Mobile Office: Looking Skyward
By Larry Walton
If you are cloudy on the subject of the Cloud, you are not alone.
Cloud computing refers to services and applications remotely available through the internet, some of which are very useful to contractors and landscapers.
Initial business offerings of the cloud concept were to provide computing power without incurring the capital investment of large and powerful computers.
In addition to this processing power, massive data storage plus the ability to access the data soon became available to anyone with access to the internet.
Cloud services have continued to grow. These services come in five basic forms.
First are hardware-based services that give scientists and mathematicians more computing power through access to powerful processors or clusters of computers for complex calculations, encryptions and algorithms.
Second are software-based services that provide access to expensive software programs that do not reside on your local computer.
These services can be very attractive to small businesses that have occasional need for powerful photo processing, slide presentation or web design software but no budget for the purchase of the software.
Google Docs, a free online service, is a good way to get a feel for using this type of software service. You can use Google Docs to compose word documents, build spreadsheets and compile slide presentations.
More robust solutions for business include cloud-based hosting for Microsoft Dynamics ERP that “can serve your organization in a wide spectrum of roles. You can task them with providing hardware and software that is accessed and controlled by your in-house IT department.
Or you can engage a partner as an outsourced IT department that runs, maintains, and develops your systems for you,” according to microsoft.com
When you have a big load of large files and folders to send to a client or co-worker, the third cloud service type can be quite useful.
File transfer services like Hightail (formerly Yousendit) and Filemail provide temporary ftp storage and easy interface for sending these large electronic packages that cannot be sent through normal email channels.
Our company uses Hightail almost every day. The service includes an efficient program on your desktop or laptop.
Right clicking on a file or folder brings up a dropdown menu option for sending via Yousendit.
Simply begin typing in a client’s email address, which auto fills if you’ve sent a file to them previously, and click send.
Your customer gets an email from you with a download button. Simple and efficient.
FILES AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
The fourth cloud service is file sharing, which provides permanent storage space and useful interface for storing and retrieving information by multiple users from anywhere they can get online. Multiple providers are available such as Media Fire, Mega and Google Drive.
Many of these companies offer free file sharing up to a few gigabytes of information, which is a good way to test out their services.
File sharing has been an important cloud service for our company.
We have found that pdf files in Dropbox works particularly well on the iPhones our guys have in the field.
The Dropbox app is easy to use and reliable. The guys can pull up any plan instantly and they can zoom in on details and easily move the image around on the screen to get the dimensions or details they need.
They can either refer to the detail on the phone with a supervisor who is looking at the same document, or they can screen shot the zoomed in version and text or email it to whoever needs to see it so there is no mistake that they are referring to the same detail.
There are several considerations to choosing a file sharing service. You can find several rankings of these services with a quick Google search, but keep in mind the priorities of the reviewers may be different than yours.
Because most of our people in the field are not IT types, interface is one of the most important considerations.
Is it intuitive? Is it easy to access without going through multiple steps or through a laborious login process? Will the guys actually use it?
Next is the question of device compatibility. Make sure any service you adopt actually works on the devices you have. I mentioned iPhones, because most of our company phones are Apple.
Therefore, good applications for the iPhone operating system is a must for any service our company uses. The more different types of devices you have in the field and in the office will require a more versatile service and several exist that can operate across format types.
Price per gigabyte is another consideration. If your shared files are large and numerous, storage space will be an important consideration.
Keeping share files current by deleting finished projects from the file sharing service can help keep costs down and make navigating easier for your people in the field.
Pay attention to file size limitations when choosing a service. Other service characteristics will be for naught if you can’t upload and share the files because of limitations in the service capabilities.
Permission levels can also be important to your company.
Robust solutions such as Egnyte are designed to work in conjunction with your IT services and can be setup with “granular permissions at every folder level.”
Authentication integration can empower IT to manage and monitor all activities used by employees.
The fifth common cloud computing service is data backup.
Carbonite is one of the best backup resources for small businesses. According to Carbonite, “Your files are backed up automatically and continually in the background, so your backup stays up-to-date and your employees can stay focused on their jobs.”
While these services may provide an excellent resource for your company, things can go wrong. Carbonite warns that hackers and viruses can damage data.
Stable mobile access to high speed internet has made cloud computing an important tool for companies with people on the move.
Taking a little time to get your head in the clouds can cut production costs, save time and improve quality.