market and Grey Lynn, Auckland.

Finn Puklowski

Finn Puklowski

Cloud services can be understood as programs that run on the Internet instead of your local computer. They can be accessed on any device with an Internet connection. This is one of the greatest advantages of using cloud computing. Finn Puklowski, owner of United Sweets, said he chose to use systems based in the cloud for his business so he can access his work from any country; “My family and I travel a lot, to the States, Europe and South America. Cloud tech allows us to monitor every aspect of our operation remotely.” Cloud computing also allows people to access the same information and collaborate in real time from different locations.

My family and I travel a lot, to the States, Europe and South America. Cloud tech allows us to monitor every aspect of our operation remotely.

Web-based POS systems are one service available on the cloud for businesses. One company offering a web-based POS is New Zealand based Vend.

Sim Ahmed

Sim Ahmed

Vend was launched in late 2010 and is used in over 100 countries by more than 8,000 customers. According to Sim Ahmed, Community Manager at Vend, “Vend is a cloud-based retail software platform, which enables retailers to accept payments, manage their inventories, reward customer loyalty, and garner insights into their business in real-time.”

Vend works on a range of industry standard POS hardware as well as iPad, Mac and PC. Your data is backed up on secure servers several times a day and this data can only be accessed by you. If the Internet connection is lost, this will not affect your data as it will automatically synchronize the next time you connect. The system also integrates with other business apps like Xero, online accounting; Timely, an appointment and booking management system; and Magento, an eCommerce platform for businesses.

United Sweets uses Vend on an iPad as their POS system, Finn says this is cost effective for the business.  When opening a new store, he can login to Vend on the iPad and add a new outlet for around $35 per month. “This means we can purchase our POS system days before the opening eliminating a headache and protecting cash flow.” Reduced cost is a big advantage for businesses using cloud computing. While traditional computing requires an upfront investment, with cloud computing businesses are only paying a small amount every month for the capacity they need.

We can purchase our POS system days before the opening eliminating a headache and protecting cash flow.

Lucy Stuart & Nick Maddren

Lucy Stuart & Nick Maddren

Nick Maddren, who co-owns Whoopie Pies with Lucy Stuart, says they looked initially at an in-house POS but decided it would be too expensive. So they tried Vend. Nick said it was easy to set up and he likes using the iPad as the POS terminal because it takes up so little space on the counter.

Velo Boutique also uses Vend. Co-owner Jiani Koutsos says initially they had a few teething issues but once set up was complete they were happy and have continued using it. Jianni found the Vend to Xero integration a big time saver.

Other cloud systems used by United Sweets include Wifi IP cameras which stream live at the stores and which Finn can access on his phone and iPad. Gmail and Google Docs as a central control point for all operations. Dropbox, a file sharing service, is used occasionally for the transfer of files to the store level. Dropsend, a software tool which allows users to send large files, is used to order print jobs. Xero enables them to do their accounting online. Roster Application is used for creating employees shift schedules and TimeStation is used as  a time and attendance system.

Other cloud-based services which Whoopie use include MYOB for accounting software and payroll solutions, and Dropbox.

Small businesses should look for any opportunity to reduce cost and operate more efficiently. Cloud computing in it’s many forms is this opportunity.

Velo Boutique use Google Apps for Business, Xero, Vend and SmartPayroll. They also use Dropbox for file sharing, Clickbook for booking online appointments, Timely for social media management and Shopify for eCommerce.

Jianni Koutsos and Craig Baldwin

Jianni Koutsos and Craig Baldwin

Jianni says he and his business partner started Velo Boutique using nothing but cloud services. One of the main benefits of this for them is that all their data is in the online systems so they have no need for data backup. This is a great security feature because if any of their computers are lost or stolen there is no sensitive data on them. Disaster recovery is another advantage of cloud computing, because your data is stored on the Internet instead of on your computer. In the event that the computer is destroyed, your  data is still safe and sound.

We asked the small businesses if they could see any disadvantages to cloud computing. Finn said he had experienced problems. “the obvious issue is staff training. Cloud technology moves very quickly and so it is important for your staff to stay nimble and up to date with evolving systems.” However, he went on to say  that this can also  be a positive. “Now our staff are actively finding solutions for our business and aren’t restrained by the limitations of static systems. Many costs have been reduced through our staffs intimate knowledge of cloud opportunities.”

Nick thinks cloud computing is still in its early days. He has found the integration between cloud systems a bit clumsy and believes cloud computing will really come into its own when everything starts working together smoothly.

Not every cloud service is the perfect match for all businesses. There are many cloud services available and it is possible, and important, to find a service that works perfectly for your business. CloudCandle provide businesses with the information they need to make educated decisions around cloud offerings.

So, advice for small businesses looking to shift to the cloud? According to Finn, moving to cloud computing is a way to upskill your business. “If you can function quicker, cheaper, with a scalable outlook, your chances of success will increase. Small businesses should look for any opportunity to reduce cost and operate more efficiently. Cloud computing in it’s many forms is this opportunity.”