You’ve probably been charged with this yourself, it is a key entrepreneurial trait. And now it seems we were right all along. Cloud computing is here, but what does that mean in practical terms? How does it make you smarter, faster, richer? Here’s our story: Almost every staff member of our company has a systems background, which makes us abhor duplication or inefficiency of any kind. Still we allowed it to creep in. As staff were added in various locations, things got out of control. Here’s how cloud computing brought it back. (due to non-promotion rules I cannot mention individual brands, but you get the picture) Online CRM (Our first cloud) Even when there were only two of us in the same office manning the customer support line, time wasted on getting information out of each others heads like, ‘Did you solve that customer’s query’? or ‘How many are coming to the next class?’ was eating into our profit margin. We needed a CRM system to pull up customer history, saving their time and ours resolving queries. It happened accidentally that the solution we chose was online, and I thank the business fairy that drove us there. As our markets and staff expanded to different locations, our customer database was centrally and securely accessible. VOIP (Voice over IP – second cloud) Most people associate this with call cost saving. For us, it was again about efficiency. We wanted strong reporting features showing missed calls, peak time, length of calls, forwarded calls. The system we picked has this and also allows us to courier a phone to anyone with broadband. They plug it in and it behaves like one of our company extensions. Now can add contract staff at peak times and not lose the call information. Over-qualified support staff can be brought on from up a mountain as long as they have broadband. Online Document Repository (third cloud) Much time has been wasted with ‘Where’s the last flyer for Cork?’, ‘Where is our tax clearance cert’, ‘Where’s the how-to for sending a newsletter?’ , ‘Who has the grant reclaim checklist?’. It was only very recently that this niggle of inefficiency was addressed though a cloud hosted secure online document repository. The Final Frontier Online Accounting (mother of all clouds) The last piece to our puzzle is getting the company financials online. Happily this is our domain, and we are nearly ready to deploy it for ourselves and our lucky customers. By financials online I don’t mean having staff compiling and emailing or uploading sales and profit reports to me. I mean day by day, minute by minute, single point of entry transaction recording. When a sale happens, I want to see it instantly. I want it to show in my profit and loss, I want to drill down and see the nanosecond it occurred. I want to see staff to sales ratios whenever I feel like it with up-to-the-minute information. And I want no duplication of effort. I don’t want people writing purchases or sales up on ledgers or typing them into excel only to have them re-keyed or imported into an accounts system later. Why waste time like that? I want the first person in the company to handle a piece of paper to be the one that gets it into the accounts system. Online. Where I can see it. Where it is absorbed straight away into the critical information mass that I need to analyse and make decisions. Our goal is to be fully in the cloud by end 2010. We are nearly there! With cloud computing you can watch your business grow, under a cloudless sky.