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You've probably heard of cloud computing. It's a huge growth area and it's estimated that end-user spending on cloud services could reach more than $180 billion (£107 billion) by 2015.

But what exactly is cloud computing and how can it help small business owners?

What is cloud computing?

At its simplest, cloud computing simply means accessing systems and software that are located elsewhere. If you use an email service or access online banking you are using the Cloud as you are effectively accessing and using the service provider's hardware system and software.

In business terms, cloud computing is generally used to refer to software or storage capacity that would traditionally have been installed directly onto your own computers or servers. A prominent example is cloud accountancy software.

Many small businesses have accountancy software installed on their own computer networks and this can be unwieldy, difficult to use and it can also eat up space and resources. Using cloud accounting software for UK businesses can help streamline your record keeping and do away with the need for a lot of expensive hardware.

The benefits of cloud accountancy

There are a number of benefits to switching to a cloud-based accountancy system.

These include:

  • Reduced need for hardware

The hardware that you might otherwise require to run an extensive accountancy programme and store your data is physically located elsewhere and maintained by your service provider. You can usually operate the software and access your information from any computer with internet access. This means you can use it from the office or on the go and provide access to your accountant or any authorised employee who needs it.

  • Lower upfront costs

The reduced need for both hardware and software will also reduce your upfront costs. Cloud-based accountancy is usually subscription based so you will know exactly what the costs will be and can build them into your budget without worrying about the unexpected costs for system crashes and other maintenance.

  • Automatic updates

If you run your own system the software and sometimes the hardware will require frequent updates. With cloud accountancy, the entire system will be automatically updated when required.

  • Ease of use

Cloud accountancy programmes are designed with the end user in mind. The interface is generally easy to use and support may also be available when required. You will no longer have to get IT experts in to set up or perform maintenance on the system. If you have your own IT department, their time and expertise can be allocated to other tasks.

  • Advanced features

Sometimes you might require features that are not usually included in a basic accountancy package. This might involve trading abroad or running the accounts for more than one business.

Cloud accountancy allows you to upgrade when you need it and downscale when you don't, paying only for the services you actually need.

  • Security

Some business owners might wonder if cloud accountancy is really secure but storing data in the Cloud can actually be far safer than using your own servers or desktop hard drives. If your computer is stolen you don't have to worry about who has access to your data as it is stored in high security facilities by your service provider.

The same goes for fires, floods and natural disasters that could otherwise devastate your data as well as your physical premises.

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