I’ll never forget back in 2011 when iCloud was first introduced and my friend’s mum started freaking out because her laptop had sent all of her photos to ‘the cloud’. I asked her what she thought was happening and she genuinely thought that an actual cloud, up in the sky, had somehow taken possession of a gazillion pictures of her grandson. It still makes me laugh and utterly baffles me in equal measure. Anyway, you get the picture; just shy of 10 years since Apple first launched their cloud tech, most of us take it for granted that we can store, share and provide data, applications, services and software through the internet at the click of a button, and cloud computing is a massive part of our everyday lives. It’s taken over the world and rightly so; with AI developing at a rapid rate behind closed doors, and at least two generations that appear to survive solely through their phones, the days of desktop tech and paper are surely numbered.
And it’s about time. The term ‘cloud computing’ actually first popped up in a 1997 seminar by Ramnath Chellappa (Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) at Goizueta Business School in Atlanta) where he defined it then as a “computing paradigm where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale rather than technical limits alone.” But the term at large has been on the lips of IT’s MVPs since the mid-nineties. Garnering attention from Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the early noughties, cloud computing’s status as the sudden ‘phenomenon’ that it then seemed is more to do with a general lack of understanding of the huge potential of technology at the time from a lot of business big-hitters; brands were initially hesitant about how to adopt such a different way of thinking to their products and processes.
Now, of course, it’s a completely different story. It’s not about the fact that the cloud hasn’t been around for ages and is instead more to do with the fact that people are realising how easy and scalable the tech is. Plus, even Gen Zs are growing up now and I’m pretty sure they’re born with built-in Bluetooth and actual AirPods for their actual ears, so if you want to employ the sparky young things, you’ve got to keep up, right?
Unsurprisingly, cloud computing is now well on the way to world domination and is still hugely on the rise. The UK is the sixth biggest user of cloud technology in the world with 88% of UK businesses reported to be using cloud services way back in 2018 (remember the good old days…), and 81% of US companies with a minimum of 1,000 employees now have a multi-platform strategy in place; a number that’s predicted to rise to more than 90% by 2024.
Let’s just touch on figures briefly too. Between 2018 and 2021, worldwide spending on public cloud services is anticipated to grow to 73 percent, from £124.5 billion to £215.5 billion. Even back in 2018, 30% of all IT budgets were allocated to cloud computing and any savvy business owner wouldn’t throw so much dough at something on a whim. Cloud computing has become a fundamental and essential requirement for most organisations that want to perform to the best of their abilities, saving both time and money in the process. The bottom line? If you want your business to stand the test of time, you need to make sure all of your systems are online.
The nifty little list below shows how many very common desktop programmes can be replaced by extremely efficient and easy-to-use online versions.
Excel or spreadsheet software can be replaced by: Google Shets, Zoho Sheet
Word or desktop word processor can be replaced by: Google Docs, Zoho Writer, Dropbox Paper
Desktop accounting software can be replaced by: Xero, Quickbooks, Wave, FreeAgent
Physical storage for your receipts can be replaced by: Receipt Bank, Expensify
Old fashioned pen and paper can be replaced by: Evernote, Notion, Google Keep, Notejoy
That big ugly brown filing cabinet you have can be replaced by: Google Drive, Dropbox, Tiny Scanner
If Stationery and Storage were people, there’s no doubt that Filing Cabinet would be their lovable, heroic granddad who once fought in some sort of office-based war for the future of paper organisation. I feel disrespectful even suggesting a replacement for him/it, but here we are; even our most longstanding offline business supports are beginning to be replaced by neater, tidier and less rusty online replacements. Here’s a few of our favourites.
Remember the year 2000? The Millennium New Year’s Eve when loads of optimistic weirdos hung around outside cashpoints at midnight because they genuinely thought they would start spitting out free money; the year that Craig David dominated the charts with his garage version of what was frankly quite an average week; the year that Denise Lewis made the entire country’s Olympic dreams come true in Sydney. Why the big build up I hear you mutter? Well, let’s just pop this bubble of nostalgic elation by remembering work training days and just how bad they were. Nigel, the instructor with the world’s most monotone voice and a full suit made entirely of brown; a wonky projector groaning under the weight of an awful, faded Powerpoint presentation; flicking through endless monochrome photocopies and attempting to take notes while crying actual tears of boredom. Good grief, those were not the days.
Fast-forward to 2020, however and all is forgiven as a huge majority of businesses have embraced cloud-based training software for everything it can bring to the table in terms of time, cost and efficiency. To thrive and survive in today’s massively competitive market, employees need to be more informed, more inspired and very much on top of their game in terms of delivering quality products or services, which is where a cloud-based learning management system (LMS) can become a powerful weapon in your employee training arsenal. Of course, there are a wealth of them to choose from – Trainual, Absorb and High Speed Training being a popular trio – but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and you’ll need to work out what your company needs specifically before signing up, so research is key; eLearning Industry have a great comparison table which makes for a good starting point.
