Cloud-based applications are transforming how businesses use technology.
Having spent most of my career in enterprise software of one sort or another, my first experience implementing a cloud-based app nearly eight years ago was truly a moment of truth, causing me to rethink a lot of things. After concluding a multiyear process to select a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution, my team and I took 29 days to implement Salesforce.com, far faster than anyone had expected. This was without any IT involvement.
What I came to learn, though, was that this implementation timeline is more the norm in the Cloud than the exception. The speed and agility of cloud-based applications allow you to cast off the complexities and risk factors typically found in enterprise software—the primary causes of the epic software implementation failures we’ve all experienced.
The results were as astounding as the timeframe it took to implement the solution in the first place. The organization in which I worked delivered customer service. Salesforce.com allowed us to change how we worked, as well as the level of service, and ultimately deliver greater value: both to customers and the broader organization.
The everyday work of the organization became more engaging, because employees spent far more time speaking with customers and solving their problems than doing data entry, as they were previously doing. We were able to streamline processes and eliminate several applications. Not only did efficiency increase, but—more importantly—the results skyrocketed.
Considering the Cloud
As an application delivery platform, the Cloud is changing the nature of how businesses use technology, as well as expectations of the value of enterprise software. Those businesses that embrace it early gain a competitive advantage that forces others to adopt it in order to compete.
If you are considering why your business should deploy an application such as CRM in the Cloud, rather than in software deployed on servers running inside your business’ four walls, here are eight things to consider:
- The Cloud is agile. You can implement applications in the Cloud significantly faster, and with less risk than premise-based software. Just go to Salesforce.com, and in less than a couple of minutes, you can have your own CRM app up and running.
- The Cloud is cost-effective. Premise-based software needs to run on servers in data centers. Because your insurance company says so, you actually need two data centers. The apps running in these data centers need to be monitored 24/7, they need to be upgraded, servers need to be patched and software maintained. Need I go on?
- Users adopt apps from the Cloud. Far and away, Salesforce.com leads all others in the category of usability and user experience because it was modeled after consumer websites like Amazon.com and Yahoo!, and it incorporates social functionality similar to Facebook. The success of this approach has caused a blending of business and consumer experiences, which at times makes it difficult to differentiate between the two. Users tend to be comfortable in the application because they already know how to use it, thanks to Google, Facebook, Amazon and others.
- The consumerization of software. The idea of building enterprise apps in a way that makes people comfortable using them includes enabling users to tailor their experience. That means you can make adjustments to your applications to fit how you work without having to rely on IT for simple changes. Everything—from the metrics you see when you first log in to the records you most recently accessed—is visible. The notion of one-size-fits-all is quickly falling by the wayside. The end result is that users are more engaged and empowered, and can solve problems more quickly.
- Implementing your processes. As a business, how you work is unique—and often the source of your competitive advantage. Enterprise software from traditional vendors typically force-fits highly proscriptive processes and procedures on your business, not because they are best practices, but because they were how the software’s first users did things. Traditional enterprise software is rigid and inflexible, not easily adapted to how you do business. In contrast, applications in the Cloud can be formed to the unique processes of your business, reflecting how your company actually works. Salesforce.com provides highly flexible tools that allow administrators to draw your business processes in the browser.
- Data quality is better. Few things impact the adoption of enterprise apps more than data quality. With cloud-based apps, you can create a data culture in your business where users have access to information they trust, augmented by other enterprise data and data from other sources, such as Data.com, which relies on Dun & Bradstreet. As you draw users into the app, their constant activity facilitates continual data grooming and cleansing, ultimately creating a sole source of truth for customer data in your enterprise.
- Integration is easy. Integration has always been one of the biggest risk factors of technology implementations, until now. The Cloud and emerging web protocols driven by the growth of cloud-based apps are making it easy to connect your enterprise apps. Connecting your accounting system with your CRM app and customer service apps no longer requires hundreds of thousands of dollars, or lots of time. As a result, your employees have unprecedented access to information about your customers.
- The Cloud is highly secure. The reality is that if customers don’t believe their data is secure in the Cloud, they won’t use it. It’s that simple. Service providers like Salesforce.com have the resources to invest in the brightest engineers and the best security technologies. They have the ability to track security attacks and allow organizations to conduct penetration tests, also known as ethical hacking, to identify potential vulnerabilities. To maintain this level of security in your own environment, you need to constantly send people to training, continually purchase the latest technology, and remain organized and vigilant about recognizing threats. That’s a lot of burden for a business of any size.
The Dynamic Enterprise
Cloud-based applications are seeing success in the enterprise because they are easy to implement and can be iteratively enhanced to address ever-changing business needs. Your business isn’t static, particularly when it comes to sales and marketing; there are always new competitors, new challenges to address and new ways of doing business.
Your enterprise needs software that allows you to adapt quickly to competitive threats—and even become the competitive threat. Cloud-based applications have the flexibility and agility you need to gain the competitive advantage in ways that traditional enterprise software simply cannot provide. iBi
Dan Kauppi is president of NEXMachine, based in Peoria. For more information, visit nexmachine.com.