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Posts for October 2011

Why are women slower to adopt technology?

October 31, 2011 by Zabisco Digital

Mind the gap sign{{}}

Is the technology gender gap growing? (Image: whatleydude on Flickr.)

The ‘gender gap’ is something which gets analysed in almost every aspect of our lives. The age old ‘battle of the sexes’ rears its head time and time again – and now it has cropped up in the world of technology.

Even in the twenty-first century it seems notable trends develop between males and females. Recent reports suggest that men are more likely to engage earlier with new technologies such as tablet computers and that they use mobile broadband more than women.

Questions about women and technology

If you resist dismissing these tendencies as irrelevant, you’ll see that they raise some interesting questions. Why aren’t more women engaging with new technology? And, if they do, why does it seem to happen long after men do?

Are us women fearful of newer devices? Or do we simply like to stick to what we know works?

Women and smart phones

When the first smart phones hit the market, the majority of users were men. They were the first to jump on the bandwagon and it is only now that that ownership is balancing.

Even women who went against the trend and purchased a smart phone were reportedly less likely to use the mobile broadband available through it.

Overall, around 10% more men are accessing the internet, regardless of what device they are using. And while 10% may sound like a small margin, it is large enough to be significant, highlighting a gender gap in the way we use technology.

In fact, only one statistic bucks the trend: 61% of people in the US using e-readers (like Amazon’s Kindle) are female – and that mirrors the higher proportion of women who buy physical books.

The women and technology stereotype

These statistics seem to clarify the stereotypical view of how women engage with technology, in that we use it simply to assist or enhance life’s daily activities. Only 35% of women are likely to go online to relax, whereas for men it’s 45%.

Indeed, men are more likely to use technology for pleasure as well as work – and they are unarguably quicker to embrace new technology.

Take tablet computers. The iPad’s release in 2010 was one of the year’s major technology stories, and young wealthy male professionals were amongst the first to try the new device in the workplace.

Women professionals were more cautious about these new tablet computers. For instance, 80% of female directors openly said they were concerned about requests from employees (PDF link) to bring devices into the workplace.

What does it mean for women and technology?

So, these statistics appear to tell us that men are quicker than women to embrace and engage with new technology. But that doesn’t mean women are fearful of new devices.

I am a woman and I embrace lots of new technology. I know many professional women who do the same. It’s important not to over-analyse statistics like these, or be too quick to make judgments from them.

They reinforce the stubborn gender gap in technology which seems to be pretty well cemented already – perhaps making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But maybe it’s simple: when it comes to technology, for the majority of women it’s not a priority unless the device makes day-to-day tasks easier. For now, we’re happy to leave the job of figuring out if certain devices are worth using to the men.

Frances McVeigh works for Zabisco. Read the Zabisco blog.

There was something about Steve Jobs...

October 28, 2011 by John Straw

Apple Computer{{}}I've just lost a brilliant, inspiring potential sales director. Here I am, a hot startup in the search space with tons of VC backing, an emerging market and offering a great salary and significant stock options and I lose to a huge American corporation. 

Aren't big corporations supposed to be terrible to work for? Aren't they supposed to be nasty to their people and only attract second raters? 

The corporation in question in this case is Apple. As an ardent Apple fan of four years (since the first MacBook Air) I can't even get bitter and twisted over this loss. I actually found a worthy competitor. And for the first time in my life I actually didn't mind coming second. 

What is it about Apple? 

Steve, you did a brilliant job of being clever more than once. Everyone is allowed to be clever once, few achieve it. But Steve, you did it time after time after time. iMac, Air, iPod, iPhone, iPad.

How?

It's in the team. Steve was a talent magnet. And a generous one to boot. Some of his key people had stock options in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. Many middle managers are millionaires.

Whilst he was clearly becoming sicker over that last year he was neatly handing over the responsibility of the business to trusted lieutenants – the likes of design genius Jonathan Ive and logistics genius Tim Cook.

What you have bequeathed us Steve is not only brilliant products (you have to try the iPhone's new artificially intelligent assistant, Siri, it’s incredible) but a world class example of how to run a business that is capable of repeating success through talent acquisition.

What was it Lyndon Johnson said? "If you recruit someone who is better than you then you conclusively prove you are better than they." So true.

Thanks Steve.

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development of Linkdex.


Domain names: a sexy business?

October 26, 2011 by Admin Account

.xxx domains - peep show sign{{}}You might have heard about the new adult industry orientated sponsored top-level domain names (sTLD).

