GET YOUR CUSTOMERS IN THE ‘CLOUD’ OR GET LEFT IN THE DUST!

Apr 17, 2013


GET YOUR CUSTOMERS IN THE ‘CLOUD’ OR GET LEFT IN THE DUST!

Unless a person has had their head under a rock for the past 6 months, they’re probably hearing and seeing a lot of buzz around something called the “Cloud”. Microsoft, Cisco, EMC and many others have been aggressively marketing cloud computing.  We were even blessed with a Chatter.com ad during this year’s Superbowl.

But exactly what is the cloud and how might it revolutionize the way companies compute.  First, let me state that the cloud is nothing new.  Every time you’ve logged into your bank account, accessed Gmail or downloaded a song from iTunes, you’ve used cloud computing.  What’s revolutionary is that now instead of accessing files or data from other companies’ servers, you can now do that with your own and pay for that as a service versus a capital expense.

One of the biggest hurdles Center owners and our customers face when planning an IT strategy is how to invest limited capital on technology that provides security, reliability, scalability and flexibility without breaking the bank.  We’ve come to view hardware, software and support as a capital expense and need to constantly build and monitor operating metrics around these assets to ensure proper return.  Cloud computing is going to change that.

I like to use the analogy that I’m not interested in building and maintaining my own electric power plant to run my center but certainly need electrical service to our suite.  Once that power is brought to the Center, it’s up to management on how to “customize” that utility to meet their customers’ needs.  The same should be said for personal enterprise computing.  Why are we so eager to build our own “power plant” when it comes to IT when much more affordable, flexible and customizable options exist in the marketplace?  From here out, we should not.  Think of cloud computing in terms of infrastructure as a service, networking as a service and software as a service.  Now for just dollars a day, all of which should be viewed as billable to the client, an office business center can provide the latest technology, software and support for what would cost tens of thousands of dollars in the past.

And here’s the most important piece.  Whether your center provides these types of services or not, very soon, someone will.  According to the Gartner Group’s annual report called the Peak Hype Cycle of Emerging and Transformative Technologies, cloud computing ranked as the number one “hyped” technology for businesses in 2010.  They further conclude that within a relative short period of time (12-24 months as of July, 2010), cloud computing will move from merely being hyped to reaching a state of mainstream adoption and a plateau of productivity.  In other words, OBC’s must be prepared to provide and support cloud computing or get left behind.

Why would a center customer look to an OBC operator to provide this service and not a traditional IT hosting company?  Well, with the exception of the customer him or herself, who but a center operator knows better the inner workings and needs of the customer.  I claim that no one does.  We know our customers’ customers, we know their work habits and patterns, we understand their service requirements and they trust us.  They trust us to be the first face and voice their customers see and hear, they trust us to keep their systems up and running and they trust us to bring quality services that best impact their bottom line.

Not too many years ago, center owners had the foresight to offer a host of technologies to not only grow their business but serve and retain their clients.  Shared services such as phone, voicemail, fax, videoconferencing, document production were all once mainstream products that our customers purchased from us on a daily basis.  I believe that computing services is next and I’m not just talking internet bandwidth and server hosting.

As opposed to trying to “boil the ocean” and list all the various products available via cloud computing let’s just focus on those fully adopted ones that can be an immediate source of revenue and increase client retention.  Hosted Microsoft Exchange, Office 2010/2011, SharePoint, Microsoft CRM, QuickBooks, data backup, storage and security to name a few, are all available “as a service” without spending one dollar as capital expense.  These products and services alone account for the lion’s share of computing requirements of most small businesses and can provide real time cost advantages for our customers immediately.  As our customer grows or contracts, he simply turns up (or down) services on an as needed basis.  Customers are no longer stuck with obsolete software licenses, maintenance plans or long term hosting agreements.  Just hired a new employee?  They’re up and running on desktop applications within minutes.  Nothing to purchase and nothing to install.

And if all that isn’t enough to convince OBC operators to “get on the cloud”, let me propose one more.  With average deal terms of our customers now down to 6 months in many locations, we are always looking for ways to keep them as a virtual client even though we’ve lost their physical business.  The cloud is a very sharp arrow in our quiver of services that can make that 6 month client a lifetime one.

Enough said and see you in the cloud!

By Andrew Stack, President, My Executive Center and Co-Founder, My Sky Suite

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