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Running your business online—a 2011 reality

Consumers are usually several technology leaps ahead of their workplace in their use of new and innovative technologies, the internet and even the speed of their broadband connection.

This may be why SME managers are being lobbied by their junior employees for more innovative technologies that allow them to find and share information more easily, collaborate with colleagues more fluidly and work effectively regardless of their location. A vast majority of employees are accustomed to using web technologies, such as online banking and online shopping, and want the same ease of use in their office environment that they have with Internet based tools.

That’s not to say that technology in the workplace has stood still, as there have been some significant shifts in the way companies buy and use technology. For example, hosted solutions – such as those offered by Salesforce.com and now, through Google Apps – are changing the way people view the delivery of IT in their business. Hosted or cloud-based solutions are a lot more acceptable than they were several years ago, to the extent that many large companies now entrust their entire email and anti-virus services to third parties.

A new breed of cloud-based applications are enabling SMEs to truly run their business online. This approach can deliver a dramatic improvement in user satisfaction by providing users with the innovative and easy to use services they have not only come to expect, but have actively trained themselves to use in their personal lives.

Simultaneously, the costs associated with the installation, maintenance and support of hardware and software can be significantly reduced, allowing IT resources to be applied to helping support a growing business. Cloud-based productivity suites allow SMEs to manage low-cost licences, so that you only pay for the number of staff that need to access your company’s business software suite on any given month. Often these agreements include round the clock telephone support without the need to enter long-term contracts or opaque enterprise agreements. This means costs are a lot more predictable – software is licensed with a straightforward annual per-user fee inclusive of support, meaning that businesses are spared from hidden and unsuspected costs and can plan more effectively.

Another advantage of cloud-based solutions is availability. Applications no longer have to be accessed through complex systems that provide access to office-based servers. Users can reach their email and calendar, and collaborate on documents from wherever they find themselves – be it in an internet café, the Caribbean, or at home – and from whatever device they’re using – whether a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Cloud solutions support a strong trend emerging whereby people choose to work where they are most productive. The concept of the ‘office’ is changing as people subscribe to the idea of a ‘virtual office’, an environment where individuals and teams can be creative, collaborate and work where and when it suits them best. This new way of working necessitates sophisticated yet simple technologies that support, rather than hinder, the emergence of new ideas.

Real-time collaboration can mean hundreds of people working online together on web-based documents. That’s true collaboration, as it eliminates the need to send a document to a group of people, wait for them to make their amendments, and finally consolidate into a single version – usually through several iterations. With online collaboration tools users can work simultaneously on the same document before publishing to a wider audience.

Although traditional concerns over security and reliability have made some businesses cautious in the past, we are seeing increasing numbers of companies adopt this model as they realise that the cloud is as and often more secure than traditional computing options.

Cloud computing has fundamentally changed the way we work and organisations need to embrace it in order to gain a head start on their competitors, making operations more efficient and improving employee productivity and creativity. It is when ideas can be quickly expressed, shared and developed that innovation develops rapidly. Once the shackles are removed – the constraints of the desk, restrictions of overly complex technologies and lack of simultaneous collaboration – great ideas can take shape and become reality.

Case study

Mo’s Mobiles eliminates IT headaches with Google Apps

Mo’s Mobiles is a national chain of mobile phone stores selling the Vodafone, 3 Mobile and Crazy John’s products. Mo’s operates both company-owned and franchise-like agency stores with 94 locations across Australia.

One of the biggest challenges in retailing telecommunications products and services is the mass of information required by retail staff and the high rate of change. At any one time Mo’s has on offer 50 different handsets on 50 different plans, all which come with their own options, bonuses and entitlements. New products and services, new regulations, systems and technologies are introduced constantly.

Managing the flow of information and providing secure and usable access to this information was the key driver in Mo’s decision to implement a workgroup productivity solution and ultimately Google Apps.

“With Google Apps, we are in a great position with a highly functional, low-cost solution that offers us enormous flexibility to adapt almost instantly to change,” says Tim Levy, founder and director. “We’ve achieved massive productivity gains and untethered our workforce from their desks through highly functional mobile delivery.”

What Mo’s Mobiles wanted to do:

●      Improve knowledge resources and collaboration across the company and retail channel.

●      Eliminate expensive desktop-based office software

●      Outsource to the cloud to focus on core competency

●      Maintain maximum business and platform flexibility.

What they did

●      Adopted Google Apps for Business: Gmail, Google Groups, Google Docs

●      Integrated Zoho CRM and Mojo Helpdesk from Google Apps Marketplace to streamline business processes

What they’ve accomplished:

●      Increased productivity

●      Hugely improved their ability to communicate, control information flows, and encourage collaboration among a distributed workforce.

●      Untethered their workforce from their desks through highly functional mobile delivery.

●      Automated key business processes

●      Accomplished IT goals without hiring or training IT staff

●      Integrated third-party, cloud-based applications without IT support

●      Almost eliminated MS Office from all of its’ retail stores.

—Stuart McLean is head of Enterprise ANZ, Google.

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