What are cloud applications and why should you consider them for your business?
Cloud applications are a series of tasks and functions, including software applications like accounting, contact records management, e-mail hosting, storage, voice processing (phone service, voice messaging, call center, call accounting, call recording) and even your basic application suite of spreadsheets, databases and word processing. In the past, you would have needed servers, software licenses, technical staff and hardware to design, use and maintain these applications. Now, thanks to companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and a slew of others, you can securely utilize all of this functionality without the associated capital investment and ongoing staff expenses.
These providers are essentially the platform that your company uses as its information technology infrastructure. You use these services on a license-by-license basis to provide your company with the customizable programs you need for particular tasks. Google provides Google apps, word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, etc. Amazon provides space for you to run specialized applications you may have developed and can then virtualize to their servers. Salesforce.com provides a complete sales force automation platform.
You don’t need to worry about having servers on site or administering them. Furthermore, you don’t have to worry about patches, updates or licensing. Both power and security are monitored on a comprehensive, 24/7 basis.
Over the past few years, telecommunications has evolved from digital circuits to a standard packets-based protocol. In the past, companies used dedicated phone circuits; however, the trend has now moved to “virtual lines” based on this new protocol. These lines, or trunks, are referred to as “SIP” trunks. Now, instead of investing in a system, communications services are provided as hosted applications. Voice messaging, fax and contact management now integrate seamlessly with your e-mail and Microsoft Outlook, as well as your Blackberry, iPhone or Droid.
A hosted contact center provides integration between hosted phone, automatic call distribution, customer database management, call recording and accounting programs. At one point, robust hosted call center applications required considerable capital investment and the dedication of a vast amount of resources. However, they are now available for a minimal user investment of less than $100 per month. There are no significant hardware investments, no processor investments, no server investment and no expenses for patches, maintenance or upgrades.
Telecommuting and geographically dispersed work groups are now a fixture in the corporate landscape. Cloud applications make work groups function much more cohesively and with the same set of collaboration tools. Conference calling, white boarding, shared document collaboration and video conferencing are apps that can be accessed anytime from anywhere.
Bandwidth quality and reliability are crucial to business continuity. Successful cloud applications require bandwidth that is secure and high quality. High-quality bandwidth means that the measure of latency falls to an acceptable level for a particular application. Carriers must provide a guaranteed service level agreement that requires a response time for outages or service degradation. Bandwidth diversification means best practices ensure that Internet access will be provided across multiple providers using different delivery media (cable, DSL, dedicated circuits, fiber or wireless). Errant, backhoe operators shouldn’t be able to shut down your operations!
The cloud provides you with applications that do not require major capital expense and enable productivity. With cloud applications, your IT staff—whether in house or acquired externally—can concentrate their efforts on process improvement instead of maintenance. Most importantly, you are able to leverage enhanced features, functions and infrastructure all while maintaining focus on your primary objective: running your business.