Cloud computing is the new buzzword in the tech world. From fledgling businesses to large enterprises, it seems more and more companies are getting on board with cloud-based services – in particular for storage and project management services.
Design, creative, marketing and web agencies can reap significant benefit from cloud-based technology. Running the majority of your IT through the cloud means your agency can rapidly scale without your IT infrastructure falling down around you. There's no need for in-house IT services, even for larger agencies, and cloud-based services enable your agency to plan for disaster recovery and continue daily tasks from anywhere, at any time, on any device.
In this article, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing, and the different cloud-based project management applications available to agencies. It's vital that, before you embrace the cloud, you learn to understand it.
What is the Cloud?
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Simply put, the Cloud is a term used to describe software, storage or systems that are shared via the Internet. You can store everything from files, software, applications in the Cloud, and that data can be accessed anywhere, any time, from any device.
You probably already use Cloud technology for some of your everyday tasks. For example, Internet banking is a cloud-based service that has revolutionised banking. Where you once had to travel to a branch to do your banking, you can now do it anywhere, from any device, as long as you're connected to the Internet.
Cloud computing and Cloud technology can offer significant benefits to your agency. We'll talk more about the specifics below.
Advantages of the Cloud
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The Cloud provides easy access to files – no matter where or when you are: Managing documents in the cloud means that every member of your team can access it when they need it. If you're travelling, or work from home, or you wish to share details with a client or other team member in a different location, you can login to your cloud-based service and make changes.
Cloud systems can be accessed anywhere, at any time, from any device: They can be edited and shared with others all from within the system. This means you can check client proofs while on the plane to Bali and do your accounts at your favourite coffee shop. Here are some of the advantages of operating your agency "in the cloud":
Cloud systems are quick to set up: With a cloud system, there's no complicated implementation process. As soon as you sign up, you can login and you're ready to go.
Cloud services make collaboration easier: building great client relationships should be at the forefront of any agency services – cloud technology makes this even easier by allowing the client and all members of their creative team to collaborate without having to pick up the phone or call a structured meeting.
The Cloud is more eco-friendly: With less paper being shuffled back and forth, the cloud can not only cut costs for printing, mailing and other admin tasks, but it also makes your office more environmentally aware.
Cloud tools encourage innovation: Cloud-based tools democratize the process of innovation, giving all staff to opportunity to contribute ideas and think creatively about problems and briefs.
Cloud technology improves workflow: If you can decrease the amount of time your team needs to spend on administration tasks – printing and filing, liaising with clients, time tracking and other project management tasks – then you free up more of their time for doing what they do best – creating.
Cloud technology can be more cost-effective: Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a range of licenses for your office, then adding on a few more zeros for implementation, training and support, then adding on even more money when you need to upgrade the product in a few years, a cloud-based system allows you to pay-as-you-go. You only pay for what you need.
Cloud-based systems can also save your agency money in other areas, too. With the ability to collaborate online, you won't need to attend so many meetings, cutting down on transportation and sunk-time costs. Many agencies are even finding that with cloud-based systems enabling employees to work from home, they don't need to pay to lease a large office space.
Cloud technology offers the best disaster recovery: We're all heard nightmare stories from colleagues in Christchurch following the earthquakes – many businesses weren't able to get to their offices to access their files for several months – in that time, they couldn't send invoices, manage projects, nothing. That's enough to force many agency owners to close their doors permanently.
With cloud-based solutions, data can be recalled from external servers and can be accessed on a computer based outside the office, leaving you with more options should the unthinkable happen.
Disadvantages of the Cloud
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No discussion of cloud-based applications could be considered well rounded if it did not also explore the disadvantages and potential limitations of cloud-based services.
Some people don't like the monthly subscription payment: Cloud services are usually designed around a "monthly subscription" model, where you pay a certain price to use the services from month to month. For larger businesses with big requirements, cloud services can often be significantly more expensive over the long run than traditional on-premises options.
Dependent on Internet Connection: This is particularly important in New Zealand, where Internet connections – especially in rural and outlying areas – can be erratic. If your Internet goes down, so does your business. Shopping around for the best ISP can usually solve this issue.
Technical Issues: Unlike a steel filing cabinet, which rarely has technical issues beyond the lock getting sticky, even the best cloud systems will experience technical issues, down time and server problems. And, as we all know, Sod's Law dictates that serious technical issues will only occur when there is data on our cloud services we desperately need to access. Choosing a trusted cloud provider with a high standard of maintenance will help to ensure as few technical issues as possible.
Security: Cloud services are essentially stored on the Internet. If the company storing your data is hacked, then your entire business records are vulnerable. This is why it's important to choose a reputable cloud companies with a long history of deterring hackers. Switching to the cloud can actually improve security for your business, as you can often get a level of data security through your cloud suppliers that you couldn't otherwise afford.
