How and why did you set up CloudCandle?
Martin: In starting Arrowrock we felt uncomfortable recommending cloud services that we hadn't used ourselves, so we've done a lot of research. And we thought, why don't we throw that on the internet as a service to the small business community, so others can use it and add to it and try and build a community around it.
Our mission is to help small businesses become savvy cloud service consumers. Many small business owners are intrigued by cloud computing's promise of cost savings, increased productivity and reduced IT hassle, but are also wary of moving their critical business systems into the cloud because they don't have the facts they need to make well-informed decisions. That's where CloudCandle comes in.
Why should small businesses be thinking about cloud computing and using cloud-based solutions in their operations?
Martin: Firstly, cashflow. Typically in the traditional IT model you have to front up with a lot of money for a server and the software to put on it and a bunch of software for your desktops, whereas with cloud computing you just subscribe and you're off and running.
You can also spend less time in the office, because you can access your data and services anywhere at any time. It unshackles people from the office. That also has benefits in terms of expanding your supply chain and accessing international markets.
Jason: It also allows you to operate your business more efficiently, because a lot of these cloud services are automated, which improves productivity and collaboration. A good example of that is Xero in terms of automating bookkeeping tasks. That allows accountants, for example, to spend less time in the office doing bookkeeping and more time out of the office spending time with their customers and adding value that way.
Another reason that really rings true for a lot of New Zealanders given the Christchurch earthquakes is business continuity, because if your systems are in the cloud you're able to simply pick up where you left off, anywhere and any time. By far and away the businesses that did the best through the Christchurch earthquakes were the ones using cloud services and that had good backup to the cloud. They could go home and carry on.
Small businesses generally don't have dedicated IT staff. How can they go about finding out what solutions are right for them especially when there are so many products out there?
Jason: That can be quite tricky and when you're looking at services you need to make sure you compare them. Getapp can be helpful. It has information on more than 5,000 cloud apps, with user reviews and the ability to compare similar apps side by side. Keep in mind, though, that the vendors pay to be listed and the information they supply is not verified.
And you do need to do due diligence. The Privacy Commission developed a really cool checklist of the kinds of questions small businesses should be asking their cloud service providers before putting their private information on them. You need to make sure you're using services that are safe and secure and are going to be around for a while, because these are systems businesses depend on to operate.
There is also the New Zealand Cloud Computing Code of Practice. The information is provided by vendors on an 'honour system', so it's not independently verified. It's a good idea, but doesn't yet have enough signatories, we think, to be really useful.
And also check out CloudCandle. The idea behind it is to create a community so that small business owners can share information about their experiences with cloud computing.
What are your top tips for small business owners for successfully adopting cloud-based solutions in their operations?
1. Try before you buy!
2. Talk to peers in your industry.
3. Do due diligence.
4. Don't just replace like for like; look for ways to use the technology to transform your business.
5. Use new technology and cloud computing to create better business processes and increase productivity.
6. Attend CloudCandle Hangouts! We're doing these in conjunction with the ecentre at Massey University. In June we're looking at the legal considerations for small businesses and we're going to have a lawyer come on and discuss the issues.