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Why cloud computing is hot and what it means for mobile

By Adrian Sanders

Cloud computing has become a recent hot trend in the business world, but what is it?

To simplify it a bit, cloud computing is a way for businesses to outsource much of the hassle and worry of IT, and eliminate large investments in computer hardware.

An emerging aspect of cloud computing is software as a service, or SaaS, which comprises powerful business applications that are hosted in the cloud.

Probably the most famous SaaS offering is Google’s application suite, Google Apps.

Google Apps offers a replacement for Microsoft Office with the advantages of real-time collaboration, instant archive/backup and many other features.

But perhaps one of the major reasons that companies are adopting Google’s online applications is the built-in mobile access that the cloud infrastructure allows.

It used to be that you had to pay an arm and leg just to have enterprise class email, calendar and project access outside the office, never mind the data plan.

Google application services offer all of this and more at a fraction of the traditional cost.

Today, a small company of 10 people can have enterprise-class push email actively synced to their smartphones for free.

Compare that to a traditional on-site exchange server setup and you can see just how different the price savings are.

Google Apps is not the only offering that takes advantage of mobile.

Other cloud-based software solutions use the same model of storing and making available data from any device.

Forget email for a second, and think real-time reports on marketing campaigns, background information and history of work with specific accounts, document templates and cost projections all being available from a phone, and all updated in real-time across the whole company. Exciting, right?

Who’s adopting this new-found technology?

Cloud reigns
At the moment, less than 4 percent of the IT industry is focused on cloud computing – but there has been a 99 percent increase in growth in the niche, according to Gartner.

Some analysts say this is a flavor-of-the-month type of growth and hype. I beg to differ.

The IT industry has been traditionally focused on big corporations. Small business has never been the target.

The large jump in growth we see for cloud computing reflects a new model, effectively a new world.

Small businesses are generating the bulk of this growth, in large part because the next generation of businesses gets the cloud. They are the Facebook generation. They understand that business happens in real-time and cloud computing gives companies that speed.

The SaaS model is about creating one application that many different companies use. This means consolidated updates, no installations, and better support based on a recurring, monthly-charge revenue model. In other words, exactly the type of pricing, value and solution that small to midsize businesses need.

As more of the Generation Y move into the workforce, these team members expect data to come in instantly, in real-time and to be available anywhere.

We are seeing droves of small businesses now more actively able to employ, direct and manage teams remotely.

In some cases, directors and managers have been able to abandon laptops completely, as some cloud computing applications are that strong.

A client of mine manages a remote team of employees that spends 90 percent of its day on-site and on the road. Traditionally, the employees would print out their accounts, tasks and documents to have ready on site.

Now, an iPad/iPhone combination completely eliminates double entry, as everything is beamed directly to the database in the cloud.

Teams are able to handle contracts, send invoices, track time and update client information seconds after a meeting. Sales are up 50 percent since moving to the cloud.

On tap
I am preaching to the choir here, but it is worth remembering – being mobile means being out in the real world.

As business gets done in the real world and smartphones put more of the team out there, those companies who use these SaaS offerings will continue to separate the small to midsize businesses that are dynamic and those who stagnate.

From the perspective of a small business owner who works with small businesses, I believe that mobile marketers will be dealing with an increasingly educated and demanding market that will continue to blur the line between real and digital life.

When the workforce is on-site all the time that means they are on-phone all the time. The opportunities are explosive. And especially in this climate, businesses are hungry for innovation and excitement.

Marketers that can capture the imagination and passion of cloud computing and the always-on world are going to be a part of the next revolution, which, in my eyes, is already here.

Adrian Sanders is founder/CEO of VM Associates, Saint Mandé, France. Reach him at [email protected].