There are a number of cloud services that we consider core for any company. Many of these aim to replace traditional IT services that many companies can relate to. However a lot of additional capability can be offered through truly cloud-enabled services. The ones that we have assessed and determined to be core for your business, are critical business functions such as e-mail, payroll/finance, sales and processing.

CLOUDASSIST

[learn_more caption=”Cloud Communications Systems”]

An overview over the various cloud communication systems can be found here and in video here.  Below you can find the core components of any good communications system in the cloud. Over and above this core functionality any uptime guarantee & additional security behind all these services is a huge value-add.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] e [/dropcap]Mail

Really a no-brainer. Email is today’s memo system. Email is the tool for official company communication with customers, between employees and is the unhailed hero of business communication. In many companies email even substitutes other communication channels such as chat or file sharing. Unfortunately that is often due to companies not understanding the value of other channels and the implications of “abusing” email instead.

There are a multitude of cloud-based email offerings in the market. While many provide VERY basic email functionality with hosting accounts, these are often rooted in old technology and do not offer independence of device or synchronisation across all access channels. More on cloud email here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] c [/dropcap]alendar

In the business world calendars are second only to email when it comes to facilitating communication. That’s because so many decisions are made by committee. However, even in the virtual world of cloud-based business, people need to come together. In order to arrange shared time, calendars are essential.

Like email, it is important for business calendars to be available and accessible from anywhere in the world (in- & offline), allow for notifications so we don’t run late or forget about agreeing to meet and enable others to see when we will be available for meetings. Find more about cloud calendars here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] c [/dropcap]ollaboration

Collaboration refers to creating and editing of word documents, spreadsheets and presentations. For true cloud-based collaboration it is critical to enable real-time editing capability, version management and of course in true cloud fashion allow all of this via only a web browser. While many cloud solutions for this type of working together are limited in functionality, the existing features are usually good enough for most businesses. Where critical functionality is not yet available online, Microsoft does offer a “companion cloud service” for its MS Office product suite.
More collaboration information here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] c [/dropcap]hat

Many companies (especially the ones with older workforces) do not understand the benefit of chat. I have heard countless times that email does that job just fine. Instant messaging does hold a lot of benefits however. When implemented and used correctly the benefits of chat are manifold. The obvious benefits are the instant pop-up nature of the communication and the status indicator present in most (if not all) instant messaging solutions today.

The benefit of the status indicator is subtle but cannot be overestimated. Knowing if the person you are looking for is available or not, at their desk or at home, or cannot be disturbed right now, are quick queues enabling you to action the request for feedback / input or other accordingly. The lower amount of overhead carried with each message is (from a technical perspective) and boon and allows for differentiated archiving and retention strategies for the different types or communication.

More about chat here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] v [/dropcap]oip

Voice over Internet Protocal, or VoIP, is one of the substituting technologies becoming more and more pervasive even in traditional businesses. Today, many company telephone systems run over their internal data networks essentially deploying VoIP across the enterprise. This not only allows for reduction of cost but also better utilisation of the network.

For your small business, VoIP can be a great technology allowing you to cut down on telephone costs (possibly enabling internal calls for free) while you stay reachable from the outside world via traditional means.

This can be achieved via pure VoIP plays (such as Skype or GoogleVoice) and mixed plays via virtual office assistant services etc.
More VoIP info here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] v [/dropcap]ideo

Video conferencing is an essential tool when doing business with partners all over the world. It allows you to bridge the spacial divide and bring people into a shared space. there are a large number of conferencing tools out there. Some combining voice & video, and others even bringing screen sharing and presentation functionality to the table.

Often video calling / conferencing is built into the pure voip software plays. Some services are free (completely such as Google Hangouts or basic functionality in the case of Skype) and others are available for a fee. However, they all essentially allow you to achieve the same thing – bring people together and have a shared experience / discussion.
More info regarding video here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] i [/dropcap]ntranet

This is a feature that is often misunderstood by small business and at times underrated.

An intranet allows you to share pertinent information across your company and enables your people to research, access and utilise your resources (forms, documents, contact details etc) on demand. No more dependency on one or two individuals “who know” and no more frantic calls in the middle of the night because someone cannot find a piece of information.

