Cloud computing is a simple concept: software and services are delivered over the web and through a browser, with no server or client software to install. Because they’re hosted online (‘in the cloud’), cloud computing tools are available anytime, anywhere, from any device connecting to the internet. More importantly, however, the cloud is about people connecting and exchanging ideas – and it’s changing the way we work and communicate.If you send email, have a blog, have ever posted photos online or have searched for information on the internet, then you’re already part of the cloud computing movement. Now the same flexibility and ease we enjoy in our personal lives is being adopted by businesses worldwide, meaning your work and your office suddenly become accessible quickly and securely, wherever you are.This means multiple people can access and work on documents simultaneously, and edit them in real-time. If you’re working on a presentation with a colleague who works from home, you can both be viewing it online and see the edits on your screen as your colleague makes changes. In short, the cloud means no more emailing attachments back and forth; no multiple edits and mark-ups; no more having to carry around USB drives with the latest version of documents to access at home; no more “I have to pop into the office to access a document”. And if your PC crashes, you won’t lose all your data and information – you can simply log in from another PC. Cloud computing providers invest more time and money in protecting their customers’ data than any small organisation could possibly afford. All these things mean a lot when you’re working at the kind of pace required at a small business.Benefits to businessAs any SME owner knows, running a small business means you need to undertake a huge number of roles: CEO, COO, CMO, HR manager and, often, IT manager. But as more applications are delivered and hosted in the cloud, you can transfer your focus from IT maintenance to where your true expertise lies – making your business more profitable.The cloud also represents cost savings – once you’re hooked up to the web, the cost of buying licences, purchasing servers and maintaining them is eliminated. You also get automatic innovation – because product improvements are pushed out over the internet and delivered through the browser, they’re instantly available. You don’t need to wait long periods to upgrade to the next software version to reap the benefits.Cloud computing at its core is about information being available anywhere and everywhere, but most of all, it’s about people. Instant messaging and real-time updates mean ideas and feedback are exchanged instantaneously, and this can lead to an explosion of creative thinking. And just as importantly, people can log on when they need to and work around family schedules and personal priorities.Kiwis in the cloudMany Kiwi businesses are embracing this new way of working. Wellington web design company Boost New Media struggled with its server-based solution, which was being challenged by the large amounts of data being used throughout the organisation, leading to large increases in costs. Specific needs varied with individual roles, and traditional email hosting providers weren’t able to deliver to these needs. When Google Apps launched in 2006, Boost’s management team quickly saw the benefits, and haven’t looked back since.LeftClick, a Christchurch-based company that provides analysis and website optimisation for e-businesses, was also an early adopter of Google Apps. As a web-based business, LeftClick depends on reliability for its customer-facing web presence. However its traditional server-based solution was creating issues with scheduled and unscheduled downtime, causing productivity to grind to a standstill. LeftClick also realised the increasing importance of collaboration internally and across the globe. Secure, ‘always-on’ access, no matter where or when users worked, or on what devices, was essential. Managing director Alan Cox says the cloud has let them massively simplify their infrastructure and reduce the time they spend administering – reducing support expenditure by a staggering 80%.Access to these powerful tools to help run and grow your business is no longer just for large companies with big budgets – thanks to cloud computing, they are now affordable and easily accessible to all businesses, whatever the size.