One of the many things that continue humanity’s seemingly unstoppable improvement is the desire to make things better, to do something that once took ages in seconds. I’m reminded of a joke from Louis C.K. about how “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody is happy.” While he covers any number of modern social issues with technology, the phrase that always enters my brain from that skit on Conan is:
“You’re sitting in a chair in the sky… New York to California in 5 hours; that used to take 30 years.”
While the consumer market is driven, almost to a fault, by adding new things to your life that you never knew existed, and for which you might pay or be the target of advertising to enjoy, the market for businesses in the cloud is not this way. Businesses, big and small, short and tall, must be able to justify any new expense with more than just “ooh, pretty.” Businesses [typically] care about efficiency and efficacy. That is to say, they want to help their people be more effective, either through accuracy, collaboration, knowledge, or communication, and they want them to be more efficient, either by the well known “do more with less” or by the more common “do a lot more with a little more.”
In reality, cloud technologies for business allow you to get to the eventuality of “do a lot more with less.” And that often requires understanding that moving to any new technology will be an evolution more often than it’s a revolution. Included below are nearly all of the numerous reasons why you should consider cloud based business technologies, what we once called Software-as-a-Service or SaaS.
In no particular order:
Focus is key to success for nearly every business. You’re good at what you do and are looking for ways to be even better. So, unless your business is being an IT shop, the time and effort spent trying to manage your own servers, software and networks can be exhausting and overly expensive, burning your valuable time and money in an area that may not be ideal. Taking time away from running your business to run your software is a killer.
Focus is of particular importance for smaller shops. When you’re a two-person shop or a two thousand person shop, having to dedicate money to one resource in an area not of your focus takes people and resources away from areas that are. Don’t let technology hamper your ability to achieve greater success when it can be there to lift you up when you need it and stay out of your way when you don’t.
Focus on what you do best, and let the cloud-based software company focus on what they do best. Nearly every other item in this list revolves around Focus.
Many technologies that allowed the cloud to become what it is today were once in their infancy. In the past decade, those infants have grown up into powerful and knowledgeable adults, quickly passing through adolescence into greatness, sometimes in an awkward growing-up-too-fast way. However, many of the most intelligent companies on our planet, including those who had to figure out how to scale properly on their own, have graciously given their time, money, effort, and names to improving the technologies and sharing them with the world.
This tech-love from the big boys has allowed hundreds, even thousands, of small companies to use amazingly advanced and ever-evolving technology to develop software and services with significantly lower overhead. The ability to scale up and down quickly, both in terms of computing performance and cost, means that the days of giant co-located server farms at data-centers just to start your software-as-a-service company are gone. The savings are passed on to you.
Often overlooked is the flexibility granted by nearly all web technologies. And while this item in the list certainly applies to you if you’re willing to manage routers, firewall rules, and DMZs, most companies cannot afford the complexity and risks associated with providing enterprise software, installed internally, as a publicly available service, accessible anywhere at any time.
The web is a wonderful thing. It’s allowed us to create highly consistent user interfaces that are accessible and usable across dozens of different platforms, all while having to write and maintain only one set of code. The best part of it all is that as technology advances through time and new devices are invented that we hadn’t previously imaged, there’s a near certainty that they will work with web-based technologies, making your cloud based software instantly available on your new gadget. Less software re-development means more savings, passed on to you.
The wonderful thing about “the cloud” is that it allows you, with properly developed code, to be able to scale your software to heights previously unthinkable, without all of the time and expense consuming overhead of adding and configuring new systems. Companies like Onspring (shameless plug) and hundreds of others are able to quickly and efficiently scale their performance to meet their growing customer need and more efficiently use resources to meet those needs.
When developing an infrastructure dedicated entirely to one or a set of software tools, the cloud software providers have the benefit of near-perfect knowledge about the hardware, network and other technology needs well ahead of time. They can develop their software to fit and scale neatly within these highly customized and scalable environments without having to worry as much about the unforeseeable. If their service relies substantially on rapid storage and retrieval from disk, they can design systems utilizing the most advanced solid-state technologies on the market. They can build caching layers dedicated to their environment to help vastly improve the performance of repeated items. They can save money on CPU or bandwidth, use a specific type of compression or develop specialized code specifically calibrated for their exact hardware.
