Ask any small businessman to tell you which of the logistical components of his enterprise he considers the most important, and often enough his reply will include sundry provisions for computers, phone systems and software for communications.  That is because any businessman worth his salt understands the value of a strong and reliable IT and communications network.

Obviously, people who work need to communicate.  They need to share and exchange ideas.  Access to the internet and a  good network of phones, computers and the necessary software and applications address these basic needs, and allow people working within an enterprise better opportunities to contribute to the achievement of common objectives.

A necessary expense

The operation and maintenance of IT and communications infrastructure in small businesses often demands sizeable investments.  Computers, data center systems, software, telephones and mobile devices cost money — big money.  Global business spending on telecommunications and other IT services is, in fact, expected to increase to as much as $3.7 trillion this year alone.  Small businesses will account for a considerable portion of this spending, having already registered an estimated two percent growth in IT expenditures last year.

Telecommunications and IT are a necessary component of any viable business plan.  For most small businesses, they constitute a considerable yet absolutely necessary expense.  But the next big thing in information technology is already starting to change that.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is the use of hardware and software over a network — most often the internet.  The word “cloud” has been used as a metaphor for the internet for quite a while now.  So, while the exact definition of the term may vary depending on which expert you ask, “cloud computing” mostly describes  any internet-based activity that entrusts a user’s communications, data and software to a remote service.

There are various types of cloud computing.  But for small businesses, software as a service (SaaS) is among the most popular.  In this type of cloud computing, service providers manage the hardware and platform on which the software runs.  The end-user, in turn, accesses the software through a web browser or a desktop or mobile application.  The services of Google and fall under this type of cloud computing.

Cloud-based phone systems

Many phone service providers already offer cloud-based computing services .  Cloud-based technologies allow these providers the flexibility they need to offer customers a wide range of safe, reliable and convenient internet-based phone and communications services.

With no more than an internet connection, for instance, a small business owner using a cloud-based phone system can manage multiple locations, devices and employees within his cloud phone network. Because the service provider manages the hardware,   he can do away with actual PBX systems in his office and rely entirely on a virtual system maintained and managed by the provider.  This enables the small business owner to make considerable reductions to his or her regular IT and communications expenses.

 The wave of the future

Many IT industry observers assert that cloud-based computing is the wave of the future. The results of Northbridge’s  2012 Future of Cloud Computing Survey appear to support this view.  The survey points to a rapid increase in venture capital investments into cloud computing in recent years as venture financing into cloud technologies grew from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion between the years 2010 and 2011 alone.   The same survey indicates that around 84 percent of all software released last year was delivered through cloud SaaS systems.

If you happen to be a small business owner looking for new and innovative ways to cut down on your IT and communications costs even as you increase efficiencies within your enterprise, then this next big thing in information technology just might offer you the solution you’ve been looking for.