Typical functionality includes announcements, shared contact information, company calendar, document storage (ie for reference purposes, not usually for work in progress (see collaboration)

A simple yet good example of intranet functionality for small business is Google Sites.

More information relating to company intranets here.

 

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[learn_more caption=”Cloud Content Management (CCM)”]

The benefit of moving your content to the cloud is pretty simple – making your content accessible online, from anywhere, at any time and from any device as long as it has an internet connection. For most companies the main content is documents (word documents, spreadsheets, presentations and the output of graphics or modeling software). While basic documents can be built entirely online, for more complex tasks special (local) software might be required. As such it is critical to not only ensure that those files make it to the cloud, but also that the actions, discussions and decisions based on these documents can be facilitated – online & in a secure way. The various essential building blocks for this type of end-to-end cloud content management are outlined in a few videos, as well as in prose below:

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] D [/dropcap]ocument Management

Cloud?

In traditional companies you typically find files stored on “shared drives”. There everybody creates their folders to organise their files, saves documents and (when required) shouts at the IT department to give somebody access to a folder or document.

The idea behind cloud storage is to move your shared drive to the cloud. As such, the files that are stored and organised there can be made accessible to anyone at a granular level – by yourself, that is without the involvement of the IT department.

[box type=”shadow”] This storage area can also be used as a “backup strategy” in addition to your existing file storage solutions.[/box]

Mobile

One of the main benefits of managing your documents in the cloud is the fact that they are accessible from any internet connected device. As such, you are able to access, share and manage your documents independent of any particular device or location. Most cloud content management services offer either specially adapted mobile websites, or apps that can be installed on your smartphone or tablet.

More information regarding document management and file storage here.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] S [/dropcap]ync

Synchronisation is a huge value-add for business, as it takes the hassle out of saving files in more than one place. Synchronisation allows you to keep the files locally on your computer and synchronise any changes with the cloud. On your cloud-enabled share drive, all changes are consolidated and if other people change- or add new documents, during the next synchronisation, these changes are pushed down to your computer. As a result you have the latest documents always available on your device and have all your documents “backed up” in the cloud as well.

There are a number of consumer products out there which offer this type of synchronisation for free. While these can be used for business use as well, it is critical to assess the all the points mentioned here in combination to ensure the solution meets your overall needs.

More on Sync here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] B [/dropcap]ackUp

“There are only two kinds of people in the world. The ones who have lost data due to not having a backup, and the ones who will.” – anonymous

As common sense goes, any file storage can be used for backup purposes. However, that sometimes requires manually saving data in more than one spot. That practise is prone to us humans forgetting that second step because we are in a rush or simply not getting to it due to other urgent matters which require our attention.

Good backup services work in the background. Backup is an important (yet never urgent) activity, which we only regret when we have lost critical information because doing the backup has never been urgent enough.

Good backup services are intuitive (ie mirror our data structure).

Good backup services make it easy to restore.

More on BackUp here

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] S [/dropcap]ecure Sharing

Businesses share files. Business creates intellectual property. This IP needs to be protected while at the same time allowing identified individuals to access and work with it. This can be achieved through nuanced, fine-grained sharing. Some consumer products offer free synchronisation and file sharing capabilities. But some do only allow rather simple (almost crude) sharing which will not meet every business’ needs. There are service offerings out there which focus on enterprise requirements and allow for the detailed sharing of documents and/or folders which will likely meet your business needs.

 

Project Collaboration

A typical example of limited sharing often required within businesses is the need to collaborate on projects.

Projects require the project team to have access to all documents relating to the work going on under the project umbrella and allow the project sponsor and -customer access to the finalised deliverables & documentation.

Thus there is already a need for differentiated sharing (project team vs sponsor & customer). In order to facilitate this and ensure that only ONE copy of any document exists, it is critical to allow the sharing of the project’s root folder (or virtual data room) with the whole team while only sharing selective documents with the project sponsor and customer(s).

