10 cloud applications every company should be using
[date-stamp]There are many high-quality cloud applications out there, and many companies can benefit from them. Many companies still use tailor-made systems without knowing that what they want already exists out in the cloud. Here is an overview of 10 cloud applications every company should be using. Just as important as which applications to use is how well the cloud applications talk to each other. Many cloud applications have their own app marketplaces where you can find integrations with other tools. Want your support system to talk to the CRM system? No problem, many applications have this functionality. You just have to make sure you choose the right applications.
1. Support - Zendesk
Zendesk is a customer service system, designed to enhance communication with users. There is a good chance that your company has a support email address, but how do you handle that email account? Do you have a Twitter account and a Facebook page? A support phone number? I bet your customers contact you through all these channels. Zendesk offers one place to handle all communication with your customers, supporting any of the most widely used communication channels. By using Zendesk, you can make sure you answer all requests quickly and avoid any messages from customers falling through the cracks. You also get traceability - what if a new customer request is a follow-up from an earlier request? Without a support system, you have to rely on your memory to find such connections - why not let Zendesk be your memory, so you can concentrate on other things?
Zendesk has a modern and easy-to-use interface and a great app for your smartphone as well. So if you're in an airport or on the train, you have access to your support system and can see what's going on. It has built-in reporting as well, allowing you to see overviews in order to easily check the status of support requests.
2. Social Media - HootSuite
What Zendesk is for reacting to incoming customer messages, HootSuite is for proactive and marketing communication with your customer base as well as a wider audience. With HootSuite, you can schedule when things are going to be posted on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and all the other social media channels. So there's no need to sit in front of Twitter all the time and post things at certain times; you can schedule all your social media posts for the coming week (or even longer) on a Monday, and then you are done for that week. So HootSuite lowers the threshold to maintain an active presence on social media.
HootSuite also allows you to check Tumblr, Twitter and all the other social media from one place. So there's no need to log on to countless web sites to see if there's anything new going on, you can see all that through feeds in HootSuite. That alone makes it worth it for me, especially when the price is only USD 8.99/month.
3. CRM - SugarCRM Online
A CRM system is crucial for keeping track of customers, leads and potential sources of revenue. SugarCRM is actually an open source application and is the product of 30,000 dedicated developers. There is both a free and commercial version. The commercial version comes with additional features and capabilities, but not everyone needs support for IBM Lotus Notes and a customer self-service portal. So here, it is possible to get started without any cost at all.
SugarCRM is a full-featured CRM system that is fully on par with and supersedes some of its commercial competitors. Newsletter management, multicurrency support, reporting and forecasting are all there, plus more. The open nature of SugarCRM ensures that there are tons of plugins and extensions available. Integrating SugarCRM with Zendesk for instance is very easy, coupling together the two main applications for customer management and communication.
4. File Storage - Dropbox
Dropbox is a popular file-storage service, and their consumer-oriented service is much better known than their business product. Dropbox for Business is everything their consumer-oriented product is and more. Using Dropbox within a company can eliminate those heavy email attachments, just put the file in Dropbox and paste a link in the email you're sending instead of attaching the file to the email.
While Dropbox for consumers is free, Dropbox for Business is something you have to pay for (USD 15/month per user). But then you also get dedicated support, versioning, encrypted storage and integration with Active Directory (an authentication service from Microsoft) plus an unlimited amount of space. Remote wiping of data on a stolen computer is also supported. Setting access restrictions on files and folders is also possible, ensuring that sensitive information stays protected.
Granted, there are many file storage services out there, like Box.com, SkyDrive/OneDrive, Google Drive, ++. However, be sure to choose one that integrates with you other business tools.
5. Company-internal Communication - Atlassian Confluence
Atlassian Confluence is a company-internal wiki, where ideas, architecture drafts and strategies can be presented and discussed by your team. It enhances collaboration between you and your colleagues, and limits the endless stream of internal emails. Who has the latest version of the new company strategy? With Confluence, you avoid such questions; the same version of a plan is readily available for everyone. It has built-in access control as well, so you can control who sees what.
