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This online blog and forum shares first-hand experiences, lessons and learning about the selection, deployment and continuous improvement of Sales Force Automaton software (SFA) systems, Customer Relationship Management software, Social CRM (SCRM) and to a lesser extent Marketing and Lead Management systems.







10 Cloud Computing Bottom Line Business Benefits

10 Ways Cloud CRM Makes Your Business Stronger

By now you have probably been barraged with advertising and marketing claims about the value and benefits of cloud computing—so much so that it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. Cloud computing benefits seem to vary depending upon who's pitching them and of course that person's vested interests. Hardware companies emphasize virtualization and the hardware aspects of the cloud while software companies frame the cloud around software applications.

Here's a simple definition of the cloud designed for business and IT managers: it's a global, on-demand, virtualized computing infrastructure and suite of services that can be procured in a utility or subscription model on an as-needed basis. In many ways cloud computing is like a utility; you pay on a monthly basis based on what you use.

That definition is helpful, but what does it really mean? Is cloud computing simply the newest technology trend or is it also a business evolution that can help you gain an advantage over your competitors? The reality is that it's the latter. If you are aware of the power, flexibility and scale cloud computing can deliver, and you actively take advantage of its benefits, you can manage your business better with the cloud as part of your business toolbox.

Here are 10 cloud computing benefits that can make your business more effective and more efficient.

  1. Reduction of Up Front Costs
    Unlike on-site software applications, the price of deploying Customer Relationship Management, Sales Force Automation and other business software applications in the cloud is far less. Not only are there fewer hardware costs but the on-demand model empowers you to buy only the number of seats you need from month to month. "Because it is less expensive for vendors to create the infrastructure needed to deliver cloud-based CRM software, they are able to keep the cost of their services in check," said Brent Leary, president of CRM Essentials. "And they are able to scale their operations more easily when their customer base grows beyond its current needs."

  2. Universal Access for Remote Staff and Partners
    On-site business software isn't quite in step with the trend toward staff working remotely or from home. In order to help these remote workers gain access business applications, you have to manage dial-in systems, security, VPNs and the other technical requirements of connecting outside of the firewall. However, since cloud computing essentially connects users to their application through an Internet browser, it removes these barriers.

  3. Built-In Business Continuity
    In a catastrophe, every business will have unforeseen problems, but your cloud-based applications won't be one of them. Of course, you need to have a disaster recovery plan in place for restoring your business operations, but the data and applications you access through the cloud don't reside where you do, so local emergencies are unlikely to interrupt your business. Even if the data center where your CRM application runs is damaged, it's likely the data and applications are mirrored to another datacenter elsewhere in the world. All your staff need to do is re-establish an Internet connection (from anywhere in the world) and you can use those applications on-demand.

  4. Always Up-to-Date Software
    Here are two scenarios. Number 1—you hear that a new version of your software is coming out from your software sales rep, then you hear that it's out, then you debate about whether to buy it and whether you have the resources to evaluate and install it, then you hear from the sales rep some more, then you finally give in and battle through the upgrade transition with your IT department, then you go back to your office and realize the clock's running until you repeat this process in a few more months. Number 2—you come into the office and your software's been updated via the cloud. Which sounds more rewarding and less disruptive?

    From a business perspective, the capability to rapidly update software means that your cloud provider can convert user feedback into new features more frequently. There's no need to store up new feature sets and enhancements for an annual release; that functionality can be released whenever it's available. And many software vendors also allow you to okay any changes, making sure you retain control over your business software.

  5. More Options, Less Lock-In
    The cloud has cost savings not just for businesses but for software vendors as well, allowing smaller software manufacturers to compete in the marketplace. These economies of scale, comments Leary, have also allowed a number of new competitors to enter the business software market, such as Nimble, BatchBlue and JitterJam. "These newer companies can add functionality quickly and transform customer feedback into desired tools and services that, along with lower prices, attract smaller companies looking for easy-to-use applications that allow them to see immediate benefits."

