Thursday, September 22, 2011

Should I Move to “the Cloud” and What Is It?

It’s a question I hear often in my travels, where almost everyone has heard of “the cloud” and many have since become interested.  However, as with all new technology trends, it’s not an easy jump and people want the reassurance that they’re not jumping the gun in doing so.

However, for this article, I just want to focus on defining “the cloud” which I think is where most the confusion starts.  I could make a pun about things being “cloudy” but I won’t sink that low and insult your intelligence.  So, in short, I split “the cloud” into two different categories.  There can be an overlap of these as well, so it can’t get a little gray (see, another possible cloud pun) as companies utilize a mixture of both which is becoming more and more common.
  1. Web-based applications:  There are the completely web-based applications where most would like to go to but is quite honestly unrealistic for most at this time.  This is only because the applications needed by most companies are not truly web based yet.  There are CRM packages like Zoho, Sugar,, hosted MS CRM, etc., even office applications like Google Apps, and QuickBooks Online or Xero for accounting.  However, to utilize everything as a web based application where all of your data is hosted somewhere “up there” is pretty cutting edge, even for those that live on the cutting edge.  The hardware savings are immense here as no servers are needed, only good workstations with a solid internet connection.  There’s of course a cost for the applications, but it all evens out when you consider hardware costs for server and the support team.
  2. Hosted Server Applications:  So, there is the other “cloud” – the one where we outsource our server hosting, our internal IT support, and your backup strategies, many times renting space in a “server farm” in that you have your server based applications hosted elsewhere and you use Citrix or Remote Desktop Services to connect to your virtual desktop.  It’s a nice system actually and when done right can really be smooth to your users.  This is an ideal situation for those that use client/server applications but want to stop having to worry about their own servers or supporting those servers.  Many times the costs of a hosted system are far lower than monthly IT support, server upkeep, and workstations (a hosted environment does not necessarily need a powerful desktop to remote into the environment).  On top of that, what’s the value of just knowing that your server is in a secure location, being backed up by the experts, watched by a solid IT team, and being able to relax and do your job – not the job of an IT professional.

In the near future I’ll focus a bit more on how you’ll know if you’re ready and what some deciding factors are.  However, for now I just want to add a bit more clarity so we’re all a little bit closer to finding the “silver lining” – couldn’t resist, sorry.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Can’t I Just Use Outlook as my CRM?

Not to say that Outlook isn’t a great program, it has hands down become the industry standard for email and the measuring stick that we use when looking at other email software.  However, it’s just not a contact management system which is commonly misunderstood.

When I’m at client sites, I’m quite often asked “why do I need a CRM – we have Outlook which has a calendar and an address book?”  While the argument could be made that Outlook Business Contact Manager became a further attempt at making Outlook a CRM, it was close, but I think of that product as more of a tease to get folks interested in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

So, back to question at hand, what does a CRM give you that Outlook does not?  My take on it is two major items: 
  • The semblance of “who” and 
  • The idea of whether something was completed or not.

The idea of “who” your appointment, call, or activity was with is not always as hard to accomplish in Outlook, but we’re relying on the user to manually input that contact’s information.  What’s lost though is the stream of activities in a historical view where we can grab all that was done with a particular client.  This of course is the main idea behind any function of a CRM system.  Consider trying to find out all that has been accomplished with a prospect, lead, or customer within Outlook?  It just can’t be done without jumping through a number of hoops or giving a call to Jane down the hall as to what she’s done recently with ABC client.  Messages are stored in various email folders, and unless you were copied those emails, the private nature of any email client will keep that information a little too close to the vest.

That being said, we can share calendars in Outlook (if in an Exchange environment) which is one of its most endearing qualities.  This item alone is a driving force behind most companies making the giant leap from Outlook to Outlook Exchange.  However, the idea of whether you have completed all those items on your calendar is not available and thereby missing when it comes to management’s needs for productivity reporting, or more importantly seeing all the activities associated with the contact in question.  It’s real easy for me to see what I have to do next Tuesday on my Outlook calendar, and I can even share that out.  However, on Wednesday only I know which of those items were completed.  This leaves the rest of my team unable to know what I’ve been doing with Lead XYZ or ABC Company.  As I get older, I can tell you I’m not sure I’ll be able to remember which of those items on last month’s calendar were finished, leaving the whole company unaware of what’s been done.

It’s all about the information with any Contact Manager/CRM system.  The who, the what, and the when.  Outlook is great to help us communicate internally and externally in an email driven market, but to get the true picture of all client or prospect activities, a few quick entries in a true CRM is all that’s needed to provide that needed communication within the team.