The Cloud Lets Us Centralize the Information, Distribute the Workload
Defining “cloud computing” and how it applies to small/medium businesses is not always easy. Perhaps one way to look at it is to consider how cloud computing concepts apply to the management and use of data and information within the business.
Take Google, for example (the Google search service, not the company). Google has systems that communicate with other systems, and provide access to lots of information located in lots of different places, and provides that information to lots of different people who use it for a variety of different reasons. Google doesn’t actually store all the data it’s linking to. Google provides centralized access to the data. And, when you load that page or link, it’s not coming from Google servers, it is likely launching from the server where the data actually resides.
It’s really not that different from, say Intacct and Bill.com, where both applications are available via the Web, the systems communicate and share data, and users access the systems to perform a variety of functions. The Intacct servers, Bill.com’s servers, and the application users are not all located in the same place, and work via the “cloud” – the amorphous network of servers and systems all interconnected.
The whole “cloud computing” concept is really fairly basic: centralize the information but distribute the workload.
Centralizing the information so those who need it can access it is critical to supporting the business, but distributing the workload for accessing the information – and accessing it in the context of the work to be performed – is essential to creating an efficient business.
As an example, let’s look at a basic accounting solution, like QuickBooks Pro. While the software offers a range of features to support the essential record keeping requirements of many businesses, it doesn’t offer much functionality to address the more detailed operational aspects of the business. It doesn’t offer sales or contact management support for the sales department, it doesn’t offer any CRM or service tracking tools for the service or support department, and it doesn’t even address the manufacturing, distribution, or merchandising needs of the business.
However, by leveraging the power of “the cloud”, even a solution like QuickBooks Pro can handle a fairly complicated enterprise requirement.
The power is with integrations – “specialist” solutions which focus on specific aspects of the business, but which also have the ability to share information. Just like with the original “one write” systems, the information should only have to be entered once, and then it can be used again.
Long ago we recognized that redundant data entry – re-keying information – leads to lost productivity and increased potential for errors. With the ever-increasing volume of information being generated by business and individuals, it is essential that data entered once be available to any part of the system it relates to.
This means that customer information in the accounting system would also be available to the sales and service teams. However, since we don’t want those users in the actual financial systems, it is best to give them applications to help them do their jobs, but to have data in those applications integrate with data from the financial systems.
- Sales people can have accurate customer information, maybe even sales or purchase histories, products purchased, and so on, making it easier for them to be more effective at their jobs.
- Customer service or support personnel know who their customers are, and what services or products they’ve purchased, and maybe even if the customer’s account is eligible for support.
- Warehouse workers are able to view picking tickets, pick and pack shipments, and produce packing slips or shipping bills, and all without direct access to master vendor or inventory data or financial information.
Give users the tools they need to accomplish their tasks well, and don’t expose them to unnecessary data or applications. This is a critical element to creating efficient business processes. Utilizing the Internet as the network, and taking advantage of web services and Internet-based solutions and integrations, the business can create a framework of functionality which addresses the unique requirements of the business while providing the additional levels of mobility, access, and security required to facilitate those processes at any time and from anywhere.