    And, said Leary, they also keep the traditional vendors honest, "forcing them to keep up with the more socially-aware services built with Twitter, Facebook and other services in mind." With more options on the table, and without the risk of wasting large capital investments, as is necessary with an on-site solution, cloud users have flexibility to experiment, and to switch suppliers if they desire (as long as they clearly define data guidelines with their software as a service (SaaS) vendors ahead of time).

  6. Empowers IT to Become More Strategic
    Granted, the Cloud may mean fewer IT resources in your organization, but those who remain will have a new and more strategic role in the company. Instead of simply being the mechanics who maintenance, troubleshoot and fix administrative or business applications, IT staff will need to become the in-house experts to whom the people making business decisions will have to partner. Rather than being relegated to a strictly tactical role, IT staff can become strategically oriented and think about ideas like integration, adoption, data sharing between departments and in finding the best combinations of applications. They can help make business decisions of which applications can go to the cloud and which must remain in house, and then they can integrate these two groups of systems together. This strategic role will require IT staff to break out of the traditional limitations of the role and start to become real partners with the rest of the business. Those IT pros who can make the intellectual jump will have a far greater impact to their businesses than the IT pros of previous generations.

  7. Breaks Down Barriers to Entry
    If your organization has competing factions battling for a limited budget, getting the necessary investment in place for an on-site business application deployment can be tough—you're not just buying the business software, but also the hardware, administrative costs and, potentially, additional IT support staff. Add these up and you get a pretty large number, not to mention the ongoing annual maintenance fees that you pay with on-site and the new version upgrade projects that occur about every 12 to 18 months. If these investments mean you lose the internal battle with other lines of business, cloud computing may provide an option that requires far less up-front investment and can overcome the apprehensions of your CFO, thus getting you into the CRM or SFA game earlier than you would have been able to otherwise. That earlier entry into managing your sales teams or customer relationships can make the difference between getting ahead of competitors, or falling behind.

    "The cloud has also accelerated the adoption of more favorable payment options, as many services now offer pay-as-you-go options that don't lock businesses into long term deals that once acted as a barrier in the not too distant past," added Leary.

  8. Faster Implementation and Time-To-Value
    If speed is your need, cloud computing is an invaluable resource. It permits you to go from negotiation to actually working with the business software system in a fraction of the time needed for on-site application. In order to really take advantage of cloud computings faster deployment, though, it's critical that your data is in good shape—free of format inconsistencies, duplicate entries and other frequently experienced glitches that can slow you down. If you are starting from zero, that won't be a problem. However, if you are migrating from another CRM application, you should give your data a quick once-over to make sure you can get to full speed as fast as possible.

  9. Scales as Needed, When Needed
    The Cloud is unmatched in its ability to scale with your business needs, and not just accommodating more users as you grow. On-demand CRM systems also allow you to reduce the size of your deployment should your business need to shrink or, more strategically, to flex with seasonal variations. For example, most retail companies do much of their business during the holiday season. In the past, that meant building out customer-related software infrastructures to accommodate the maximum expected volume for that one time of the year. Once the holiday season passed, much of that infrastructure sat dark until the following year. Similarly, an adventure travel business might see peak business demand during the spring and summer.

    With cloud computing, companies can subscribe to what they need when they need it. In other words, in these seasonal situations, companies do not have to pay for computing resources they don't need—they can instead alter their subscriptions and allow their payments to flex with their usage.

  10. Go Green—Both Environmentally and Economically
    The energy to run on an on-site data center costs a lot; not just to run the hardware but to cool it and pay for the real estate. The Cloud uses data centers, to be sure, and they use more energy than most in-house operations, but because of the economies of scale a cloud data center can achieve, the average amount of energy needed per computational process in the cloud is far less than the average amount in an on-site deployment.

    How much less? A study sponsored by Salesforce.com and WSP Environment and Energy found that cloud computing services produced 95% less carbon on average than a deployment running comparable software in on-site servers. While some dispute the precise numbers, the cloud's greater efficiency is unmistakable, and the less energy you use, the less money you'll be paying.

    There is also the matter of what happens when you have to retire your old servers. In an on-site arrangement, you're the one finding an environmentally correct way to recycle or dispose them. With the cloud, it's your provider's responsibility and they will be recycling fewer of them than on-site customers. That means fewer harmful materials into landfills.

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