There are a multitude of cloud technologies that enable firms to create a completely virtual work environment. This virtual environment operates at lower cost, requires less technology-specific skills to operate and fully supports employees’ flexible work needs.
Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, soft ware and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility over a network–typically the Internet.” In simpler terms, cloud computing enables firms to make use of complex business solutions available through the Internet and serviced by outside providers. Because these firms use solutions available through the Internet, they do not need technology infrastructure and staff .
TYPES OF CLOUD TECHNOLOGY
There are numerous cloud technologies in the market place for both small and large firms. Large firms will typically supplement their existing infrastructure with cloud solutions. Smaller firms can run all operations with cloud technologies. Each firm has different requirements, so a detailed vendor analysis is important in the success of any implementation. Examples of the functions cloud technology can support, as well as some of the providers, are listed below:
Portal, Storage, Calendar & Email: These solutions allow a firm to store vast amounts of corporate information and control access to this information in sophisticated ways, all in the cloud. For example, employee records can be persisted in the cloud with access provided to only those in Human Resources. Essentially, the cloud allows the whole corporate information infrastructure to be made available to an employee’s laptop or PDA with no corporate owned IT infrastructure aside from the laptop and PDA. Hyper Office and Google are two popular providers..
Customer Relationship Management: There are numerous options in the market to track data on customers and support the customer interaction processes. Many of the features are customizable allowing a firm to meet their needs. Net Suite and Sales Force are two popular providers..
Time Reporting: These solutions provide time entry, expense submission, tracking of projects and streamlining of payroll operations. Popular providers include Tenrox, Open Air and Replicon..
Performance Management: These solutions support the employee performance management function, such as employee goals entry, tracking progress towards personal and firm goals, and entry of performance reviews and sign-offs. Some options include Success Factors, Halogen, Clarity Systems and Long-View..
Back Office Operations: Th ere are many outsourcing firms to completely outsource the accounting function, and those are mainly based out of India, yet there are stateside options to manage payroll to include ADP, Alliance and Intuit..
Meetings: Skype and others provide video conferencing and virtual one-on-one meetings. Go To Meeting, Any Meeting and others are used to share computer screens with multiple audience members. Free Conference Calls enables a free line for audio conferencing.
BENEFITS OF USING CLOUD TECHNOLOGY
Empowerment: Ability to have control of systems and make necessary changes as opposed to central information technology (IT) support staff
Cost: Paying monthly or annual fees versus capital and operational expenditures Location: Employees can access data and conduct work with Internet connection Support: Enables sharing of resources from the service provider and ensures reliability, scalability, high performance and security with service level agreements.
Maintenance and Upgrades: The service providers constantly enhance the technology versus having internal IT staff constantly upgrading to meet business needs. Culture: Enabling flexible work schedules and telecommuting can enhance employee morale and loyalty.
Given all the advantages of cloud technology, it’s important to ensure business processes are constantly monitored to determine ways to streamline operations. If cloud technology allows a firm to have a virtual operations team, they must also figure out ways to ensure there is human interaction through social events and conference calls. Staying on the cutting edge and enabling employees to have flexible schedules is a shift in the market, yet human interaction will never be replaceable.