Inflexibility: It would be extremely annoying to sign up for a cloud service, only to discover it doesn't integrate with your current systems. You could be locked in to a vendors proprietary applications or formats. Make sure you read all the information very carefully before signing up and don't hesitate to ask the company if you're not sure about anything.
But don't let me put you off! While cloud doesn't work for every type of business, the advantages usually far outweigh the disadvantages. Why not try a cloud-based system for yourself on a trial basis (WorkflowMax allows a free 14-day trial) and see if it works for you?
Cloud Based Applications for Your Agency
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Any type of agency – a web agency, SEO agency, design agency, advertising or marketing agency, or other type of creative agency – can benefit from cloud technology. Many agency directors don't understand the full scope of cloud-based services and applications available. Here are some of the cloud solutions available, and how an agency might use them to increase productivity and flexibility.
Storage: Where once businesses needed whole rooms for their filing cabinets stuffed with records, the trend is moving away from hard-copy records to cloud-based file storage. With a centralised cloud storage facility, all of your agency's files are available to access from any device, meaning you can literally carry your whole office around with you wherever you go.
The problem with using external hard drives and other devices for backups is that you still haven't solved the issue of localised storage. If something goes wrong – your drive isn't backing up for some reason, or your office burns down or is destroyed in a natural disaster (Christchurch agencies will attest to this) – you have no way of accessing your files.
Cloud solutions such as Dropbox, Google Cloud, SkyDrive and Apple iCloud can store your data online using secure servers. You can access your data at any time.
Creative Tools: The tools needed to turn creative ideas into reality are beginning to offer Cloud-based options. Recently, Adobe announced it would be offering the Creative Suite as a subscription with Creative Cloud. While paying a monthly fee for the use of this service may seem counter-intuitive when you could buy a license and own it outright, this cloud-based option has several advantages. You'll always be using the most-up-to-date version of the software, so no having to upgrade every 2-3 years – this means you get to take advantages of the latest tools and technology as soon as it's released.
Track Time: Time-tracking is one of those necessary evils of agency-based work. You need to be accountable to clients – and to yourself – about how much time it takes to do which tasks. Cloud-based time-tracking services like WorkflowMax can help with this by providing. This means that any member of your team working offsite – either from home, from abroad or from a client's premises – can track their time effectively.
Project Management: task management, timesheets, collaboration, file management, scheduling and reporting are all tasks that need to be performed to keep your agency running smoothly. Running these tools in the cloud means every member of staff – as well as selected outside individuals/companies – can have access to and update this system. Jobs can be uploaded and assigned in real time, and all aspects of the project management process can be administered from the one system.
Using comprehensive project management software like WorkflowMax often means you only need one system for all your agency's needs. WorkflowMax not only does project management and time tracking, it also integrates with other applications like Xero accounting to give your business a full Cloud-based package.
Collaboration: While transparency between agency and client can be scary to some (after all, it's easy to think "If we showed them how we do it, what's to stop them just doing it themselves?"), it is actually doing the opposite. By using collaboration tools to share each stage of the project with the client and allow them to file comments and changes, it helps the client to trust the agency more, as they can see exactly what stage the project is at and feel as though they are vital to the process.
Collaboration in the Cloud is also vital for agencies who employ staff, consultants or freelancers who operate from different parts of the country or world. Online collaboration truly allows an agency to be paper free and office free – a real global agency. Applications such as Trello allow simple collaboration across projects, while WorkflowMax offers a more sophisticated collaboration interface.
Tips for Creating a Successful Cloud-based Design, Development, Marketing of Creative Agency
Are you convinced by the awesome potential of cloud-based services for your agency? Before moving your entire business to the cloud, there's a lot you need to consider.
In order to create the best cloud-based system for your needs, you'll need to:
- Understand your goals for the agency. Does a cloud-based system fit with these goals?
- Talk to all staff about their requirements. Take the time to understand how they work, and find a cloud application that will integrate with their existing systems, instead of asking staff to change their systems to fit the cloud.
- Have a clear picture of what you're able to spend on cloud services. It's no good looking at solutions out of your price range.
- Obtain quotes and specifications from several cloud services, and compare the features, benefits and price. It can help to organise them in a table or rate them based on a variety of data points.
Here are some important points to consider when comparing cloud products:
- File Types: Which files will the cloud application support?
- Space: Will the Cloud system provide enough storage space for your expanding needs? What happens when you've used all your allocated space?
- User-interface: What is the program like to use? Is it intuitive? Will it integrate with current software/systems?
- Training: What training is required to enable staff to use the system?
- Cost: Dollar-for-dollar, what is your best option?
- Synching: How does it work? Which devices will it synch to?
- Offline Access: What can you do if you don't have an Internet connection and need to access your data?
Cloud based technology is revolutionising how agencies work with their clients and run their business. The cloud solves many important issues for agencies – such as collaborating with clients and freelancers across great geographic distance, and creating a robust disaster-relief system. More than that, the cloud represents the potential for innovation, collaboration and technological advance within the competitive and creatively charged agency model.
Does your agency have its head in the Cloud?