 

Virtual Data Room

[box type=”info”]A virtual data room (sometimes called a VDR) is an online repository of information that is used for the storing and distribution of documents. In many cases, a virtual data room is used to facilitate the due diligence process during an M&A transaction, loan syndication, or private equity and venture capital transactions. This due diligence process has traditionally used a physical data room to accomplish the disclosure of documents. For reasons of cost, efficiency and security, virtual data rooms have widely replaced the more traditional physical data room. (source: Wikipedia) [/box]

More on File Sharing here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] C [/dropcap]ollaborating

In addition to storing (backing up) and sharing files, a great value-add is the ability to collaborate on- and based on these documents. Often documents are create for a particular purpose and require review, or action based on them. The ability to create tasks linked to documents, (p)review and comment / discuss the documents – all without leaving the browser – is a truly cloud-enabled benefit.

More about collaboration.

 

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[learn_more caption=”Cloud Finance Systems”]

Accounting is one of the functions which relies heavily on systems, rules and regulations. Most of them can be written into software and then applied by your accountant where applicable. The major financial functions in your business are likely to do with invoices & payments ((outstanding) money in / out), finance system (showing your financial situation – income statement, balance sheet et al) and the claiming of expenses incurred in the process of doing business.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] O [/dropcap]nline Payments

Running a business online does often require you to facilitate payment online. Acquiring services and products online also requires that you make online payments. In order to make fast and secure online payments as well as enable you to receive online payments, online payment gateways such as GoogleCheckOut or PayPal can be utilised.

Online Payment Gateways

Paypal allows you to create an account and link your credit card and/or bank account. Paypal then allows you to use your Paypal credentials to authenticate online payments for services of others without giving out your credit card information.

This increases the security of the transaction and also allows you to use different cards for purchases (provided you linked them to your Paypal account), with the same credentials.

Paypal also facilitates getting paid via its system. In essence it allows you to set up your account and receive payments from others via its own service or their credit card. There is a fee that the company takes for facilitating the payment transaction for you. But the fees are general low.

[box style=”shadow”]Note that in South Africa, only FNB has a relationship with Paypal. Due to the stringent exchange control mechanisms of the south african reserve bank, Paypal had to partner with a financial institution to create a digital paper trail of money coming in and going out of the country. As such, you need to set up an online profile with FNB and link your Paypal account in order to withdraw the money received via Paypal. You can withdraw it into your existing bank account (which you can link to your online FNB profile for these purposes.This can be any South African bank account (even non-FNB).[/box]

More on Online Payments here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] G [/dropcap]eneral Ledger

GL (short for general ledger) is typically the main accounting system in any company; capturing the financial information relating to all aspects of the business – from salaries to depretiation, including operational expenditure and more. There are many accounting packages available, a number even tailored to small businesses. However, cloud-based accounting systems are rare. Softline has created a cloud-based version of its accounting package, namely Pastel My Business Online, in Cooperation with Standard Bank of South Africa – targeting small local companies. A world-wide leader in online accounting software is Zoho with its Zoho Books package. It provides a one-stop shop for all things accounting in your company.

More on accounting systems here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]nvoicing

Electronic invoicing has made life already a whole lot easier than making out manual invoices or even writing receipts on paper. The number of invoicing services available online is high. However, while most claim to track payments and integrate with online payment gateways such as PayPal, there are only a few that are truly integrated with the accouting systems and the benefit this integration does provide is quite significant.

More about Invoicing here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] E [/dropcap]xpense Claims

We all incur expenses in the process of doing business. Claiming these back, and especially collating the paper receipts, can be a hassle. Filling in paper forms and attaching these paper receipts is not only annoying but does feel so “80s”. Luckily there are services out there who offer to take the hassle out of expense claiming, and they even do so in the cloud. Cutting out paper with the help of smartphones and digital cameras, and enabling the creating, assessment and approval/rejection of expense claims including mileage is the focus of these cloud services.

More about expenses here.

 

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[learn_more caption=”Cloud CRM”]

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] C [/dropcap] ustomer Relationship Management in the Cloud

Is one of those important yet not urgent tasks which can add immense benefit to your business and your customers. Not only allows cloud CRM you to track leads, proposals, opportunities and projects but it also allows you to link related items together, so everything is just one click away.

Having an online central, shared contact list i.e. one address book for everyone within your business enables you to view a full history of customer interaction (including emails, phone calls, and meetings) only a click away.