These are domain names ending in .xxx, which were finally given approval in March this year.

As part of this, the domain registry managing the .xxx domain names, ICM Registry, is implementing a phased launch.

This will let those with intellectual property trademarks and existing domain names either secure their .xxx equivalent domain, or to block on their intellectual property being used as an .xxx domain.

The people over at ICM Registry have produced a pretty reasonable flow chart to guide you through the process. The key thing to note is that the sunrise period – during which you can apply to have domain names blocked – ends in just a couple of days, on 28 October.

What does this mean for you?

In essence it comes down to this:

If your business operates in the adult industry and you want a .xxx domain, you can register a .xxx domain matching one you already own right now (as a .com or .net etc). Manufacturers of adult products can register their trademarks too. This is known as Sunrise A, and this period ends on 28 October.

If, like most of us, you are not involved in the adult industry, then you are probably looking at Sunrise B. Here you can protect your domains and trademarks from becoming .xxx domains.

For example, a fictional Bob’s Widget Co making an aftermarket add-on product, Widget2000 with a site on the domain bobs-widgets.com, could secure bobs-widgets.xxx (their equivalent domain) and widget2000.xxx (a trademark) and this would prevent any other entity registering these as .xxx domains.

If you apply to have domains blocked in this way, the block lasts for ten years - and is non-refundable and non-reversible. Sunrise B runs in parallel with Sunrise A, so also ends on 28 October.

Blocking domain names sounds well and good, but there are a couple of things to watch for:

  • Blocking a domain is not the same as registering one. Importantly, you can’t redirect visitors to your blocked .xxx domain name to your main website.
  • The cost of a block is quite high. Depending on who you register for, it can cost over £100 a year. That’s a lot more than the cost of registering a .com domain for ten years.

Protecting your domain name

I think it needs to be said that protecting domain names shouldn't be a concern for local businesses.

Is someone really going to register your trademark as a domain name for up to £150 a year? Because this is what a full .xxx registrations appear to cost. Sony.xxx might be targeted by domain name squatters, but locallawfirm.xxx? I hardly think so. 

Then there’s the question of whether .xxx domain names will last. With the adult entertainment industry’s trade association, the Free Speech Coalition, campaigning for a boycott of .xxx domain names, any domain registration or block could be a short-lived investment.

I guess the Free Speech Coalition is upset that a third party will profit by charging disproportionately high fees for .xxx domains. 

And perhaps they have a point: the cost is magnified when a single company needs to register multiple domains. For instance, the adult site kink.com reportedly has about 10,000 domain names and simple maths shows it could cost them around £1.5M to secure their .xxx related domains. I don’t think that would be a profitable move for them - after all, they’re still likely to be kink.com instead of kink.xxx.

I hate to tell of impending doom, but I just can’t see mileage in this domain name extension.

Are you bothering to register any .xxx domain names for your business? Leave a comment and let us know.

This is a guest post from Phil Stott, who works for I-COM, a full-service online marketing firm. This post originally appeared on the I-COM blog.

Is your email based on out of date technology?

October 19, 2011 by Francesca Geens

Red letter box{{}}

We all rely on email for our business so its important to have something that is reliable, backed up and that lets you work on the move seamlessly. However I come across many people who are using POP3 without realizing the major limitations. If you need to check your email in more than one place - which is standard these days - it’s important to explore your options and upgrade.

POP3 mailboxes get set up when new domain names are purchased without much thought about the other options available. The problem is that kind of email sits on your web host’s server and gets sent to your laptop or smartphone. However, any deleting or sending etc that you do on one device cannot be updated to another. This causes people to set up all sorts of complicated systems to copy themselves on emails and to then check and clear in boxes in different locations- time consuming, frustrating and very unnecessary.

So, what are your options? IMAP and Exchange are much better as they allow email syncing between devices. Some accounts can be upgraded to IMAP which allows emails to sync however better still is to go with Google Apps or Office365.

With Google Apps, you will also have the ability to sync email, calendar and contacts with the Google interface and many love it for its ease of use and third party apps for extra functionality. Personally I use Microsoft Exchange Online with Outlook. It is the most stable and robust platform to use for email and allows you to sync not just your email but also calendar and contacts to as many devices as you want. Microsoft recently released Office365, making Exchange Online accessible to single users for the first time. For just £4+VAT a month you get seamless syncing all your devices, as well as an Outlook web app offering familiar Outlook functionality through a web browser should you ever need to work from an unfamiliar machine.

