23/04/2013 11:09 BST | Updated 19/06/2013 06:12 BST

The Cloud Is Here to Stay - Now Make It Work for You

As the rate of technological innovation accelerates, we are not only seeing a new generation of digitally enabled, entrepreneurial businesses emerge, but likewise, traditional industries are being disrupted and existing small and medium businesses are being given a renewed competitive advantage.

For small businesses, their flexibility and agility to experiment with new technologies enables them to leave their larger, more static competitors behind.

This is particularly true when you consider the growth of cloud computing, which has played a transformative role in the business landscape across the board.

Many barriers small companies may have faced in the past - an inability to break into international markets or the prohibitive cost of purchasing infrastructure or software for example - are being quickly broken down by technological innovations like the cloud.

In its simplest role, cloud technology has allowed businesses unprecedented growth potential, through increased flexibility and reduced costs.

Previously, businesses were required to install, update and maintain their own applications, often restricted to on-premise use and with the associated overheads of in-house IT expertise.

The cloud has changed this completely and it is encouraging that so many firms are taking advantage.

However the cloud isn't simply about reducing costs. For many businesses it is changing the way they work and interact with customers, partners and suppliers.

Whilst almost every company can find a use for the cloud, through simple solutions such as file storage, or sharing, it is a particularly compelling proposition for businesses dealing with and processing large amounts of data or shared information.

It is in these industries that the cloud can be seen as a real game-changer.

Being able to simultaneously access, collaborate and share information in real-time is revolutionary and offers businesses new ways in which they can meet customer needs.

At Intuit, we work with thousands of accountants, which is one profession that is being transformed by cloud computing. Many of the accountants we work with are also small business owners themselves.

Thanks to the cloud, instead of working with a client's accounts retrospectively at month end or quarter end, they now have a real-time view of their client's financials and can take a more pro-active approach to offering advice and services.

They tell us that cloud solutions help them develop stronger links and relationships with their clients and create new revenue-generating opportunities.

Intuit is responding to this need, as many companies are, and evolving our own offering to supply cloud-specific software and support packages, like QuickBooks Online Accountant and the ProCloud partner programme.

Accounting is just one industry in which the cloud revolution is changing the ways in which the industry is set up as a whole.

So what is the lesson here? That if you are a small business in an industry that lends itself to cloud computing, now is the time to take advantage of the cloud and seek out that competitive advantage.

Your customers will very quickly consider this level of flexible, fast-paced service a requirement, rather than a bonus. If your customers are on the cloud, and you are not, you are putting yourself in an unnecessarily vulnerable position.

The expectation from clients and customers is that you not only understand the world they are working in but that you are able to work in it alongside them, offering the same level of flexibility with which they operate their own business.

Cloud technology offers a unique opportunity for startup and growing companies, an opportunity that could put them ahead of the curve in the eyes of their customers. The cloud is there to be explored. What could it do for you?