In short, they can make full and entire use of a system, returning excellent performance in a way much more cost and power-efficient than by installing their software at each customer.
The great thing about the performance and good scalability of cloud software is that it allows for greater overall consistency. While performance is only one part of a consistent usable design, it’s a significant portion.
I realize that consistency is typically also true of nearly all web-based software when it comes to usability. There is, however, the problem of the environment. Not everyone will install their software on the same systems and with the same configurations. This makes it very painful for the team to develop the software, which in turn increases development, quality assurance, and support costs. And while these pains aren’t always entirely eliminated by simply moving the software to the cloud, they are often greatly reduced.
Consistency can be more easily created when customers of all kinds are accessing a similar environment. That is to say, creating a consistent interface is important, but it’s not the limit. You will find that customer support is greatly improved and more reliable because of this consistency. Built-in support is instantly updated with issues, links to data are kept fresh, and consistency is achieved across customers.
So this consistency goes both ways. The consistency to the customer is a reassurance of quality. The consistency to the manufacturer and maintainer of the cloud software is a reduction in cost. More money saved.
6) BOTTOM LINE
For those customers who have concern for capital expenditures versus operating expenditures, there’s a massive benefit. Of course, it goes deeper than just where your CFO, accountant or you put the expenses in the books, it goes to economies of scale…and yeah…where you write off the expenses.
With cloud and other modern technologies, small and large software providers alike can develop online tools that create efficiencies that are just not possible within an organization of any size. If each of 100 customers of a cloud service provider were to perform their own installs, allowing for consistent performance, scalability, reliability, and support, the cost would likely be (at least in our case) over 40 times as much.
It’s because the typical usage model for most cloud software, or any software for that matter, is one of infrequency. Sure, some customers are logged in all the time all day. Sure, some companies are worldwide and can use it 24/7. That’s a microscopic minority of the whole. Aggregating CPU, Memory, Disk and Bandwidth is what allows the most meaningful cost savings.
Not only are these cost savings passed on to you, but they’re passed on in a highly favorable basis: operating expenditures.
Being able to collaborate within your business is powerful. Most software for enterprises-of-all-sizes (Onspring’s focus…and favorite rhyme) will talk about collaboration. Notwithstanding these claims, many do not deliver in the way that more modern technologies can. The limitation of networks, as discussed above, of managing firewalls and inter-connectivity, is often not a story of smooth sailing when done in-house.
Communication and collaboration are not JUST about people. It’s about other technologies. The world of the cloud and all the many applications is often a world of cross-collaboration of software. Integration between one tool and another happens at such a rapid pace, it’s often dizzying to try to read the pages of some cloud apps’ enumeration of integration.
Without the need for dealing with each customer’s various potential network setups and situations, and with the central control of a consistent environment, these alliances between tools would be hellish. Don’t forget the incentive. Speaking from experience, cloud-based software providers have immense pressure to quickly integrate or face relegation.
Remember: Collaboration is sometimes peer-to-peer, sometimes peer-to-data, and sometimes data-to-data. Achieving each of these in concert is a specialty born of the cloud.
8) CONSTANT UPDATES
My absolute favorite part about using cloud software is that I get to participate in the newest version without having to worry about licensing, beta testing, migration, and all of the other woeful and arduous tasks involved in such things. Without dedicating most of your time, where else can you always be on top of the latest and greatest? The limit is basically your phone or tablet. The cloud resolves that for everyone else.
With no maintenance of databases, software, other miscellaneous patches, and other features, you can focus (#1 on the list) on what you do and not worry about what they do. Being entirely up-to-date and having immediate access to new features has been the greatest evolution of business software, and SaaS/cloud, in general. The ages of waiting 3 years for the next major release—for features you’ve requested for a decade—are over.
