With time most of any software your organization might need will be available as a cloud service. Today there is already a rich set of mature software as a service (SaaS) areas that should get your serious attention if you plan to acquire a new software solution.
The list of cloud software as a service is long and growing rapidly, not just in length but in the robustness of offerings. In some areas the cloud equivalent of a self installed software package is often richer in features and certainly less maintenance.
So with the cloud software market growing what SaaS areas comprise the very mature and be on your list for evaluation? Here’s a partial list of SaaS areas:
File Backup in the Cloud
Seems like backing up changed files to a safe place on the Internet is a no-brainier, right? Yet it’s not as popular as one might expect. At an individual level most users just don’t think about backups until they have a hard drive crash or a malicious virus. Personal computer cloud backup solutions have been around for some time despite their lack of popularity. There aren’t however cloud-based backup solutions that work well on an enterprise level.
An exception to this is file-level backups of cloud servers. Vendors selling cloud servers protect your information through disk technology called RAIDing. This protects from a disk failure but not if one or files are corrupted or deleted. For this you need file-level backups which some (not all) cloud server vendors offer at an additional cost.
The number of bookkeeping software services grew in 2012. There are now quite a few to choose from including from popular brand names like Intuit. If you have a small to medium sized organization it’s definitely worth looking into. It’s particularly true if you require payroll processing which tends to need regular updates.
Storage and File Sharing
Disk and file storage are very mature cloud services. They’re not However the right service for every organizations’s needs. Please refer to our previous article on cloud storage for additional information on cloud storage types and their applicable uses.
A note on file sharing: With no Internet-wide security authentication and access standard, each storage service vendor has developed their own way of securing access to files. Sharing files usually means emailing a link to a file location or creating a new user account for access. New accounts are usually verified by email. While this is usually “good enough” for sharing your family pictures we suggest your organization put controls around using this technique for sharing customer information or financials like Visa numbers.
Email and Calendaring
These are very mature services (think about services like Google Apps and Microsoft 365). Others are available though these should be in your first list to evaluate. These type of services can also have trouble scaling to the size needed for large organizations (many email accounts). Refer to our article on cloud email and calendaring services for more information.
Years back major financial software applications started coming out as a service. Notable were SAP and Oracle Financials. These two sell applications that were initially targeted at large organizations. Other financial apps (GLs, AP, AR, …) are also available from other software vendors that are designed specifically for smaller organizations.
Document Management (DM) in the cloud comes in a few forms just as DM is a broad range of capabilities and features. DM in the cloud can be as simple (yet well featured) as Google Docs to cloud-based Sharepoint sites to very full (and pricey) DM services. When evaluating your own DM requirements be sure to include security, data protection and access requirements.
The last two years have been great for video conferencing as a service. It the past an organization needed expensive equipment to share video from multiple locations with each other. Now cloud-based services are popping up all over where a PC with a low cost HD camera can connect to others users or location. Often services include the ability to share/view documents at the same time and even record sessions for later sharing or review. This is truly powerful stuff and can empower disparate teams to communicate and share better. If you looked at video conferencing longer than the past two years you may have been put off by the cost. Today prices have dramatically lowered and continue. Also, since services are in the cloud you can start small (2 to 3 locations or users) and grow as needed.
Expense Tracking and Management
New apps are available for tracking and managing your expenses. Managing expenses has always been time consuming and a headache for everyone. Missing expenses means lost business or personal savings. Google around for the different offerings as more are showing up all the time.
Customer Relationship Management (CRMs)
CRMs have been around for for a long time even as as software service. CRM vendors like Salesforce.com were among some of the first to bring the visibility of software as a service to organizations. Now they’re incredibly full featured and powerful services. CRM as a service is available from many vendors and varies in the way they work such that some are better for some business areas vs. others. Salesforce.com is particularly good for Sales groups.
Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERPs)
ERPs use to be (and still are) BIG software applications that require big computers and include one or more functional modules (e.g. Financials, Human Resources, Materials Management, Supply and Distribution – it’s a large list). The big industry leaders in ERPs are SAP, Oracle and Microsoft while there are other smaller and less costly ERP services out there. The big vendors all saw cloud services coming and awhile back and started offering their apps as a service. This helped with the management costs associated with running big software and enabled smaller organizations to access these powerful apps as an incremental service based on their organization’s need. it also allowed them acquire more features and service licenses as they grow.
Okay you say, nothing new here – move on. Most would. However if you haven’t experienced the new breed of cloud server hosting sites that also provide scripts to build an entire WordPress website complete with pretty much any WordPress plug-in and tools then you’re missing out. These are also WordPress templates sellers that can help you build a professional and powerful site in a few hours. This website (skyworks.ca) is an example of this power. No programming was used to create this site and only a subset of its features were turned on. It also includes cloud-based advertising from Google that was incredibly easy to turn on. It runs on a cloud virtual server from Hostgattor and uses a fantastic and cost-effective WordPress template from http://www.kriesi.at/
These come in a few flavours. You can simply get a database for your organization’s use. Database technologies like SQLServer, Oracle, MySQL and others are available. Often your cloud server vendor also sells database as a service as it’s a natural fit with your cloud computing. Prices vary depending on size, technology, availability commitment, performance,… Databases require special management and backup protection so make sure you understand how this is done by your vendor.
Database administration is also sold as a service where qualified database experts (you hope) ensure your database is protected from corruption, upgraded, backed up and regularly tuned.
Pretty much no one builds their own e-commerce website from scratch anymore. Credit card processing, shopping cart services and more are widely available and easy to plug-in to any website (e.g. WordPress site). If your organization needs an online shopping site for your customers, look to cloud-based services first as it can be costly and difficult to build your own.