With Gmail and Office365 there are now 2 great, cost effective, solutions that make the most of the cloud and increase productivity. So if you are still on POP3 my question to you is why?

Francesca Geens runs an IT consultancy called Digital Dragonfly, which specializes in one-person businesses. She is especially interested in productivity and the use of information technology to improve people’s day-to-day business lives. Find out more about how Digital Dragonfly can help you at www.digitaldragonfly.co.uk

Designing your website, don't forget your users!

October 19, 2011 by Kirk Potter

Designing a new website or revamping your existing one is an exercise that most organisations should really be looking to undertake every two to three years. Trends and styles on the web change year-on-year and, in the case of a revamp, if you wait much longer than that, your website can end up looking dated and stale.

So how do you set about achieving a new design? Most people will take a look around at existing sites, especially those of their competitors or peers, and pick the bits they like best.  The resulting new design ends up being a mishmash of different concepts put together in an attempt to be the best in the industry or sector. This is all great except one critical thing has been forgotten, the user!

Considering the different types of users of the website and what they would be expecting from it, is critical to delivering a successful customer experience.

One way to ensure the customer is considered is to use user-centred design (UCD). UCD is a process which considers the requirements, expectations and skills of end users at each stage in the design process. Getting your users to provide input into each step can help avoid rework, overruns and additional costs. This approach doesn't have to discount the elements found during analysis of other web sites, it merely means that these are evaluated with the end user in mind.

Analysis of user needs will produce a list of functional and content elements for the new site. The next stage is to start considering the layout and basic functional design of the website. Developing wireframes at this point is a very useful visualisation tool.

The wireframes should consider how users will navigate the site, using the concept of user journeys can help to embellish the detail and quantity of wireframes. If you are planning on delivering to other devices such as mobiles or tablets now is a good time to look at this, rather than making it an afterthought.

Whilst agreeing wireframes, careful consideration should be given to content, and more specifically to the information architecture. This in its simplest form is the categorisation of content into a coherent structure, and most importantly, one which most people are going to understand quickly. Many organisations make the mistake when organising their content to use internal structures and terminology. On a public website such content may not make sense to the average external user; however internally in an intranet environment it may be perfectly valid.

Information architecture leads naturally onto the design of navigation, bearing in mind that information architecture isn’t solely about a how the overall content is structured in terms of navigation – it is also about defining structured content including meta-data which may be utilised by features such as the site search.

Basic usability considerations should be employed when considering navigation including avoiding long lists of links - stick to five or six maximum - and users will be able to scan quickly for what they are looking for.  Breaking navigation into sub menus and context-sensitive navigation may help make this manageable on a large website.

By this stage you can finally start thinking about the graphic design bit, often the starting point for many sites, but hopefully not yours. You may want to start off with some simple aesthetics and do some user testing on your concepts, user journeys, information architecture and navigation before you go headlong into polishing a design, ideally this will be with real target users.   

If you take that approach you will save yourself time when you get the dreaded feedback that something isn't quite right and you need to start again. Developing a prototype at this stage is advisable as users will find the tactility of a clickable (or indeed touchable in the case of tablet devices) site much more informative and rewarding than looking at a PowerPoint of what the website may look like. Prototyping doesn't need to be massively complicated, it only has to simulate functionality but it must be sufficiently developed to allow the important elements to be part of the test users’ experience.

After the feedback from your user testing you can finally apply the gloss to your design, taking care not to undo all the good work achieved up to this point. Think carefully at this stage about accessibility in terms of colours, contrast and font sizes or you run the risk of alienating a portion of your audience, in some cases without even realising it.

Overall this approach, if taken seriously, will result in a better website than the cut and paste of design by competitor analysis. We're only skimming the surface here of UCD and the related concept of user journeys but it doesn't need to be rocket science to end up with an attractive website that you can explain why it looks the way it does. Critically, it should deliver even better results for the organisation.

And remember you're not quite finished yet, as your website should continue to evolve through user feedback gathered from commenting systems, ratings or a simple feedback form. User centred design is not just a process you undertake at the start of a project, you should never stop.

Kirk Potter, C2 Software’s Research and Development Director

Posted in The internet | 0 comments

Why you should embrace employees who bring their own IT to work

October 17, 2011 by Trefor Davies

The Timico research shows that over 50% of SMBs don't think BYOD is a positive development. Yet isn't it one of the easiest ways to give your staff access to the latest technology? This post would make the argument for BYOD - or even giving employees their own budget to spend as they wish.

