Usually, having someone say that your “head is in the clouds” would not be considered a compliment. As an advisor, however, having some of your key documents stored in the digital cloud can be a great way to facilitate business while you are on the go, says Cara Crosetti, Los Angeles-based account director and web specialist with Wickware Communications Inc. of Toronto.

While the scope of “cloud computing” can vary widely from one user to another, for advisors, the idea of cloud computing is relatively simple: it’s about using the Internet to help you manage, store and process your files and information.

Crosetti offers some insights on how you can use cloud computing to build a stronger, more flexible, practice:

1. What you want, when you want it
One of the key advantages for advisors using cloud computing is that it can add some much-needed flexibility to your schedule.

In particular, having some of your most important administrative documents available in the cloud can help you make better use of the time you spend on administrative matters.

Some examples of valuable functions to have stored in the cloud, Crosetti says, would be your organizational calendar, email and client relationship model. You might also want to upload some of your templates for financial or investment planning, so that you can access them easily if you are meeting a client outside the office.

“It offers that flexibility for an advisor with a busy schedule outside the office,” Crosetti says. “It also means that if you want to work from home you can access your files, too, on a tablet.”

2. Have a plan for your usage
As with any technical tool, you should first decide how you can use cloud computing to benefit your practice. You want the demands of your practice to drive how you employ the tool, rather than letting the tool dictate how you run your practice.

Before uploading any of your documents, plan out how you foresee everything coming together. For example, you want to think about how you want your email systems to interact. Do you want a file sharing system for you and your team?

“Cloud computing can be seen as cool, neat and cheap but then [staff] don’t use it and still do things the old way because they haven’t thought about what to do and how to make that shift,” says Crosetti. “Research and plan.”

3. Simplify IT
If you are with a small firm, cloud computing allows you to narrow the technology gap between you and some of the large institutional firms.

For instance, you can often reduce the costs of having an in-house IT service when you use cloud computing. As part of the fee that you pay a cloud service provider, you will have cheap and easy access to a team of technical experts who will be able to do the same tasks as an in-house team at a major bank.

“When you outsource some of your files you are also outsourcing all of that IT management and support,” says Crosetti. “So anything an IT team traditionally does – like upgrade servers or maintain security is taken care of for you.”

4. Check with your firm
Like social media or any foray into new technology, you want to double check with your firm’s technical compliance officers before uploading any documents to the cloud.
In particular, you want to keep your focus on administrative documents that do not contain sensitive client information.

This is the first installment in a three-part series on using cloud computing to strengthen your business.

Next week: Balancing security and flexibility in the cloud.