Having this system integrated with your emails and documents will further allow you to make the best use of the knowledge in your company about each and every customer. This is especially critical when you have customers who frequent different points of presence in your branch network. It will ensure that your service is as smooth and quick as ever and gives you one view of your customer across your business.

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[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Paper Free Office Services”]

An office free of paper is the general aim. Going cloud, should allow you to cut out the need for a fax and a printer. In order to do so there are a number of functions that need to be dealt with. Most of the time, the only time a document is being printed in the case where it requires a signature (ie contractual agreements), faxes,  or forms that have not been enabled for electronic processing.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] C [/dropcap]ontract Management

Contract management can be simple (when there are two parties involved) & complex (often just more than two parties involved). The more parties are involved in setting up a contract the more complicated it becomes. While the hassle of negotiating contracts cannot really be simplified through the use of technology, where the cloud can ad huge value is in the painful process of facilitating the signing of the in-principle-agreed-to-contract. With multiple parties, often there are long distances involved. The question is, how to most effectively circulate the documents for signature without requiring all parties to sign a contract over and over again (ie circulating one copy to each party once, then sending it on to the next etc). In the cloud this problem does not exist. Signing an electronic version of your agreed contract can be easy, circulating it can be as simple as sending an email. This saves critical time and money and allows you to carry on with doing business.

Since electronic signatures are considered legally binding in many parts of the world, electronically signing a contract enables you to eliminate the printing of reams and reams of paper for each of these contracts and instead read, initial and sign it right here in your browser, on your smartphone or tablet.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] F [/dropcap]orm filling

Today, many forms still exist that are prepared for human consumption in the offline world. There are probably countless times that you have come across these kinds of forms. Some are editable in a word processor. Many are not. Usually designed and saved in portable document format (.pdf), these forms up to now require you to print them out, fill them in and scan them back to return them via email. What a schlepp.

There are services in the cloud that eliminate the printing and scanning part. In some instances they even take care of the emailing for you. You still have to fill in your information though.

We are not talking about properly designed forms for electronic consumption that have been purpose built for the internet era. Those already eliminate the printing and scanning part (especially if you combine it with your digital signature).

More on digital forms here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] F [/dropcap]axes

Sending and receiving faxes electronically is something that can quickly eliminate a large amount of paper that might otherwise accumulate. While fax-to-email is a relatively common occurrence today, the ability to send email-to-fax is not as commonly used. However, email to fax capability can bring real benefit to your business. It will allow you and your employees to do away with fax machines and sending a fax just becomes another email in your outbox. No more printing, just to fax and file. Email to fax even includes

More on Faxes here.

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[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Technical Cloud Services / Support”]

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] D [/dropcap]omain Management

The space of what we term here “Domain Management” is one of these behind the scenes “IT things” that only web masters know about. The thing is though that it is a crucial element of any services you want to use on the web under your own name (i.e. yourcompany.com). This is the kind of thing that can make your website and/or services unreachable for the outside world. It is hence quite important to be managed carefully and you don’t want to unnecessarily mess with the configuration of the DNS.

More about domain management here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] H [/dropcap]osting

Web Hosting (usually associated with your address www.yourcompany.com) is really the service of providing a web server that allow you to store information on it, in order to present (read: serve up) your website to the world. The offerings distinguish between the amount of space you get allocated on the web server & the amount of traffic that is included on a monthly basis.

 More on hosting here.

 

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] C [/dropcap]ontent Management

Content Management can mean different things in different contexts. For business’ need to organise its IP in the cloud we refer to Cloud Content Management (CCM). For the need to manage the business website and it’s conten, we refer to making use of a Content Management System (cms). WordPress and others are examples of powerful CMSs which take the technical aspects of hosting a website and making it available to world and hide them behind an interface that non-technical people can use to publish content to the web.

More on website content management here.

 

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CLOUDASSIST+

Additionally there are other services which might not be core and could be fulfilled via many different ways. There are a number of those services that we consider to be easily and value-addingly be processed in the cloud. These are incorporated into our complementary services basked – CLOUDASSIST+.

[learn_more caption=”CloudAssist+”]

  • meeting agendas & -minutes
  • virtual office | answering service
  • workflow
  • itinerary | travel management
  • reporting & analytics services
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[/learn_more]