Time was people would drive along in their company car talking on their company mobile phone. In those days the company car was provided to them by - their company of course. Tightening tax laws made it easier for a business to give an employee a car allowance and let that person go away and chose their own car.

Now the pressure is building when it comes to the choice of that mobile phone. Nothing to do with tax but everything to do with choice. Companies still prefer to provide their staff with BlackBerries and the old business stalwart the Nokia.

This leads to people carrying two mobile devices around. An iPhone or Android which they use for most communications and the company phone that is grudgingly kept in the other pocket or the dashboard because that is what their company expects them to use.

So what you might say. The problem lies in what staff do with their personal phones and that is “everything they do with their company phone and more”. They pick up email, access the corporate network and carry a contact database that potentially includes the company client list.

Called BYOD or Bring Your Own Device this is not being met with open enthusiasm by SMBs which sees it as a threat. A recent research report from mobile ISP Timico shows that 72% of SMBs were worried about the trend with security being at the top of their concerns (75%) followed by the risk of loss (55%). Cost was a concern to only 22% which you could either interpret as a large number or a relatively small one compared to the risks associated with loss of data.

The main issues centre around the lack of control companies have over personal telephones. With a BlackBerry they can manage security policies and even perform remote kill on devices. IT departments don’t have the same control over your iPhone.

One of the conclusions of the report was that as large majority (82%) of businesses would allow BYOD if they had access to a Mobile Device Management service that offered protection to company data held on an employee’s own device.

The opportunity here is to save money, enhance the security of your business data and enhance the working environment. By allowing BYOD you are offloading some or potentially all of the costs associated with the handset in a mobile contract and at the same time making your staff feel loved.

You can download a copy of the Mobile Working Report which is packed with useful data relevant to a small business.

Keeping your PCs shut to online criminals

October 13, 2011 by Andrew Miller

Padlock{{}}With the number and complexity of cyber threats steadily rising, particularly with the growth in mobile devices, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for SMBs to find the right in-house resources to protect themselves. For a medium-sized business a single financial attack could irrevocably cut into annual profits but it could be make or break for a smaller business.

Businesses need to have the right network security solutions in place but also comprehensive endpoint security to defend against new and existing cyber threats. This is especially important given that we’ve seen hackers move from attacking networks to attacking the PC itself.

Every organisation should be re-evaluating its current security precautions on a regular basis and making sure these measures are communicated company-wide.

Here are some simple precautions to kickstart your security strategy:

  • Use a dedicated computer for financial matters such as online banking and bill pay that you don’t use for activities such as sending and receiving emails or browsing. Web exploits and malicious email are two key infection vectors for malware
  • Avoid clicking on links or attachments within emails from unknown sources. Even if you recognise the sender, confirm they’ve sent the specific email before clicking if an attachment is unexpected or looks suspicious
  • Reconcile your banking statements on a regular basis with online banking and/or credit card activity to immediately identify abnormal transactions that may indicate account takeover
  •  Browse with care. Be wary of sites that have a disclaimer warning that you browse at your own risk and that authors are not liable for any information you might see on the site
  • Protect your browser. As the primary interface between a user’s computer and the Internet, browsers have become a key target for security threats. Tools such as Dell’s free-to-download Secure Browser protect your browser through virtualisation
  • Install regular allocation and operating system updates and ensure you have your security protections in place throughout the organisation  
  • Do your homework before selecting an anti-virus vendor. Invest in an anti-virus product instead of using trial versions which are good for testing products but don’t receive updates, leaving you vulnerable to new viruses or new versions of viruses.

Earlier this year the BBC reported on the fourth and ‘almost indestructible’ iteration of the TDL virus which reached 4.5 million PCs within the space of three months alone. Targetting Windows PCs with code that ‘hides’ in places rarely examined by security software, the changes introduced in TDL-4 made it arguably the ‘most sophisticated threat today.’ Examples like these highlight the importance of ensuring you select an anti-virus vendor that responds quickly with protections when new threats are introduced.

Security has proved to be one of the number one pain points for SMBs but the bottom line is: don’t wait until the late minute to find out how essential security precautions are. After all, it’s much more expensive to deal with the consequences of a financial breach than it is to prevent one.

Posted in IT security | 0 comments

Why doesn't your business have a mobile website?

October 12, 2011 by Jonathan Edwards

Mobile internet{{}}Have you used the internet on your mobile phone this week? Apparently 60% of all mobile phones sold are smart phones, capable of accessing the internet, and mobile internet traffic grew by 4,000% between September 2009 and January 2011 (albeit from a small base).

