By Andrew Peddie, Managing Director, First Hosted

Once the lynch-pin of every single office, the every day server is now on the verge of being a mere relic, an eBay listing, a forgotten piece of technology. CIOs and IT managers will no longer have a use for it. This is not because there is anything wrong with it, but because technology is becoming more readily available and easier to use.

This is especially the case with cloud-based business applications, data storage, SaaS and PaaS becoming the norm for many businesses.

Storage stories
For so many years now, the office server has been a central part of the workings of any IT set up. Considered the brain or hub of a company’s network, facilitating back-up and storage of its most vital completed work, the failure of this server has proved catastrophic for many businesses. Overloading, power-outs, overheating and downtime all cause dips in productivity, lost business, problems related to the loss of vital data, and the list just goes on.
The traditional office server also takes up space, an expensive commodity these days, with many businesses diversifying and making allowance for flexible and home working to suit busy lifestyles and constricted budgets.

Up, up and away
The emergence of the cloud was initially greeted with some trepidation by businesses, with many fears about security and reliability surfacing. Understandably businesses wanted to ensure its safety and efficacy before entrusting their precious business data, processes and applications to it.

The concept of relying on an outsourced ‘invisible’ platform for everyday storage and business processes such as CRM, ERP and e-mail took a bit of adjusting to, but is now rapidly becoming a dominant business technology choice.
Software as a service (SaaS) innovators such as Safesforce, NetSuite and Oracle have provided cloud-based ERP, CRM, e-commerce, accounting, supply chain management and inventory software to businesses across all manner of sectors, both improving their operational effectiveness through simple to use applications, and reducing their IT support and set up costs. Retail businesses can also now see the benefits of NetSuite point of sale applications fully integrated their back office function, which provide instant visibility of vital business and inventory information across any store.

These applications have played their part in committing the office server to the annuls of history for many businesses, in turn also making the fallibilities of the back-up tape, VPNs, the IT department, patches, upgrades, maintenance, disk space, memory and uninterruptable power supplies a mere distant memory.

The application of efficiency
Increasingly, businesses are incorporating add-on applications to their businesses allowing them to integrate all manner of business functions through the cloud. These functions, which include sales dashboards, point of sale accounting and CRM to name a few, are often accessed by different staff in their relevant departments on varying scales. Cloud computing makes huge sense in these situations, as the required applications can be accessed by the staff via permission based access - passwords — through the cloud on a SaaS basis. This has a double edged efficiency saving for businesses.

Firstly, cloud-based software and services are more cost effective as the company only pays for the levels of actual software usage, as opposed to a company purchasing 30 licenses which are not all used, or used enough to justify the cost. The flexibility to ramp up and down the level of usage required removing and adding users dependent on business requirements maximises the cost effectiveness of the IT systems within any business. In addition to this, accessing cloud based platforms and software completely eradicates the requirement for on-site storage - an office server — and the associated support and maintenance costs. Any faults with the software are solved off-site and downtime is minimial. Equally, data is stored securely and businesses need no longer worry that a technical failure like a server explosion may damage their valuable data.

A good example of a company using cloud-based software to completely transform the way it does business is Reading-based Ecocleen. The eco-cleaning and support service franchise business implemented a cloud-based business management platform which saw it become completely server-less and streamline its operation, enabling it to work more effectively.

The company switched to a cloud-hosted integrated CRM platform which stored all corporate data in one single database, with access to KPI data, integration with back-office accounting and ERP through simple dashboards. The implementation of this SaaS cloud-based platform enabled Ecocleen to automate all customer billing in electronic format, adding to its eco credentials, and roll out a centrally-controlled e-marketing campaign.

The business, which has a number of regional offices, had traditionally operated disparate, regional IT systems which had hindered a uniform, branded marketing and CRM strategy and visibility of customer activity. The self-service portal within the new solution will allow the regional Ecocleen offices to quickly and easily access information relating to their transactions. The company had been using Sage Line 50 and Excel to collect and analyse KPI information, a time-consuming and complex process.

Replacing these systems has allowed the regional offices to access KPI information in real time and benchmark their own performance against each other or their own targets, which works as a motivational tool. This, together with the efficiency-saving impact of the platform is projected to play its part Ecocleen’s growth strategy, with predictions that the platform will assist it in going from 11 regional offices to an anticipated 25 over two years with a 120 per cent increase in revenue.

It is clear from examples such as this that the implementation of a cloud-based solution can help improve the efficiency of a business, providing the opportunity to focus on and expand its core business to meet financial and business targets. This ‘work smarter, not harder’ concept along with the reduced costs, worries and inconveniences associated with cloud-based applications mean that when it comes to eliminating the traditional storage and software hub, the server, or ‘brain’ of an operation, the decision really is a no-brainer.

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