Save time with the Cloud
What’s the one thing we’re all given for free, but once it’s spent, we can never get it back? It’s time, of course. I can’t believe it – almost twelve months have passed since my last post. It’s not been entirely a result of procrastination mind you: In that twelve months I’ve moved interstate, changed jobs and added a little girl to the family (well, I must give credit to my wife for that last feat!). It’s been a busy year and recently, in a few of the spare minutes I get here and there, I find I’ve been reflecting on how fast time can fly.
This isn’t a phenomenon unique to our personal lives. I’m sure most would agree time flying is just as prevalent in our business lives – perhaps even more so. I’m in an industry where much of the value delivered by the products and services is around saving time. Imagine business life without the humble PC, just for a minute. Scary, isn’t it! It’s become a ubiquitous tool for productivity. Now consider the Internet, a merging of technologies that underpins most methods of modern communication and information accessibility. Seriously, when was the last time you used a fax machine or hand-wrote and posted a letter? But as much as the promise of technology is saving time, the bane of it for a small business can be added complexity, which in turn can lead to wasted time. And so begins the vicious circle.
Now we can leverage a platform which delivers the promise of technology without the side effect of complexity to the mere small business owner. What is this modern marvel? Well, to borrow a line from the late musician John Denver, “the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind”. I am, of course, referring to the Cloud – but not the white fluffy variety!
The true definition of ‘cloud’ seems to be a subject still often debated in technology circles, but for the purpose of simplicity and relevance to small business owners my definition is this: The ‘cloud’ is the amalgamation of the accessibility of the internet with the productivity of the desktop PC and its many software applications. The ‘cloud’ is a platform in which you work without actually requiring the infrastructure that makes it work. It’s the concept of being connected to a service – not having to install it.
“The ‘cloud’ is a platform in which you work without actually requiring the infrastructure that makes it work.”
It’s not too dissimilar to another technological marvel we’re all familiar with – the telephone. If the telephone required us to have a cupboard housing mini-exchanges in our homes, which needed constant maintenance, updating and replacing, we’d probably be less inclined to have one. But luckily we simply pick up a handset, punch in some numbers and all the technical routing and other wizardry is done magically by infrastructure owned by the telco company and located well away from us.
So how can the Cloud deliver on the promise of saving time without adding complexity? Well I believe if we look beyond the standard vendor marketing clichés (“less downtime”, “access information from anywhere”, “always on” etc etc) we actually see some very practical reasons why Cloud services can save a small business time:
- Connecting not installing: I eluded to this earlier. Cloud services can be consumed on demand. Applications like CRM systems can be switched on for users as required, so no lengthy wait for your IT guy to come and install the software (after they spend the obligatory 30 mins looking for the CD of course!). Require additional storage space? No probs; just upgrade your Cloud service – no requirement to order new hardware, wait for it to be delivered, to turn off the server for an hour whilst it’s installed…you get the picture.
- Appreciate, don’t depreciate: When a small business purchases technology infrastructure but fails to properly maintain it, as often happens, it can quickly go downhill from a performance and reliability perspective. Things start slowing down and staff start moaning. In fact, within only a few years, it can often be slow, outdated and worthless. In contrast Cloud services are constantly improving, becoming faster and including more features. Effectively you’re paying for a service which will continue to appreciate in value to you over time. What you thought was fast and efficient now will almost certainly be improved this time next year.
- Jack be nimble, Jack be quick: Who the heck is Jack? Well let’s say he’s your star sales guy and he’s been pestering you for a new notebook computer. One morning you wander in and slap a shiny new one on his desk (you are such a nice boss after all!) but there he remains all day copying emails, documents and programs from his old computer to the new. Jack doesn’t make any sales on this day. If Jack’s emails, documents and applications were Cloud based he’d virtually be able to head out to his first appointment, switch on the new notebook and access everything he needs immediately – and have ample time to make his daily sales target. Imagine you have 10 Jacks in your sales team and you give them all a new notebook on the same day…now that’s going to be a slow sales day if they’re not utilising Cloud.
- All devices lead to the cloud: Cloud services are generally functional through virtually any internet connected device. It’s incredible how useful this can be when you’re on the road, in a meeting, at a conference or in an airport lounge and need access to data. So rather than pulling out your notebook computer (assuming you actually have it on you) it’s just so simple and easy to jump on another computer or mobile phone and get what you want. And I’m not just thinking about email – you could also edit documents, show a Powerpoint presentation or access data within a CRM system in an instant from many devices other than your own notebook.
For many small businesses existing today moving to the cloud does not necessarily mean a 100% transition of all existing data and applications given existing investments in on-premise technology. However it’s a brave business owner who overlooks it completely given competitive pressures from both established companies plus new businesses being born in the cloud (that is, new businesses which make very little capital investment in technology in favour of leveraging Cloud based services and an opex, rather than capex, costs model).
So think not only of shifting some standard productivity services, such as email and file sharing, to the cloud for the efficiency benefits you will gain, but also of other time saving functionality you’ve always considered out-of-reach but now can be easily connected to through the Cloud (such as video-conferencing, instant messaging, CRM systems, collaboration applications etc).
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