Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Episode 9: It's a bird, It's a plane, no it's my office .... in the sky?

Last week I was at a presentation given by Paul McEvoy from Baker Security (better known as Go Oodles) where it was discussed how the Cloud for business can best be started with by moving the easier officeware into the Cloud. With Go Oodles being Google's premier partner here in Ireland, that for them means helping to get you into Google's GMail system, perhaps even Google Docs, & in the future, for start-up businesses, or even established ones. They will soo be offering Google's Chromebooks, whcih I understand can be leased on a monthly basis.

For a long time, I have been a proponent of businesses keeping I.T. costs low by using alot of Cloud based systems, or internally deploying desktops using older machines with some flavour of Ubuntu, even REALLY old machines usign Kubuntu where the employee in question would only ever be using web-based systems, or simple desktop work such as spreadsheets, or creating the usual familiar documents in the usual suspect formats. I've never been fond of the idea of businesses who are trying to keep costs low splashing out money on brand new desktop hardware, expensive operating systems, or officeware licenses.

I'm even less enthused about the idea of still relying heavily on local storage. So it's pretty clear where my love for the Cloud comes from. In saying that, when Microsoft first broached the idea about creating Office documents online or the user desktop being online, personally - I was unconvinced truth being told. Despite the fact I was involved in Cloud computing at the time, I thought it was another one of those Microsoft-jumping-on-the-bandwagon ideas, much like Zune, which was eaten alive by Apple's iPod in the market.

Even in 2006, Bill Gates knew the value of working online, making sure that he could even work on the move with his tablet PC. In Ireland, we've had a few really attrocious winter seasons due to poor infrastructure management & planning from our authorities, & alot of working days were lost. I myself living amongst the countryside fell victim, but working days were not lost. I was able to work remotely. Even my office phones I had easy access to thanks to some smart VOIP systems.

Even that aside, alot of people around the world don;t work in a central office, & rely on centrally hosted systems to work, or cloud-based systems to work so geographic location doesn't matter. Google themselves said during the ash-cloud travel restrictions in Europe in 2010, they were able to have employees stuck in countries just turn up in Google offices, & log into their own systems from terminals there.

Right now we're in the middle of a recession, & it is said that times like these are the best to start a business as costs are really low. So right now, the idea of a completely cloud-based office makes absolute sense. It's also why companies like Dublin Mail Drop are doing so well in the current climate offering virtual offices to people. Companies can even open up 'international' offices remotely using companies like them. Have a central post-box address, localised contact number, & have sales guys or service guys on the road with laptops/tablets/Chromebooks with 3G access to office systems.

This really does champion the best use of the cloud, & really show a great way forward for alot of start-up businesses, & an even better way fo existing businesses looking at their own overheads etc.. Do you REALLY need an office? Do you REALLY need internal systems? Would it be better to have your small company of people work from home, & if a meeting room is required, take advantage of virtual office services, who often offer meeting room use for hourly costs.

Suddenly when you step back, think about that, the costs to be saved & the absolute control, maintenance, the complete freedom & agility this idea gives to a start-up company who is trying to make it past the first year, so it can hopefully also pass year two & onto the hopefully profitable year three.

If you are a business who right now is wondering how to take advantage of the cloud & are wonering where you can even start, e-mail is your best place to start. After that, looking at things like your accounts packages, or payroll using things like Sage or Big Red Book. Even your CRM software, making use of things like SugarCRM or SalesForce will also move you away from expensive desktop licensing, the need for nightly back-ups of hard-disks for data from these, or versioning issues.

I know of one company who once a week still go around & manually back up a different version of the CRM from each person's dekstop machine & then go through a manual integration process, for a redistribution on a Monday morning. That's just insane when you think about it.

Another example in mind is a business who have a single server in their office for all their data, which has persistent problems & there are online alternatives for their requirements, but won't use them as they & I quote here "won't in any way, shape, or form let our data outside the front door." The server in question also has a single hard drive inside. A manual tape back-up is done every one or two weeks on it. If this company is unable to access that server for an hour, all hell breaks loose & they can & have lost customers due to systems outages.

Strip away alot of the hype, the B.S., the marketing & look at the logic to the Cloud. If businesses in start-up mode are in heavy risk during the first three years, why would you not leverage off systems designed to mitigate risks in multiple areas to give your baby a better chance of survival? If your business is currently at risk,  why would you not take all & any precautions to minimise against failure?

The difference right now between staying alive & dying as a business while the economy rights itself, & our politicians tinker with very fine balances is absolutely on a knife edge. Maximising the opportunity while reducing the risks where possible is absolutely crucial. Using things like Google's GMail, or GoogleDocs, or Office365, or Azure, SalesForce, SugarCRM online, SageOne Online, or Big Red Cloud may just save your business not only money, but heartache.

The Cloud allows you to focus on the core of your business, & if you have I.T. staff have them helping to grow & secure your business instead of being fire-stokers. You don't pay I.T. staff to keep the wheels greased, you pay them to help drive your business through better enablement, & management OF that enablement. They are not janitors, & even those who manage I.T. sections of non-I.T. businesses need to understand that & become more pro-active in showing their value to their companies so the full benefits can in turn be passed on to the end customer, who will value any 'wins' they can get amidst their own troubles.