You may be wondering what the cloud is. Most usually any reference to 'the cloud' is to cloud computing. Google has a range of explanations about what this is, but basically cloud computing is a style of computing where resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users also do not need to maintain or indeed know anything about the technology in their 'cloud' - which is an attractive option if turning the server off by mistake is a favourite office pastime.
Does this affect you? You probably don't know and probably don't care. You may, however, already be an enthusiastic user of cloud computing without having realised that you are. Have you ever used a web-based email address such as Gmail or Hotmail? Or maybe you have signed up to a @cta.org.uk account? All cloud computing - software and servers you don't need to maintain, upgrade, store on your computer harddrive or even think much about.
Ever used online banking? I access my current account online from different computers; I don't know where this data lives and I don't really want to know. I just want to be able to access my bank account details easily when I need.
Cloud technology is developing fast and becoming increasingly popular. According to the results of an October 2010 US study by KPMG LLP 90 percent of executives and 68 percent of middle managers surveyed said they are using or plan to use cloud-based services within two years.
Most companies fulfil their computing needs by buying the necessary hardware and software packages. They buy multiple software licenses for multiple employees - broadly speaking, if you have eighty staff all using Adobe PDF then you would buy eighty licenses. Cloud-based technology allows businesses to buy per user based on use which may work out significantly more cost-effective. If your eighty employees used Adobe PDF for three hours a week then you would only pay for the actual resources used. The software is accessed solely through the internet so the most current version is always available and you don't need to worry about installing or upgrading anything, which also frees up your time for doing actual tax work (should you be so inclined!)
Of course not everything about cloud computing is problem-free, and there are risks involved of which responsible users should be aware. I will look at these in part two, as well a more in-depth view of how the cloud can be used for financial matters (cloud accounting).
Helen Burgess, Membership Manager