In the modern world, no business can really thrive without cloud-based software solutions.

It doesn’t matter whether your company is on the smaller end, using cloud computing software is now inescapable if your business plans to grow, rather than just survive. Thanks to the quick evolution and democratization of technology, a business no longer needs to have a room full of onsite server hardware and capital expenses. Subscriptions to cloud-based software solutions can help you do for your small business what the ‘big guys’ have been doing for a while. 

The Cloud Computing Stack

Cloud computing refers to storing and accessing data over the internet from a remote server, so it doesn’t store any data on the hard disk of your personal computer. There are three main cloud models, and it’s important to know them apart. These types of cloud computing describe exactly what a business can do with the cloud. They are often called a ‘stack’, and have a broad range of services built on top of one another. They are called ‘as a service’ because businesses purchase them as service products from third parties.

1) Software-as-a-service

 SaaS is a subscription-based software that provides an interface that businesses can access through a web browser. They are managed from a central location and hosted on a remote server.  These solutions are usually on-demand, as you are basically renting what you need, and storage can always be added. Implementing cloud software helps reduce overhead costs and frees up your time. Examples include Gmail (for email), Salesforce (a CRM), Basecamp (for collaboration) and Dropbox (for storage).

2) Platform-as-a-service 

PaaS is a ‘coding environment’ framework for programmers and developers to build upon and create customized applications. PaaS providers often have pre-built blocks that developers can just plug and play to build better apps quickly. It’s one step away from SaaS, but not a ready-made end-user application. Examples include Microsoft Azure and the Google App Engine, which are both deployment and development environments.

3) Infrastructure-as-a-service 

IaaS provides on-demand computing power, storage and networking capabilities. These are the cloud equivalent of hardware in a traditional data-centre stack. IaaS are used to develop and deploy PaaS and SaaS software and are the underlying framework to all cloud software. Examples include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Designing a Cloud Computing Stack

Oftentimes, when entrepreneurs decide they want to use cloud computing in their company, they simply start using a variety of cloud services. Many software service offerings overlap like a Venn diagram, subscription costs start to add up, and frustration mounts. You don’t need tasks duplicated so set up a Tech Stack that works, with only the features you need. Not every cloud software option is right for your company. So, how can you use cloud-based solutions to purposely build out the architecture of your small business?

First, do an analysis of your current situation. Do you know which cloud computing ‘apps’ you’re currently paying for? Do you know which ones have overlapping offerings? Are there some that you never actually use? Do you know what other ‘Best in Class’ options are available? At Upside, we use QuickBooks Online for our cloud accounting software. And although the product is fantastic, the QBO mobile app (upload, classify, and reconcile) receipts feature is not fantastic. It’s not horrible, but it’s not as good as Dext, an app that captures, uploads and tracks cashflow very, very, well. In circumstances like this, it’s worth adding another subscription to have The Best.

Types of SaaS Solutions 

The majority of SaaS applications are hosted in a public cloud, but there are also hybrid and private options to consider based on your company’s needs for customization, control, security, and access to funds.  Here are some common SaaS software types that may benefit your business processes and are worth considering:

Cloud Storage:  Want to access files from multiple computers, as well as mobile devices to view, edit, and comment on files?  Google Drive and Dropbox lets users store and sync their data to an online server.

Accounting: Keep your finances organized and properly tracked to ensure your business is growing as it should. We use the accounting industry leader, QuickBooks Online, alongside the aforementioned app Dext, which can convert a photo of a cheque into digital text and then intelligently analyse, understand, and organise the data for you.

Customer Relationship Management: A CRM synchronizes sales, marketing and customer service so you can track, automate, analyze, and optimize customer interactions. It’s basically a database of contact information and interaction history for each individual contact. Popular options include Salesforce and Zoho.

All-in-One Marketing: These tools typically offer several online marketing functions as an integrated package, and are aimed at SMB customers who do not want to purchase several different marketing systems. Capabilities often include marketing automation, CRM, content management (including blogging), SEO, and social media marketing. Popular options include HubSpot Marketing Hub and Sharpspring.

Email Marketing: Want to optimize message delivery while automating marketing emails, but aren’t quite ready for all the functions of a CRM or all-in-one marketing tool? Try MailChimp or Constant Contact.

Document Management: Do you need to reinvent your most common processes to be more efficient? These online filing cabinets can intelligently organize your documents, and automate redundant processes.  Dext covers this category too.

Project Management: Plan projects, manage schedules, allocate resources and communicate deadlines to complete projects on budget and on time. Popular options include BaseCamp, Asana, and Trello.

Communication: Do you want a tool that’s all about talking to other people? Slack can help with two methods of chat: channels (group chat), and direct message (person-to-person chat).

Application Programming Interface: An API service is an application that helps you connect to the tools that make up your extended tech stack. Zapier is the one we use to connect our apps and automate workflows.

Behavioral and product analytics: This type of software is used to track, store, and analyze user behavior at every stage of the customer journey. The best of these tools offer proactive insights and keep data clean and organized. Popular options include Heap, Google Analytics, and Amplitude.

With all the SaaS options available, you can pick and choose which cloud products make the most sense for your business. It’s worth taking a step back to take an analysis of what you already have, figure out what you really need, and put together a good Tech Stack that works for your business.  When possible, start building with tools that can scale as you grow. Many well-known backend solutions, like Amazon Web Services, give you the option to automatically add additional servers as you need them rather than having to estimate usage and pay for capacity upfront. For SaaS business apps, try to invest in options that are free, have low switching costs, or pricing tiers that accommodate future growth. It is possible to assemble a stack that can both meet your needs now and evolve as your company matures. Be proactive, design a cloud computing stack that works for you.