The benefits of cloud technology

I’m often asked about the benefits of new technology, in particular the industry’s latest buzz word – cloud technology, and it’s easy to highlight many. Convenience, freedom, functionality; technology has changed the way we work, play and consume information, at a rate exceeding unlike anything we’ve ever seen in human history.  But one of the single biggest benefits that is sometimes overlooked is choice.

No longer do we have to do things ‘the way they have always been done’.  Business owners have the freedom to mould technology into a virtual workplace that is a custom fit to the way they like to work.  Gone are the days of one-size-fits all accounting, marketing and reporting.

This freedom of choice really heralds an era of the power being squarely in the court of the consumer.  And with the increasing use of social media by companies there is a more direct channel between the consumer and the vendor given users are a real voice and hence the ability to influence product road maps more directly in areas that suite their style of work.

One that I’m seeing gaining a bit of momentum is the offline movement.  It’s such an important trend.  The world has spent the better part of two decades embracing the web, and now we are seeing users wanting to pull back and try to get closer to the desktop.

That’s not to say that we’re abandoning the internet. Far from it, consumers are simply demanding more choice.  We don’t want is an internet connection dictating what tasks are available to us.  We want to be able to do just as many things offline as we can online, and we want the freedom to choose either.

I can see this emerging consumer trend becoming more main stream as we move into the future, and it’s up to us to keep up with the pace.  Here at MYOB we take our mission to ‘make business life easier’ for Aussie and Kiwi business owners seriously, and we’re making it our goal to offer as much choice as we can.  Take LiveAccounts for example.  It’s a pure online accounting solution, that’s been built to suit those who prefer working predominantly in this space.  We’re also bringing cloud capabilities into our desktop product offerings in 2012, allowing our clients to work either online or offline depending on their situation. The feedback we’ve received so far has been overwhelmingly positive – it’s clear that our customers like this type of flexibility and that it suites their work style

Many other online systems have been adding offline capabilities over the last few years. Google a few years introduced a technology called Google Gears which allows web sites to perform offline actions and then synchronize with the server when the user goes back online. Not only did they integrate the technology into a number of their own tools, but it was also rapidly adopted by a number of high profile companies such as WordPress, to allow users to author blog posts offline (eg. on an airplane), RememberTheMilk to manage your to-do lists, MySpace for message management and various  mind mapping and document authoring tools as well.

Adobe is also heavily in this space with their Adobe AIR technology. which allows developers to build applications that run on the desktop (and other places) using standard web technologies, but with online/offline functionality built into the framework. There is now a whole marketplace of applications around this technology.

The ability to perform online and offline operations within the web browser has become so important it has now been built into the next version of HTML – the computer language that web browsers speak. HTML5 comes with a built-in database and syncing technology so you keep your data offline, work offline, and then sync your changes back to the internet when you choose, or connect. Having this functionality natively built into the browser, rather than with an add-on product like Gears or AIR, will again accelerate the move toward the flexible offline approach.

I think the ability to seamlessly harness the best of the online and offline worlds is just around the corner, and it’s only going to make business life easier for millions of small business owners across Australia and New Zealand.

Personally, I’m looking forward to this shift that will allow consumers to choose when, where and how they want to use their technology.  The one down side is however this is the exact reason why I get ten or email from my boss every time he steps off a plane. (like many people, he uses his flight time to respond to emails.) And this technology is only going to make matters worse!