The idea is that if you think of your business information like carbon atoms, which arrangement would you prefer? The right software can help you manage your business information better, and Cloud software puts some extremely powerful functionality into the hands of very small businesses. So here's a quick, non-exhaustive introduction to a few tools you might find useful.
What is The CloudDiagrams of computer networks always used a cloud shape to represent the internet. As web and internet based systems started to develop, marketers wanted a good term to describe the new paradigm. So was born a marketing buzzword...
The Cloud is a way of delivering computing where you connect remotely to an online service. In the 70s, computers were massive mainframes, accessed with a 'dumb terminal' which stored nothing and did no processing, it just sent and received data. During the 80s and 90s, things moved towards PCs on the desktop, which run programs and store data. Since the likes of Hotmail launched in the late 90s, move has been back to dumb terminals, i.e. web browsers where all the data is stored remotely.
Benefits of Cloud
- easy to access and use, from anywhere across different devices
- easy to collaborate with remote colleagues
- backup and business continuity built in
- pay for what you use, as you use it, OpEx not CapEx (some services are free)
- data security
- if you have no internet, you have a problem, although this can be mitigated with backup internet connections (such as a wireless dongle or mobile phone), and with apps which make their data available offline
- be careful with security - consider location of data (especially in regulated industries), who might have access to your data
Examples of Cloud applications for businessThe following tools are ones I've either used personally or have been recommended to me. They are particularly suited to 'microbusinesses' and many are available free or at minimal cost.
- IMAP email, which your hosting provider will supply, which allows you to synchronise your email program on your computer or mobile with a server, meaning that messages that you read on your PC also appear as read on your phone
- GMail - the contacts module will sync with mobile devices and your desktop email program (Outlook, Thunderbird, MacMail etc)
- Google Calendar - syncs with mobile devices and desktop email, and you can share calendars with co-workers, associates, family members etc
- Google Docs / Google Drive - great for working collaboratively on documents, spreadsheets and presentations
- Dropbox - file synchronisation between computers and website, allows you to share documents with others quickly and easily
- Microsoft LiveDrive - similar service to Dropbox and Google Drive
- ToodleDo - great web-based to do list with notebook, based on Getting Things Done methodology. Syncs with mobile devices
- EverNote - advanced web/desktop/mobile notebook app
- Feng Office - web based project management and collaboration application
- Xero and AccountsPortal - web based, easy to use accountancy software
- Nuvola CRM - watch this space!
- Skype - great for collaboration but also can be used to provide a business landline phone number
What to do next
- Think about what information you have in your business that is disorganised
- How could you organise that information better?
- What sort of tools would you need to help you do it?
- Check out the above tools and services, some of them will almost certainly help you
- Read my book (which is aimed at business people, not techies) for more information.