Up in the Cloud

Dec. 1, 2014
The benefits of cloud services for business

About the author: Joel Hughes is a founding principal of MediaPress Studios, a subsidiary of Scranton Gillette Communications Inc. Hughes can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1015.

Collaboration, business continuance and cross-device document usage are just a few of the reasons why I love having our company’s e-mail and office documents in the cloud. Cloud services such as Google Apps for Business and Microsoft 360 continue to improve their services and offer efficiencies across the board, making onsite e-mail servers and tape backups a thing of the past for an increasing number of companies. There is no company too large or too small to benefit from cloud services. I will go over some of the advantages and options with you here.

E-mail

We switched to Google Apps in 2011, and it has been one of the best things we have ever done for our business. Previously we struggled with managing an onsite e-mail server, including spam and virus protection, calendaring, mailbox limits, and database size and integrity concerns. One day that server crashed irrecoverably, but thankfully we were already in the midst of converting to Google Apps. We used to have to support heavyweight e-mail client programs like Microsoft Outlook, dealing with versioning issues, patches and glitches across different operating systems and environments. Dealing with remote users in home offices meant that any problems in the main office would shut down their e-mail as well, and troubleshooting e-mail problems over the phone became a major headache for all parties involved. And yes, you can use whichever domain name you want with any cloud e-mail service, so your companies’ e-mail addresses will stay the same.

Documents

We try to use Google Docs/Google Drive as much as possible here in our office. This allows for real-time collaboration and single-document versioning, and is backed up in real time as long as you have an Internet connection. As I am typing this very article, someone could take a sledge hammer to my computer and I would not lose a beat. I might be a little shocked by the untimely death of my computer, but I could just walk over to another computer and continue typing away. 

Sending documents as attached files in e-mails can be inefficient and confusing. The simple act of having three or four people approve or suggest changes to a document can be a nightmare, as one version of the document turns into four or five. With Google Docs, we create the document once and share it in real time. Changes can be seen as they are done, even if users are on different devices, platforms or continents. I have had actual occasions of collaborating on a presentation while using my iPhone on a train en route to the presentation with a colleague who also was making changes en route. By the time we arrived at the venue, the presentation was finalized and we were both on the same page with the changes.

Cloud documents do not have to be just traditional word processing documents, either. Spreadsheets, training videos, slide decks, drawings and even input forms can be created with most cloud services. Why send an e-mail asking 300 customers what they think you could improve in your business when you could create a form and share it with them to collect data? Think about budget documents, corporate collateral and materials for the sales force all being centralized.

Cloud Storage

Although office document cloud services are amazing, sometimes you just need remote, reliable, centralized storage. That is where a cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox comes into play. These services behave just like a local drive on your computer, tablet or smartphone, yet they allow for powerful offsite file storage of any type of file. Once the files are on the cloud storage service, they can be accessed from any device, anytime, anywhere. This is a great way to get sales materials and brochures standardized in one place for your sales force, rather than wondering if everyone has the latest version.

Custom Solutions & the Apps Marketplace

The great thing about being plugged into a cloud infrastructure like Google Apps for Business is that if there is something that your business needs that does not come with the base package, there likely is something already built for your business case that you can add to your infrastructure. Things like time tracking, single sign-on, time off request handling, helpdesk/service ticket tracking, etc., all can be added onto your base cloud office solution and pushed out company-wide with a few clicks. And, if nothing exists out there for your particular business case, you can have somebody build it for you within the system’s infrastructure.

Want to learn more? There is most likely a Google Apps or Office 360 partner in your area that can help you get up to speed. Plans start at reasonable prices, and you will be amazed at the efficiencies you will see across the board, resulting in savings right to your bottom line.

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About the Author

Joel Hughes