With limited budgets and scarce resources, most small businesses understand the need to stretch a dollar. This fact is underscored by a new study that finds budget and spending issues at the top of the list of concerns for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) in 2018.

The research also shows that these concerns are likely to drive continued growth in the use of cloud services among SMBs.

In its seventh annual SMB and Midmarket Top 10 IT Priorities, IT Challenges and Business Issues report, market research firm Techaisle examined 21 different technology areas, each with several sub-technology categories, 24 different IT challenges and 24 different business issues. “Reducing operational costs” ranked as the top business issue, while “budget constraints” ranked as the top IT challenge.

Given its ability to address both of those, it’s no surprise that “cloud” ranked as the top IT priority for SMBs. Cloud levels the playing field for SMBs, providing a route to enterprise-grade applications, storage and computing infrastructure without the need to purchase and maintain on-premises hardware.

For an increasing number of SMBs, cloud services have essentially become their IT infrastructure. It’s hard to overstate the value of getting enterprise-grade accounting, communication, productivity and storage platforms with subscription-based pricing that makes budgeting predictable and manageable.

Cloud applications actually align well with many of the top 10 business issues identified in the Techaisle report. For example, cloud can address the No. 2 issue, “improving workforce productivity,” by enabling anytime / anywhere access to essential data and applications, and by providing a unified communications (UC) platform with expanded collaboration tools. It’s also easy to see where cloud fits into a strategy for addressing many of the other top issues, which include improving processes, increasing profitability and growth, attracting new customers, improving time to market, and managing inventory.

While cloud is listed as the top priority, it actually would be a central element in just about all of the remaining top 10. The remainder of that list, in descending order: mobility, managed services, collaboration, analytics, security, virtualization, Internet of Things, hyper-converged / converged infrastructure, and virtual reality / augmented reality.

However, SMBs seem to understand that increased cloud adoption won’t be easy. After “budget constraints,” some of the top IT challenges cited involve integration of data and apps across multiple clouds, as well as integration of cloud and on-premises systems. Other IT challenges with a cloud element include data protection / recovery, workplace transformation and social networking.

SMBs have come to understand that significant investments in complex, on-premises infrastructure don’t create much competitive advantage anymore — and may, in fact, become a drag on operations. The cloud provides the ability to adapt to change quickly without extreme financial consequences.

However, cloud adoption is not without potential pitfalls. The ease of cloud provisioning can lead to cloud sprawl, with data scattered across various platforms and no central oversight. Uncertainty about the migration and management of data from one cloud to another dramatically increases the potential for data loss.

If cloud adoption is part of your strategic plan for 2018, it is important to begin with careful analysis and planning to ensure you’re investing in services that meet your business requirements. Our team of experts can you help you assess your current environment, evaluate your priorities and develop a strategy that ensures you get the most bang for your buck.