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Is the cloud right for your business?

THIS is a fictional story to bring to life the potential of change the cloud represents. Change can be disruptive and unpredictable. Change is opportunity for some. The story is about a small events catering business start-up (3600 Club) in London describing its inception then later how the business grows, prospers and is then acquired.

The owners of 3600 Club are ambitious and while they know about IT they rely on others to advise them what to specify and buy for the business. There is no money to employ IT staff at this time and this is typical in a start-up business where the focus is on providing basic IT support at a low cost while carefully managing cash flow.

The primary focus for the business is sales and IT must support the people that will win the business that will make or break the company. Anyone that has bootstrapped a business will recognise this situation and know the challenges.

The first priority of a new business is to let its customers know they are open for business so the first thing they do is to establish ways to promote the business and make contact with customers.

As a priority 3600 Club decide they urgently need:

· A web site

· email and mobile email

· A basic accounting package

With no money coming in they are using their start-up funds and they prioritise that money to spend on outbound marketing.

As a small business 3600 Club sales employees work from home and sometimes from a serviced office they do not have dedicated desks and rely heavily upon access to the Internet (fixed and mobile) and use of mobile phones. They visit clients and need to be able to work both offline and online.

The outbound marketing and web site is generating enquiries and to both their surprise and delight enquiries are coming in from all over the country.

That presents a challenge as going to visit these customers will put a strain on the people resources and cash available. They need to qualify the interest of these customers (actually little more than suspects at this time) and to do it in a professional way without the time and cost of travelling to each customer. They need a solution now otherwise the enquiries will go cold.

As a priority and within hours they need:

· A way to present their company, products and service online

The web meetings go well and a number of customers are now confirmed prospects and keeping records of prospects in a spread sheet is problematic. Two follow-ups with customers are missed and notes about contacts with prospects are not available to everyone. This comes to a head when the CEO of a prospect calls and 3600 Club deputy CEO dealing with the sale is on holiday in New Zealand and not easily contactable.

They need:

· A way to record all information about sales, prospects and customers

The business is busy producing product data sheets, price lists, customer proposals, and commercial documents distributed by email so everyone has a copy. Document templates are created and again are distributed by email to everyone. Everyone is busy and documents are frequently revised and version control is a problem with the current method of distributing documents by email.

When the wrong version of a proposal template is used and sent to a prospect the business recognises a problem.

They need:

· A way to share documents that is highly accessible yet secure

Customers like the product service offering and more people in customer organisations are making contact with 3600 Club. Many of the requests for information are similar and while 3600 Club enjoy the opportunity to speak to customers it is time consuming to handle some requests that come from people who are not a decision/budget authority. The web site is too public to use for some information that they prefer to make available only to customers and besides it creates a community feel.

They need:

· A way to create a portal for customers with shared and dedicated partitions

3600 Club expand their product range and customers are now repeat ordering and sales order processing costs are starting to escalate and impact margins. Order volumes are growing and response times that customers are accustomed to are kept but this only possible if staff work overtime. This is great news but the Sales Order Processing (SOP) team is stressed and some staff resign. 3600 Club found it easy to re-hire but training staff is draining productivity of experienced staff.

Customers tell how other suppliers provide online ordering and how convenient they find that.

3600 Club also realise they would benefit by automating some of its SOP processes.

They need:

· A way for customers to browse and purchase online with orders automatically routed to SOP workflow

3600 Club is now an established business with a trading history to compete for larger contracts.

They start contacting large customers to find out about how to become a supplier. These customers are highly organised with supplier portals and stipulate the use of eCommerce that requires suppliers to be able to transact business electronically (paperless trading) for the order to pay cycle.

They need:

· A way to send and receive electronic documents (orders, invoices) preferably integrated to SOP and Invoicing functions

The basic accounting system can no longer cope. A decision is made to upgrade to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system but the cost is frightening and the implementation time will take them into the next fiscal year and they really want to upgrade ahead of that time. Part of the issue is that 3600 Club still has no dedicated IT staff and are reliant upon ERP vendors and consultants and they are expensive people to hire. It can’t wait and they need a solution that they can afford.

The ERP hardware and software costs are going to have a major impact on working capital. It is a worrying time.

They need:

· A way to implement ERP without major capital cost and do it quickly

As 3600 Club win business with large customers sales transactions turn into projects and that requires record keeping for time and expenses as some costs are internal and some are invoiced to the customer. 3600 Club is concerned that no system exists and this is a black hole to lose money in.

They need:

· A way to organise and run projects and keep time keeping records and record allocation of expenses to projects

The business has grown fast and at the current rate of growth will soon have 100 employees.

One employee asked for a copy of their signed Contract of Employment as their copy had been destroyed in a house fire. They found it, eventually, after a long search. They have a range of benefits for employees but not all employees have the same benefits and they need to compile these records but it will be difficult and so keep putting it off. Holiday requests and records are a mess and they are not sure what remaining holiday entitlement some employees have.

The current arrangements for employee reviews are chaotic and some employees do not have recorded performance targets and objectives. They know they have to do better; their employees are an asset to the business.

They need:

· An HR system that is accessible to all employees

Business is good and 3600 Club is recognised as a successful business and attracts the interest of competitors. It is profitable and has attracted some bid interest. Finally a too good to be true offer is made and 3600 Club goes under due diligence by the bidder. Part of the due diligence involves a review of IT and existing IT staff comprising one person carrying the title, Manager IT Resources, who is responsible for managing the relationship with IT vendors.

He is a Microsoft Certified Professional but does very little hands on that is all outsourced.

The bidder remarks that 3600 Club IT assets are small for a business of its size and that the running cost to the business for IT is low. It also remarks how well developed IT is for a business of it size and years of trading. In fact it attributes this to why they are achieving above average margins.

Now the bidder negotiates hard on price but 3600 Club stand firm; they have a good business and the foundations for growth. The bidder is secretly impressed with what they have achieved particularly 3600 Club use of cloud technologies.  They are keen to apply such technologies to transform their own business. It sees wisdom in 3600 Club decision to use the Cloud as this means there is no legacy IT systems and associated costs in the business to absorb creating a liability to them as the acquiring organisation.

The deal is done and later in a celebration two employees begin talking about Cloud technologies and how they can apply what they have learnt at 3600 Club to a new business venture.

And the point of the story is?

While this is a fictitious story every aspect of IT described in this story is available today in the Cloud.

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