The Cloud – what you get for your money

I have spent the last few days in Copenhagen where I have been visiting the team at E-conomic to discuss their planned updates and ongoing ideas.

What struck me as I entered their modern, crisp, and ergonomic offices was the number of people beavering away at various aspects of the E-conomic system. In addition to a dedicated support team, there are teams of developers working on upgrading and constantly improving the system.

Additionally, I was surprised to see that as one walks through the offices, there are a multitude of noticeboards with development information and issues – all in English. I actually felt embarrassed when one or two of the team apologised for not using the correct English word – as my Danish is non existent this really put me in my place!

Of course the number of people working away behind the scenes is not  peculiar to E-conomic. The same was true when I visited Kashflow ‘s offices recently and will of course apply to many other Cloud application providers.

But I don’t think that most Cloud sceptics fully realise this. The Saas profile is try, buy and if you don’t want to continue for any reason, stop. No long term commitment and onerous payment plans. In many cases you get the opportunity to trial the application for no charge for a period of time.

For your no obligation monthly payment you get a committed team of people beavering away to constantly upgrade and improve your user experience with application improvements and enhancements appearing when you next login.

Contrast this with the standard on premise solution (and no, I am not just referring to our friends in Newcastle). I have recently had to purchase some tax compliance software for the professional side of my operations (please..someone develop a Cloud based tax offering soon).

As well as paying a licence fee based on the number of users – committed for a year by an upfront payment and monthly standing order, I also have to pay an ongoing “membership” fee – what is that all about. Once paid my CD arrives by mail and I have to proceed with the installation on the various computers in my organisation.

Compare and contrast – I am not saying that the teams behind the tax software are any less committed or dedicated, but you don’t half pay through the nose for the privilege and any updates or improvements have to wait until they can be rolled out by post to the various users.

I keep saying that the choice to use the Cloud is a no brainer – I am constantly reminded of how much of a no brainer it is.

Oh, and another thing about the E-conomic offices – they have a great canteen. Lunch was delicious!

The Cloud in action

I had an interesting conversation with Jon Stacey of Riley Chartered Accountants.. I first came across Jon’s firm when I read about them on the Google Apps blog where there was a write up on their move to Google Apps and I was interested to discuss with him how the process had worked and more importantly, the decision process behind it.

Riley is obviously not your average firm of accountants. A quick look at their web site shows that they have embraced online technology and are making good use of social media such as Twitter. They also have an active blog on their site which is both informative and entertaining. I asked Jon what was behind their decision to move to Google Apps – he explained that historically the practice had used Lotus Notes as their main communication source with a system that had been setup by a former partner who had since retired.

Rather than try to get to grips with a legacy system – plus the fact that an old server needed upgrading – provided an excellent opportunity to make a clean break and go for something new and innovative. He says on his blog:

“Our office systems were almost totally reliant on Lotus Notes – a secure groupware system which enabled us to store, catalogue, discuss and record the way we worked and the communications that we had with our customers, referrers of business and suppliers. Notes also handled our e-mail, contacts and diaries. We started using it in 1998 and quickly became dependent on it for all we did. However, over the years we started to see the deficiencies in the system, the difficulties of the technical management issues, the “clunkiness” of it’s user-interface (UI) even after major updates and the access issues compared to the personal e-mail systems we had all started to use at home.”

He goes on to say:

” However, changes in our key team forced us to look properly at other solutions and we settled on migrating our e-mail, calendars and instant messaging to Google….. and we moved the majority of our communication IT to web-browser access without a hitch.”

This is, of course, one of the key drivers in making a move to the Cloud – the need to make changes to legacy systems due to their “architect” leaving the firm or infrastructure becoming out of date and requiring replacement.

He then goes on to say:

“That first step was a revelation. Not only was our information now accessible from anywhere in the world, from any computer or device (phone) with an internet connection, the move massively freed up resources of people (and cash) and removed the restrictions on our thinking about IT. We still had (and have) certain legacy databases on Notes but have started to wind these down as more content is now cloud based. For example our old Teamtalk database from Notes which contained office gossip, quick updates on who was where and why and news snippets has been moved to Yammer. This application also contains our “humour” database – a “must read” compendium of up to date jokes, links and general office twaddle. What we also found was that Google Apps allowed us to store all of our templates for letters, spreadsheets and many of our management tools too”

Take a moment to re-read this paragraph – not only does it succinctly sum up the raison d’etre of the Cloud, but emphasises the innovative thinking of the firm in the way that they communicate internally as well as with their clients.

And he finishes with what I see as the proverbial “icing” on the cake…

“We have also been able to dispense with the office-based back-up solution which was the bane of many of our lives. This has been replaced by on-line back-up for server based systems and a reliance on the cloud for back-up of e-mail, calendars and contacts. And there have also been no problems with software updates – I’m sure that they exist but they happen painlessly when we don’t notice or incrementally as the developers finish a feature. We don’t have to buy an upgrade path or worry about compatibility – it just happens”

I make no apologies for cribbing so much from Jon’s excellent blog as it so clearly shows how firms can adopt the Cloud painlessly and efficiently – for the benefit not only of their clients and contacts but internally as well.

We finished our conversation with me saying how refreshing it was to speak to an accountant who “got it”.. normally it was like pushing a boulder up hill. Jon’s reply sums it up…

“I’m glad”, he says..”it might not be good for you, but whilst no one else is doing it, we have the advantage…”

Couldn’t put it better!