The power of Confluence can only be felt after using it for a while; it quickly becomes the main place to introduce ideas and thoughts, and encourages employees to chip in with their thoughts. The built-in version control allows you to go back to an earlier version of a document if necessary, so there's little chance of data loss. It is fairly inexpensive as well, only USD 10/month for 10 users for the SaaS version (they have a downloadable version as well.)
6. Email - Exchange Online
Exchange Online is part of Microsoft's Office365 product suite, and provides the functionality of a full-featured Exchange installation for a very affordable price (from USD 4/user per month). Microsoft Exchange has been the backbone of email communication in companies worldwide for years and has been growing at the expense of IBM Lotus Notes and other, older systems. It now has a very good web interface and a functionality stack that competes very well with its main competitor, Gmail. For businesses, the SLA which guarantees 99.9% uptime (and which is financially backed, offering compensation if the uptime is lower) is important.
Each Exchange Online mailbox can be up to 50GB without any extra fee, which is great for those of us that have tons of emails. All major email apps on smartphones and tablets support Exchange Online, and the Exchange calendar is widely supported as well. Single sign-on is in place as well.
7. Password Management - PassPack
When you have many accounts and many passwords to remember, there are several strategies to manage this. You could use the same password everywhere, but that is really not recommended. The alternative is having countless passwords, and the best way to manage these is through a password manager. PassPack has a free subscription that supports up to 100 passwords, so there's really no excuse not to use it. In a corporate setting, it is easy to share passwords between employees as well in a secure manner.
Logging on to PassPack itself is pretty safe; they use a two-phase authentication mechanism. When using PassPack, you only have one password to remember.
8. Task tracking - Atlassian Jira
Atlassian Jira is an issue-tracking system for teams, allowing easy and effective overview and organization of product development. In any company, there are tasks that must be completed, and these tasks can be added to Jira: see them in connection with other tasks, connect Zendesk to Jira and get bugs reported by your customers in there as well. Used in the right way, Jira becomes the central what-to-do and project-tracking place. Forget to-do-lists and manual planning of what needs to be done - with Jira you can define all tasks that need to be done, judge their importance for your business and finish the critical ones first. Seeing all tasks defined like that can act as an eye-opener and ensure a strong focus on doing the tasks that really matter most to your business.
Atlassian Jira is widely used in software development but also in banks and law firms (companies as different as NASA and LinkedIn use Jira). Jira comes with a very good app marketplace, just like Atlassian Confluence.
9. Notebook - Evernote
Ditch your notebook, if you still use one, and convert to the world of Evernote. Evernote allows you to easily write down and organize thoughts and ideas that come up during the course of a day - be it a great website you need to read later or the solution to a problem you've been thinking about for a couple of days.
Best of all, it is available on your smartphone, tablet and laptop. Data is synced between your devices, so what you add to Evernote is never far away. They recently increased the speed of the syncing with 4x, so it’s now really fast! Reminders can be scheduled as well, which is useful if you have to make sure you read a note before an important meeting.
10. Project Management - ProjectPlace
ProjectPlace has been around since 1998 and has been the pioneer for modern project management tools. When you have a project to manage, be it internal or for a customer, ProjectPlace keeps track of what's going on and makes sure everyone is on board. Daily tasks can be organized on Kanban boards (which shows what state a task is in, normally ToDo, In Progress or Done), and project documents can all be stored in one place. Online video meetings can be held with the click of a button, no need for any expensive software to do that anymore.
ProjectPlace also emphasizes social contact between team members, which is important for geographically dispersed teams. Apps for smartphones and tablets are available, enabling team members that are out of the office to stay on track with what's happening and work on their project. Manage resources and set priorities on tasks to make sure the project stays on track for completion on time.
There's a wealth of cloud applications - some are good and some are bad. But even a good cloud application may not be the best one for your business if it does not talk with the rest of the applications you're using. Choosing a set of tools that both support your business and talk to each other is crucial for gaining that competitive edge and for growing your company. The tools mentioned here speak to each other and have extensions for other applications as well. Make sure you do not end up with a set of isolated data silos, and tap into the wealth of extensions and plugins that are available for most cloud applications.