I originally wrote this blog post in 2010 after chairing the CeBIT Enterprise Conference in Sydney. What I believe is interesting is how some trends emerge and stick, and the relative pace of change. At the time there was a lot of change happening in many areas, and in some respects, the technology change has slowed. The application of that technology has accelerated.

I’ve updated this article based on current circumstances, and with relevance to small and medium business owners.

In 2010, the big buzz was cloud computing. It is still the big buzz.

Cloud computing means a lot of different things to a lot of different people depending upon their point of view. For more on Cloud Computing as a free download for Emergination in Action subscribers, please feel access to a Cloud Computing podcast with Dr Michael Harries of Citrix Labs. Read on for an overview and some links to some useful tools…

From my perspective, the thing that I am most interested in is how cloud computing can help organisations and enterprises be much more agile and strip costs out of their IT budgets. Many companies find that 80% of their IT budget is spent before the year starts. The reason for this is that there is such an enormous cost in keeping the lights on. This includes maintaining existing computers and upgrades, upgrading software, significant costs relating to data centres and infrastructure, and license costs for desktop and enterprise software.

Cloud computing offers the promise of a different way of going about it. Some people are very focused on software as a service element, such as how Google docs and Gmail for example, can replace traditional licensing through Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange, others are much more interested in software as a service model. Since this article was originally written, Microsoft copied Google in providing online offerings.

For example, I use a number of software as a service application to run my own business. The beauty of these types of software applications is that I don’t have to worry about backing up data or having to worry about what types of servers that the software needs to reside on. (2021 update: get a cloud backup service for your cloud services).

It also means that I can use applications on demand. Just like mobile phone service, I can scale up and scale down to match my needs on-demand. Contrast this with the traditional way of buying and using software, where you buy a software license and have to retain that license for the life of the product whether you use it or not. With enterprise software, for example, one licencing model is per seat. However, seats purchased can only scale up regardless of how your workforce goes up and down. The capacity for flexibility in software licensing to go up and down the same way is just not there. Cloud computing is a game-changer in that it allows you utility-driven computing power.

The greatest adoption of Cloud Computing is coming at the small to mid-enterprise end, with larger corporates using some software as a service solution such as Sales Force.

So what sorts of tools are essential that say a small business end of the spectrum?

Here are some of the ones I use:

Dropbox provides me with file sharing. It also provides me with an offsite backup of all my documents. I can choose to share documents with clients and those people that I’m working on projects with. I can also view my documents from multiple computers securely, and it provides me with the traditional “shared network drive”. 2021 update: I have subsequently moved most business docs to Google Drive. Cheaper for sharing within a team, although not quite as good as Dropbox for client file sharing.

Business Catalyst: I use Business Catalyst to run my website, for CRM, and for delivery of the e-mail newsletters including this one. It is a full online business system that I can use for the client-facing part of my operations. [2018 Update: I have moved all clients to WordPress as Adobe has announced the end of life for Business Catalyst. A pity: no innovation means the product lost touch]

Sassu is an online accounting package. One of the things I really like about Sassu is that I no longer have to send data files to my accountant or to my bookkeeper and in the meantime try to manage updates of my accounts. Instead, I have free access to my accountant to login and look at my accounts at any time. Again one of the things that are terrific about this approach, is that I can continue to write invoices, update expenses and so on into this system, and everything remains in sync. Another beauty of this approach is that should anything happen to my computer, my accounts are intact. I have been using Saasu since I opened my business and just never could warm to Xero. Marc Lehmann is one of the business people I have met that I would like to emulate more – genuine, positive intent in helping small business owners, and terrific clarity on business direction.

88Miles: Great timesheeting software that links straight into Saasu [2018: I’m using Toggl instead]

Gmail: Google mail has really revolutionised the way that we can access and mail remotely. I use Gmail as a backup service, however many use it as their alternative to Microsoft Exchange. I have my normal e-mail forwarded to my Gmail account. That way if there is an issue with my normal e-mail, I can always access it via Gmail, and the Gmail application on my iPhone is better than the web client of my normal service. I use IMAP to keep my Mac Mail and iPhone mail in sync.

Google docs: Google docs provides a terrific way of collaborating between colleagues. I don’t tend to use it as my day to day word processing, spreadsheet or presentation creation. I tend to want to take a far more visual approach to my documents, so I tend to use Mac iwork tools instead. However, it is terrific over a conference call to collaborate on a document or spreadsheet and see what the other person is typing whilst you are typing away as well.

Skype: I wouldn’t be without Skype and I use Skype as my business landline number. Skype offers Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone calls. It also provides presence awareness that allows me to see when my colleagues, clients, and suppliers are online. It allows me to message them without necessarily calling them and to quickly share files and other information. It also provides a sense of connectedness that can be sometimes missing if you’re operating in remote locations. For around seven dollars per month, I can make unlimited calls to landlines throughout Australia. I can also video conference with other Skype users around the world free.

2021 update: What is Skype? Does anyone use it? Microsoft bought it, then forced the business version down the necks of Office 365 users, which then impacted others. Rubbish. Zoom offers a better experience.

del.icio.us: delicious as a social bookmarking tool. This allows me to collect and share your bookmarks of useful websites that I find whilst trawling the web. Again it means I can access these bookmarks remotely I can also access them regardless of which browser I use, and also access them from different machines. 2021: I don’t use this anymore. 

Media Temple: Media Temple is a hosting service that I used to host a number of blogs. Whilst it tends to pray for those little closer to the technical end, is traffic on-demand service that provides me with a lot of grunts a single annual fee. Should I get the traffic rush, I can scale up to larger server infrastructure without having to make a significant investment, I just start paying a higher monthly fee. [2018 update: I’ve moved to an Australian hosting provider, Ventra IP]

Other 2021 update notes: Many SAAS companies have been working out how to scale and grow their revenue. They work hard at onboarding, particularly in securing a 12-month commitment for a discount. Prices are going up too – which means you now are paying as much if not more than you did 10 years ago. So much for the savings – however, to be fair, there is much greater utility.

There are many other tools I use, however, these are some key ones that may be of interest in the first instance.

So who are the big players in cloud computing? Well, Amazon Web services was the one of most interest to those people at CeBIT in 2010 for those people seeking on-demand services. 10 years on, nothing has changed.

A number of my clients are looking to trial SAAS business software. Unlike days of old where this would have required a software license upfront, server infrastructure to put it on, interfacing with security issues and creating permissions in Active Directory, and a significant cost in deployment, we can now buy a small space on Amazon Cloud Services. We can create an ability to play with technology and to see if users will embrace it. If they do, terrific. We can leave it hosted or migrate it to our own environment when we are ready. If they don’t, no problem. We can just delete it and look for the next innovation.

In summary, Cloud Computing is very much about agility and cutting into the fixed costs that exist in business IT environments.

Relevance to You and Your Business

Everyone needs to get their business to be more agile, more connected and do more with less.

Where to Start?

As always – it depends. However, taking a look at where you have the most pain and most cost in your business t is often a good place to start.