You should use software to help run your field service business.
This isn’t a bold, contentious statement — it’s a firm truth. Every business owner that’s focused on success knows to leverage software in their business to eliminate repetition, wasted effort and poor organization. If you hope to remain competitive, provide a high quality of service, and maintain or improve your profit margins, you’re going to need to use software to do it well, and in a way that supports growth.
Over the past several years a new breed of software has appeared on the radar for field service businesses: Cloud (or SaaS) software. Cloud based software is not new, however there has been a significant increase in cloud based options specifically for the field service industries, and there’s some confusion about what it is, how it differs from regular software, and why we think it’s better than the alternative on-premise, or “installed” style of software. This article aims to help answer these questions.
What is Cloud (or SaaS) software?
A basic question to be sure, but let’s consider some statistics from the Citrix Cloud Survey Guide:
- 51% of survey respondents thought that stormy weather would cause problems for their cloud computing.
- Almost 1 in 3 people thought the Cloud was a thing of the future.
- 22% of respondents admitted that they’ve pretended to know what the cloud is or how it works in conversation.
While rapid growth of the Cloud space is undeniable, it’s clear that the general public is still somewhat unsure about it, so here it is stated as plainly as possible.
Cloud software — sometimes referred to as SaaS, which stands for ‘Software as a Service’ — is simply software that you access over the Internet. You can’t buy it in a store and you don’t download and install it to a specific computer. You sign up online, usually using an e-mail address, access the software using a web browser, and typically pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee for access.
The Cloud has nothing to do with the weather, and it’s already a huge force in the IT sector. Gartner estimates that by the end of 2013 the worldwide Cloud computing market will be worth $150 Billion (Gartner Cloud Computing Research).
Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably already using a number of cloud based software services. GMail, Hotmail, Google Calendar, Dropbox, Facebook and dozens of other common services are actually cloud based software. You might even be paying subscription fees for some of them. Business focused software that’s hosted in the Cloud is no different.
What are the biggest benefits of cloud software?
Depending on the kind of business you run and the degree to which you’re already using technology, the benefits of cloud software for your field service company can be significant and even game changing.
- It’s cheaper in the long run – There is usually no up- front capital cost associated with Cloud based software. You don’t need to purchase any hardware or put up a big chunk of money for the software. This has obvious cash flow and working capital benefits, and everyone loves cash flow. At least some degree of support is usually part of the cost, which is typically paid for separately with installed software. Some will argue that they just want to “own” their software; we’ll address why that’s not a very good idea anymore shortly.
- Constant improvements – If you choose a high quality Cloud software provider then you will almost certainly benefit from the fact that they will be constantly adding to, improving and fixing bugs in their software. These updates are included in your subscription fee, and are made available to you automatically and immediately, without any intervention at all. There are no updates to download and figure out how to install and, shudder, no CD’s to deal with.
- Simultaneous access from anywhere – Because Cloud software is accessed using a web browser, you can use any modern web connected device, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones. What’s more is that the very foundation of Cloud software lends itself to support for multiple simultaneous users accessing the same up-to-date data in real time. Your whole team can log in and use the software from their own computers or mobile devices without having to worry about having a copy of the software. No more messy synchronizations either.
- Your data is automatically backed up – Generally speaking the hardware, software and systems in place to safeguard your data in the cloud are very sophisticated and advanced. Your data is probably backed up multiple times a day, and a team of highly trained engineers are constantly watching over everything to make sure nothing goes awry. And when it does, they’re right there working to fix it, often times before you even realize anything went wrong.
Is Cloud software safe & secure?
In short, if you’re using a reputable cloud vendor then the answer is a resounding yes. Of course, any use of technology comes with certain risks, and you’re only as secure as the weakest point in the chain. For instance, if you have a weak password, or you’re using a browser without SSL enabled then you could be at risk, but that’s not a problem with the Cloud, it’s a problem with the end user.
For the Cloud vendor’s part though, there’s an enormous incentive to ensure that your data is as secure as possible and backed up appropriately. All it takes is a single instance of data corruption to damage the reputation of an otherwise excellent Cloud software solution.
