While cloud computing may sound complicated, it’s quite simple. Traditionally, digital data was stored locally in the hard drive of your computer. Meaning, if your computer died – and your data wasn’t backed up – your data was lost. Today, many people prefer to store their digital data in the ‘cloud’ because the cloud uses the internet to store data, not hardware on your computer.
So, what exactly is the cloud – and how does it work?
The ‘cloud’ is a term used to refer to data that is stored remotely on a network of servers that are accessed through the Internet. Simply put, a server is “a type of computer that shares information with other computers… The ultimate function of a server is to receive, store, and share data; it can be compared to an electronic filing cabinet.”
Storing your files in your home office filing cabinet takes up room in your home and are only accessible when it is physically accessible. Whereas cloud computing offers an electronic filing cabinet that doesn’t require any additional space in your home (or computer) and is available anywhere you have internet access.
Generally, cloud computing offers businesses better security, speed, and reliability than traditional computing. Plus, servers can handle large computing needs much better than a traditional desktop computer. And, for retail businesses, this can have significant advantages over traditional data storage methods.
Many retail businesses, like convenience stores, utilize back-office software to automate and centralize their operations management. For example, price book, inventory, and promotional management. These solutions can either be stored locally on your computer or in the cloud.
To begin, data and programs stored and run on your local computer can greatly affect how well your computer functions. Why? “Your operating system has to manage the resources of your computer (memory, drive space, processing power) between all the programs that are running on it, so there are a huge number of things that may [reduce] your computer’s performance.” This means that having too much data stored or programs running locally on your machine can slow down your computer. Therefore, cloud-based solutions allow your computer to continue to run at optimal speed and functionality.
Cloud-stored data is significantly more reliable because your data is stored remotely. This means if your computer dies, your information isn’t lost. Additionally, cloud-stored data makes it easier to upgrade your store hardware, like point-of-sale systems, because you do not have to move data over to a new machine. For example, if you purchase a new POS terminal to replace aging technology, your existing, cloud-based price book can easily be imported onto your new POS terminal. Without the cloud, you would have to either rebuild your entire price book or manually import it.
Plus, having access to your data from anywhere using the internet offers on-the-go business management.
In addition, with cloud-computing your back-office operations can be centralized and your data accessed remotely. This means that you can manage your store – or multi-store – operations from anywhere, not just your local computer.
For example, you are operating 14 convenience stores in the United States. You go overseas for a two-week vacation and PepsiCo decides to increase their prices by $1 per bottle of soda, so you need to reflect this change in your price book as soon as possible. Because a cloud-based back-office means you can manage your price book remotely, you can easily make these changes across all your stores immediately from your Internet-connected device. And since your cloud-based software means your back-office data is centralized, you can update the price books across all 14 stores at the same time.