This is, in great part, why Onspring does not, and never even considered, offering to have our software installed on-premises. In order to provide the most consistent and quality interaction, at the most affordable cost, it was an absolute necessity to be in the cloud. It’s allowed us to have around 4 major releases, all with excellent and groundbreaking features, each year. It allows us to do minor updates each month. We can fix issues for every customer in a matter of minutes, with no downtime. That’s nearly impossible for on-premises solutions.
Most importantly, you can grow and shrink your use rapidly and consistently. You can have twice — even tenfold — the power instantly, on-demand, point-and-click, any time of day.
Risk is a mixed bag when it comes to the cloud. You inherit some risks that are built into the cloud, such as centralization of control, but you gain in many other areas, such as consolidation of risk to a single point of control. You get to keep your data in one virtual location. Your risk is known, it’s measurable, it’s more easily controlled.
This is often the argument for any web-based or centralized system in which data is not distributed to clients systems. It’s particularly true in the case of cloud providers as they often have materially more at stake. With appropriate controls built into the software, and with appropriate controls in place at the provider, the surface area for exposure to risk can be greatly reduced.
Attempting to administer all of the necessary role and rule-based controls can deepen the headache of on-premises software. With the abundance of SSO abilities in the cloud, and the general nature of cloud-based, targeted software, a more well-defined layer of controls can be built. Many cloud-based providers build their own custom web application firewall rules to more accurately detect intrusions and issues. These rules can be maintained and updated in real-time, allowing for a more secure posture.
It’s not just highly technical security controls that matter but also controls over items that ensure things like updates (#8), consistency (#5), and performance (#4). Without absolute control over the environment, the efficiency necessary to provide this software at a reasonable price would not materialize.
11) PEER PRESSURE
You might think this is a reason not to do it, as we were all taught not to give in to peer pressure as young adults or even kids. This isn’t that kind of peer pressure. This is the pressure of knowing that your competitors are evolving faster than you, that your peers are going to outpace you because they’re going to be able to handle new issues more adequately and completely. They’re going to be able to beat you at a deal because they found a way to not raise their prices this year. They saved money somewhere else or found a way to get the job done better using technology.
This is an argument for any evolution of technology in general. Cloud isn’t always the answer, but it’s becoming more and more often the solution to many business problems. Don’t let your competitors and peers outpace you by showing up last.
12) ALWAYS ON / DISASTER RECOVERY
A cloud provider must always be up and available at every moment possible. This may not be true for software you install internally. You may be generally accepting of a few hours of downtime here and there. Across a large cluster of geographically diverse customers, the cloud provider doesn’t have this luxury. They’ll often build in disaster recovery and business continuity in a way that would not be remotely possible at a smaller company.
This is vastly more important, like some other issues, to smaller businesses that cannot afford redundant data centers or closets full of hardware. It happens to also be a great way for a large enterprise to save money by not having to worry about duplication of potentially business-critical infrastructure.
There are numerous cloud-based applications, Onspring included, that allow you to take multiple processes or functions and consolidate them into one central repository. This allows you to take numerous disperse and disparate processes and unify them, and their data, into a central location. This centralization of related processes and data allows for the improvement of each individual process by more closely relating it to data that may be maintained elsewhere. You get updated content immediately from your peers across the hall. You get real-time reporting across all the things you care about. You can drill down into the related data and find the information you never knew existed.
It’s not necessary to consolidate everything into one location. It is necessary to do so when it makes you better and gives you a positive ROI. That ROI can be measured in real numbers, general productivity, or just improvement of the process and understanding of the data, allowing you to build your business better and beat your competitors by doing it better.
14) FINAL WORD
I’d like to pretend I’m unbiased, but I won’t. I did, however, choose to take Onspring the route of the cloud precisely because of all of the above reasons. It’s a potent mix of all of the above that allows Onspring to offer world-class performance, usability, and customer satisfaction. I couldn’t imagine giving that up to go back to the way things were done in 2001.
(Had to end on a rhyme.)
DISCLAIMER ON RISKS:
All cloud-based technologies share similar risks. I plan on writing another blog entry in the near future covering some of these more in-depth, such as insider threat, ownership of data, and government intrusion.