In practical terms, your data is much more safe and secure in the Cloud than it is on your own physical computer, where it’s vulnerable to theft, natural disaster and hardware failure.
But I just want to own my software and be done with it
You really don’t. Trust us on this one.
It might seem like yet another monthly expense, just adding to the pile of costs cutting into your margins, but business management software is a critical piece of your operating infrastructure that should not be undervalued, and the unique benefits of a Cloud based solution far outweigh the relatively small recurring cost.
It’s true that over a period of several years you may end up spending more in total on subscription based software than if you simply bought on-premise software outright, but you almost certainly would be paying less for the total value received. Here are some points to consider:
- Cloud based services can’t simply wow you with flashy promotional material, make the sale, and then let the relationship rot the way on-premise vendors can (and do). You can simply dump a Cloud solution and try something else with very little loss if things aren’t going well. Without an ongoing support contract (which itself would likely involve a recurring fee), on-premise software vendors have no incentive to keep you happy after making the one time sale. Cloud software vendors need to impress you month after month to keep you a happy customer.
- A Cloud based software solution provides a lot more than just software functionality. With “owned” on-premise software you need to worry about making sure the software is up-to-date and manage upgrades, back up your data, and ensure that everything is secure. This is all taken care of automatically with reputable Cloud based software.
- In most cases the features and functionality that can be offered by Cloud based business management software are more advanced, cheaper, and easier to use and implement than the “owned” on-premise equivalent. A great example of this is simultaneous login access by multiple users at the same time on different devices from anywhere. This is built right into most cloud software, but difficult and costly, and in many cases entirely impossible, in “owned” on-premise software.
- As previously mentioned, reputable Cloud software vendors are constantly updating their product, meaning you’re always using the latest and greatest version, and bugs are fixed on the fly in real time. All of this is included in the price you pay, which can’t be said for on-premise software.
These are just a few of the many reasons you get more with cloud based business management software than you would with the equivalent on-premise software. The technology landscape is changing, and the writing is on the wall for on-premise business management software. “Owning” software in the traditional sense has become a liability for modern businesses.
Is the Cloud just a fad?
That’s the title and byline of an article published by Newsweek Magazine almost 20 years ago. While the Internet may not be nirvana, it’s one of the most powerful economic and social platforms of the modern age.
For better or for worse, the Internet has been transformative in almost everything it has touched; software development and delivery is an area that has evolved drastically as a result. Forrester estimates that the Cloud computing market will hit $241 billion by 2020.
Just like the Internet itself, the Cloud is decidedly not a fad, and businesses both big and small that should be leveraging Cloud software to better manage their businesses will ignore it at their peril.
How does Mobile fit into the Cloud?
Mobile applications and access to software from mobile devices has been one of the biggest topics in tech for some time now, and for good reason. Better connecting your work force is one of the biggest opportunities you have to get more organized, reduce wasted time, and improve productivity. In the context of Cloud based business management software it’s important to illustrate the relationship between the Cloud and Mobile.
With the proliferation of mobile device technology and near ubiquitous cellular data networks, Cloud based software has become mobile-capable by default. Smart Cloud based software vendors are able to take advantage of this by building products using modern techniques and technologies that make them usable on a broad range of mobile devices, including smart phones and tablets.
In short, the Cloud is Mobile.
It can’t all be good — what are the downfalls of cloud software?
While Cloud software represents a huge opportunity for field service businesses (and many others) to drastically improve their organization and work flows, it’s not without its issues.
However when compared against the benefits, Cloud software is a clear win in almost every situation.
One of the issues for certain businesses is connectivity. A very basic requirement for Cloud based software is a reliable connection to the Internet. This is rarely an issue, and becoming less and less so with the proliferation of wireless data networks, but it can still be a problem in some areas.
The second issue that can potentially cause issues is data storage compliance regulations. Depending on the type of business or organization you run you may be subject to certain regulations regarding where and how your data is stored. Most Cloud software providers don’t provide multiple data storage options in order to comply with foreign data storage regulations.
Hopefully these answers to some of the most common questions and concerns we hear about Cloud based software help clear up some of the confusion around what the Cloud is and why you should strongly consider Cloud based software to help run your business.