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on Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Is cloud computing a threat to the traditional office environment?

With more businesses moving their processes to 'the cloud' - online storage and software services allowing their staff to access the information from anywhere with a web browser - is the traditional office environment under threat?

Virya Technologies made the move to 'the cloud' recently, moving all our business processes online.  This enables us to employ staff anywhere in the world, giving them the ability to access our systems and work as if they were here in the office, without any additional cost or workload for us.

Flexibility and remote working

Originally sceptical about placing our business systems in the hands of another organisation, our move has been extremely smooth, has allowed us to be flexible when a member of staff recently had their first child and needed to work flexibly around feeding and sleeping times, and also means we can keep in touch 'on the move'.

Having also recently moved to the dark side and started using an Android phone, I can definitely see the benefit of cloud-based applications in the business world.  While there are still costs associated with using cloud services, compared against the costs of having your own server and staff to manage it effectively, paying for expensive licenses, and so forth, we've found the cloud to save us significantly over the next three to five years.

What are the implications for business?

The implications for businesses - especially small businesses - are huge.  No longer do you need to have your own server on-site, or even pay rent on a huge office to accommodate all your workers at once.  With correct use of cloud computing you could employ a large workforce working remotely or part-remotely, with full communication between the team, access to a wide range of corporate software through their web  browser (which also cuts down on the cost of your IT infrastructure, reducing the required amount of software installed on each machine). 

At the moment there are some tasks which still require their own locally-installed software (think graphics design software) however who knows, perhaps in a few years there will be some awesome cloud-based solutions for that too!

The cost element is of course, important to all businesses, and through proper use of technology it can be possible to cut down on expenses such as travel and accommodation considerably by using voice/video conference calls, online collaborative workspaces and document sharing systems.

Important considerations

While there are a lot of benefits and I do believe this will start to shift our concept of a working environment, there are also some important considerations when moving towards a cloud-based environment and encouraging staff to work remotely.

Firstly, as an employee, your remote workers have the same rights as their office-based counterparts.  This includes providing a safe working environment, in accordance with HSE regulations, for home-workers.  They may also need to advise their insurance company that they are working from home.

Secondly, while your data is in the cloud, you need an internet connection to access it and work with it.  Therefore it is important to ensure that you have a backup plan if either your data becomes unavailable, or your internet connection goes down.  Local backups are an ideal way of doing this.

Finally, if your staff can access their work environment from any machine, you must consider the data security implications of this.  If they are able to view and download confidential material to any machine, there is a very real possibility of this creating a data breach for your organisation.  Think this through carefully before you give people the ability to remove data from your 'safe zone'.

Where will this take us?

I believe that in the future we will have much smaller offices - or perhaps one larger office and several smaller 'satellite' offices, allowing people to work in the location closest to their home.  More will have the option to work from home, saving their own commute, as well as improving work/life balance, because cloud computing will become more affordable for any business - small to large.

There will be high-profile cases where businesses have moved to the cloud and not fully thought through the implications - particularly in the area of data protection - however for many I believe moving to cloud computing will actually improve their awareness of data protection and provide systems which they could not afford to implement individually.

This will inevitably require some creativity from personnel/HR departments when managing staff, ensuring that they are actually working when remote working agreements are in place, however I think this is a chance for us to rise to the occasion, and make the best use of the technology available to us!


Virya Group provides a range of solutions to your technology needs