Behind the hype of the ‘cloud’

Ivan’s rant about the hype surrounding the cloud that some of us (guilty as charged :)) might be adding to got me thinking and I wanted to put down why the hype genuinely is justified – IMHO of course. Not for the sake of the technology itself but for the benefits it offers organisations over traditional systems.

I first met Ivan about 10 or 11 years ago when I was trying to get ServCentric off the ground with some colleagues – a company that was going to help software vendors get their applications into the cloud (but it wasn’t called that back then of course). Given my time in the NFP sector it seemed obvious to look at solutions we could offer to NFPs given the obvious benefits of letting someone else run the complex parts of the system.

Sadly for us at the time the world and technology just wasn’t ready. It took companies like Google and Salesforce to really pioneer the business model and the technology and spend a decade making it mature enough for businesses to even consider. I learned a lot during the ServCentric days about what would stop people putting their core applications in someone else’s hands and knew I’d not want to get involved again until those problems were solved.

So I’ve watched as everything matured over the last decade and was extremely reluctant to get involved again – we had a great business that did things in the ‘real world’ – why change without good reason?

And then I started to look at Salesforce and the more I saw, the more I realised this was what we’d been waiting for. It ticked every box and solved every concern. The platform that Salesforce is built upon offers organisations access to incredibly sophisticated technology that offers very real business benefits – not just something for techies to get excited about. Here are a few of them, compare them to your current systems:

  • Absolutely no local equipment to install with no IT team to look after it
  • Reliability that no internal system could realistically compete with (take a look at http://trust.salesforce.com)
  • Consistently provides an instant response – even running reports. No slow times at the end of month / Xmas appeal etc
  • Major updates 3 times a year that you don’t have to worry about managing (beyond having complete control of implementing interface changes) meaning you’re always at the current version and current thinking
  • Based on common web design standards so simple to use – extremely important in a sector where staff turnover is notoriously high. Who keeps using all those complex features in traditional systems when the training is onerous and expensive? It also results a happier workforce using the system meaning higher productivity generally.

And that’s the technology. What about the functionality?

  • Arguably (of course) the world’s best CRM system – offers incredibly powerful relationship management functions out of the box
  • Reporting that is easy to use and extremely powerful – we demo’d the reports at a conference recently and the person seeing the demo nearly cried – she said what you just did in 30 seconds would take 3 months with the existing system
  • Access to over a 1,000 fully integrated applications from the AppExchange (example; there are around 40 or 50 email marketing tools that integrate directly into Salesforce that have to compete with each other on price / service / functionality etc – that beats 1 option with traditional systems)
  • The ability to easily develop new functionality and change the system to suit your requirements. You’re not shoved into a box and you’re not stuck so you have to change system as you grow and change.
  • Multiple unconnected database can be rolled into one place to all your organisation to get a single view of a relationship and allow the organisation to make use of that relationship in ways that weren’t previously possible

I could go on. That’s just Salesforce, other systems will offer different things and in some cases the benefits may be much more marginal.

The one thing missing from Salesforce when we first started working with it was specific fundraising and donor management functionality. We’ve nearly solved that problem and given the massive benefits in the other areas we believe it will offer something very unique to the sector at a cost much lower than traditional software. To be really successful we’ve got to match the best technology with the best functionality and that’s completely our aim. We won’t lock people into contracts they wish they hadn’t got into and we’ll constantly be looking for ways to do things better. We don’t answer to shareholders and we don’t have a hungry sales team we have to keep fed – we can just focus on producing the best solutions and see what the market thinks.

For the cloud more generally and all the hype, certain areas like email just make complete sense to let someone else do it. We signed up to the Office365 beta recently and the full Exchange environment appeared in 3 minutes – that used to take 3 or 4 days or more depending on how much effort you had to put into creating a suitable environment for the hardware and the number of users. Tell me that doesn’t make good sense, especially for NFPs that should be doing better things with their resources!

My very strong (and growing) sense now is we’re at the same point mobile phones were a few years ago when the iPhone came along and changed everything. What people saw as a mobile phone prior to that was no long acceptable. When people see what others are doing on systems like Salesforce (and other web-based platforms of course) quickly and inexpensively their expectations from their existing systems will go up 10 notches. If you’re buying a system now you should keep that in mind, what impact is that going to have on your vendor? I could be wrong of course…but then I could be right as well.

Maybe you should put a note in the diary for three years from now Ivan and if there hasn’t been a major impact on the market from us and others around Salesforce, I’ll send an email to our whole database saying ‘Ivan was right and I’m daft’ and I’ll give $1,000 to the charity of your choice :)

About appiBoss

Founder & CEO of appiChar Aus, founder & chairman of appiChar UK.
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