For everyday use: Todoist
It’s nice to think that people still use physical daily planners and diaries (remember Filofaxes and the thrill of shopping at WHSmith for replacement inserts and refills?), but with handy online alternatives like Google Calendar, Toggl and Monday to contend with (not to mention that there never seems to be any pens anywhere – maybe that’s a remote worker thing, but seriously, send pens), their days are numbered. We love Todoist, which is essentially a to-do list on steroids. A constant work-in-progress that’s been being built and improved every day for about 14 years and is now used by over 25 million people, it allows users to organise, plan and collaborate on projects, be them personal or professional, through an extremely user-friendly interface that categorises, tracks, assigns and reminds about everything from putting the bins out every Monday to delegating and measuring productivity.
For swatting up: Pocket
Like a Kindle, but with mega brains, Pocket is essentially a way to save online content to read later on, but it’s far superior to using your bookmark’s browsers because it makes each and every article available offline, so you can read it whether you’re on a swanky transatlantic flight, or hiding from the kids on the loo. A personalised library for reading engaging content, catching up on your favourite blogs and news sources, and watching videos that you discovered but weren’t in the right place to watch, once you’ve installed it on your devices, it also keeps everything in sync for you automatically, so you’ll pick up where you left off every time. Alongside anything you’ve saved there’s a feed where you can fall down a rabbit hole of recommendations and it’s got a social media element thrown in for good measure too, so you can follow friends and see what’s currently floating their intellectual boat; clever stuff.
Believe it or not, there’s even online wizardry that can replace most of your workforce should you wish to be the sole human in your organisation and simply chat to a non-verbal cloud all day by way of your computer. Which sounds great fun. Not. So, why not keep your work buddies, but take the pressure off their more time-consuming tasks by swapping in some cloud-based backup.
That said, hiring and managing people effectually can be laborious and stressful, especially for small businesses whose key players often have their fingers in multiple pies. There’s a lot of good HR software that can lighten the load, especially where repetitive tasks such as payroll, holidays and taxes are concerned.
Try: Zoho People integrates simply with other Zoho products, is very affordable (free for up to five employees and then incrementally scaled from between 66p per employee per month to £3.33 per employee per month dependent upon how shiny you want your package. Key features include a centralised employee database, real-time collaboration, holiday and leave management, performance management, automated workflows and HR analytics.
Optimising your sales process means you have a greater chance of converting leads to sales and therefore making more moolah, which is where sales-dedicated software that tracks and manages your potential sales can come in very handy.
Try: Hugely user-friendly, Freshsales integrates easily with other apps and has a healthy cohort of highly competitive features such as lead scoring, advanced CRM (customer relationship management) customisation, secure IP whitelisting and custom reports making it super easy to carry out everyday sales tasks, as well as highlight which areas of the sales process could do with a little more attention. Far cheaper than some competitor tools, if you’re happy with Freshsales after your free trial, packages start from £12 per month per user for a basic package rising to £65 per month per user for their all-singing-all-dancing offering.
Competition is by nature fierce, especially in business and even more so for small businesses whose initial survival depends on brand awareness, promotion and the generation of leads that will convert into custom, which is exactly where the right software comes in handy.
Try: Hubspot. The undisputed leader in marketing automation, more than 86,000 customers in over 120 countries use Hubspot for its flawless integration of sales, CRM and marketing; a winning formula if you want some assistance with campaign creation and ongoing strategy that converts into happy customers. An all-in-one solution, it’s a little pricier than other competitors with starter packages starting at £42 per month and rising to £6,264 per month (plus a £4,900 one-off onboarding fee) for their ‘enterprise’ package (which frankly better hoover the front room and put the kids to bed too with that kind of price tag), but is known for nifty features like 24/7 support, smart personalisation and targeting, easy-to-use drag-and-drop tools, social media monitoring, SEO and consistently successful email marketing.
Customer service is no longer the stuff of queuing up to battle with Karen behind the counter about the validity of your receipt; customer service is everywhere and it is everything. As with most aspects of today’s online-oriented business world, customer service interactions are increasingly web-based and therefore increasingly transparent and virtual word-of-mouth has the power to make or break your reputation. Research conducted over the past couple of years has concluded that this year – 2020 – is the year that customer service truly becomes king and is ranked as more significant than price or even product when it comes to customers deciding on who gets their business. If it hasn’t been a priority for your business until now, we suggest you make it one – 61 per cent of customers will take their business straight to a competitor in light of one bad experience, so the stakes are higher than ever.
Try: The crème de la crème of customer service management software, Freshdesk’s high customisability (it integrates with over 60 apps) is its trump card. Not only does it offer support in multiple languages and time zones, it automates some of customer service’s more mundane tasks such as live chat, satisfaction surveys, 24/7 phone support, idea management and insights ensuring reliability from your end and a happier customer in the long run. You can sign up for a free but very basic ‘Sprout’ plan, although paid for plans which start from £11 per month per user (rising to ‘Forest’, their most princely plan at £85 per month per user) are where you’re going to gain support that actually saves you time and effort.
Unsurprisingly, in this epic age of progression, search and you will find some form of cloud-based tech to support every aspect of your business and help you and your colleagues run it more effectively. Top tips? Don’t be blindsided by shiny new-fangled features that you won’t use and pick a package that, even if it’s a little less seductive on paper, is cost-effective for your needs. Sign up for free trials and get some hand-on experience across a few different options before you settle on a paid plan. Have a great day; I’m off to apologise to my filing cabinet.