The ‘cloud’ has become quite a buzzword over the past few years and is, sometimes confusingly, used to describe a range of technologies which enable you to use remote infrastructure, platforms and software over high speed broadband connections. This may seem very daunting to a small business and it can feel much more secure and comforting to be able to physically see your computers and servers and to know exactly where your data is stored.

The cloud, however, offers many advantages and benefits. Your data is backed up, your applications can be accessed securely from anywhere with an internet connection, you minimise capital expenditure in favour of operating costs, it is scalable and will grow with your business, and there are usually plenty of options to upgrade or switch services.

Not convinced? Well there are some easy routes into trying out cloud technologies in the form of apps. These help manage specific business processes and help improve productivity in these areas. Below, we review a sample of cloud-based apps – many of which will not be familiar names. This is not an extensive review of what is available – it is a small taster of what is out there, and an invitation to explore cloud-delivered tools which could make your work, and that of your staff, easier to manage. Most are free for a trial period and then carry a monthly subscription charge.

Stitch Labs - Inventory management

Stitch Labs offers a simple way of managing your inventory and orders across online and offline sales channels. It also integrates with ecommerce applications such as Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Magento and Etsy, with accounts packages such as Quickbooks and Xero, and with payment services such as PayPal. It provides customisable reporting and analysis, and can present this visually through dashboards. It is multi-user and multi-location, and you can export your data at any time in several formats.

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Kickserv – field staff management

This app was developed for small businesses that provide services for clients on location. It has been adopted by the plumbing, landscaping, computer repair and carpet cleaning industries, with most users having fewer than 50 employees.

Kickserv is essentially a CRM system which helps users manage bids and estimates, jobs, scheduling, dispatch, invoicing, and tasks with a shared online calendar where you can complete jobs. It also has two way integration with Quickbooks. Advanced features include GPS tracking and automated team status updates, enabling front office staff to schedule work and view availability in real time.

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When I work - scheduling

This employee scheduling software is designed to help business managing, and communicating with, staff via any type of device. The tool helps managers to identify qualified staff cover shifts, send an alert and receive / log confirmation from the individual concerned.

The system is typically adopted by businesses that utilise by-the-hour workers and that need to track attendance. It supports variable shift patterns and will also handle requests for time off.

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CitrusHR - HR Software

Aimed at SMEs and start-ups, CitrusHR is a flexible UK HR software offering that works on multiple devices. It has been built to accommodate different contract types including part-time staff, those working on fixed-term contracts, zero hours contracts and others, and will also enable a business to manage contractors in parallel. The system is scalable.

The software supports the creation and delivery of job offers but will also allow you to upload existing contracts and documents to be stored and retrieved online. Employees can be set up directly through the software or can be imported from a spreadsheet.

CitrusHR charges you based on the number of employees you have each month, so you can very easily add more people.

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Gradwell – Voice over IP telephony

Superfast broadband can enable companies to significantly reduce their telephony costs. Gradwell is a UK based provider that offers services in this area. In addition to cost savings, VoiP telephony can offer a number of advantages that offer flexibility and scalability. You can have multiple numbers, route them to any device you want to, schedule your availability and manage your preferences through an online dashboard.

Companies like Gradwell also offer other cloud based services such as remote drives, hosting, web services and broadband connections.

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FreeAgent – accounting for freelancers

FreeAgent is an accounting app designed for freelancers and small businesses. It features all the usual accounting and banking reconciliation and can be set up for UK-based businesses (Sole Trader, Partnership, Limited Liability Partnership and Limited Company). Once the selection is made, the correct tax calculations are automated. VAT information can also be processed.

The advantage for freelancers and sole traders is that they can set up and manage personal and business banking in parallel. FreeAgent works on mobile platforms and will integrate with payment system such as PayPal.

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As stated above, this list is only indicative of the wide variety of applications that can be accessed through the cloud. They are simple and low risk to set up and can, over time, help you rethink how you manage your business processes. This becomes particularly powerful when you start to take advantage of the possible integration between different apps.

To access our cloud computing downloadable guides visit our Knowledge Hub.

Tags: Cloud Computing cloud SMEs business support

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