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the mobile internet is here to stay. Walk down any street in any town and you’ll see people accessing the internet – as they shop, as they wait for a bus ... even as they talk to their friends.

Why you need a mobile website

You can create a mobile version of your website, designed to be easy to use on a smaller screen. But should you bother? Just in case the statistics haven’t convinced you, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Here’s why:

  • Lots of business websites just don’t work on mobiles. Smart phones are different to computers. They have small screens and rely on the touch of a finger rather than the click of a mouse, so it’s impossible to move the mouse over menus to reveal their contents. If it’s tricky to use your website on a mobile phone, people will go elsewhere.
  • Creating a mobile-friendly website doesn’t have to be hard. It depends how your website was built in the first place, but building a mobile website doesn’t usually mean starting from scratch. You can usually restructure your existing content and add the functionality you need quite easily. Or if you are redesigning your site completely, ask your web designer about responsive web design, where the website adapts to whatever size of screen it’s being viewed on.
  • Mobile web users want different things. People use the internet on their phones differently. Often – but not always –they’re out and about. They may have little time, and be very focused on finding a specific piece of information. You need to design your mobile site to cater for those needs.
  • It’s more important than having an app. Many businesses have focused their efforts on creating their own mobile application that people can run on their phones. These can be useful, but they take more effort, because you have to create a different version of your app for each type of phone. It’s better to start with a mobile website, then consider an app.
  • We’re only at the start of the mobile internet. At the moment, the mobile internet basically means people accessing websites on their phones. But we’ll start to see all kinds of new devices in the coming months and years, enabling people to use the internet when and where they want. Do you want to miss out on those visitors to your website?

Some experts are predicting that, in a couple of years’ time, more people will be accessing the internet on their phones than on computers. If that’s true, can you afford to not be seen by those people?

Posted in The internet | 0 comments

What Windows 8 means for your business

October 10, 2011 by Graham Fern

Windows 8 start screen{{}}So, Microsoft has revealed what Windows 8, the next version of its dominant operating system, will look like. I’ve tried it for myself and while it’s true that the changes to the interface are radical, what we effectively have with Windows 8, is Windows 7 (which you might well be already using), with added functions to support touch screens.

Although designed to run on both tablet computers and traditional PCs, in reality the touch screen ‘swipe’ functions that Microsoft has added quickly get tiresome when you’re using a mouse.

When you get past the fancy welcome screens and into the desktop, the look becomes very similar to what we’re already used to with Windows 7. So, for businesses that are already using Windows 7, there’s going to be little point in upgrading – unless they really like the new aesthetics.

Windows 8 for tablet computers

So, it looks like Microsoft is shooting for the tablet computing market with Windows 8. But will it work? Well, you need to keep in mind that Apple has been doing this for quite a while now with its iPad. Microsoft has quite likely joined the tablet market a little too late.

While Windows 8 certainly looks pretty, I don’t think it’s really any great threat to its competitors.

It’s not finished yet

However, before you start getting too excited (or not) about Windows 8, remember that the software is currently in developer preview only. It’s not in beta, the stage that software gets to just before it’s released. It’s not even at alpha, the stage before that.

It’s very early days for Windows 8, and I expect to see Microsoft change it considerably before it launches. It’s wise to hold off drawing too many definite conclusions for now.

Should you upgrade to Windows 8

But should businesses rush to upgrade when Windows 8 is finally released? That depends entirely on what the finished product is like. At the moment, it offers nothing more than a fancy overlay to the operating system you are pretty much already used to. I can’t see too many companies buying into the change.

As it stands, Windows 8 looks good, but could be a bit of a faff to use on a desktop computer. It’ll work well on tablets, certainly, but the market is already swamped and by the time Windows 8 comes to market, the likes of Apple and HTC could be light-years ahead.

But let’s wait and see what Microsoft rolls out as it comes closer to launching Windows 8. Perhaps I’ll change my opinion, because Microsoft will undoubtedly have a number of big changes to make before the product launches.

Graham Fern is technical director at axon IT.

20 inspiring and insightful Steve Jobs quotes

October 07, 2011 by Mark Williams

1 “What made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world”

2 “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

3 It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

4 “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

5 “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

6 “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying ‘we've done something wonderful’, that's what matters to me.”

7 “We don’t do market research. We don’t hire consultants. We just want to make great products.”

8 “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people – as remarkable as the telephone.” (speaking in 1985)

9 “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple, but it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

10 “My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”

11 “What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

12 “I'm the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year. It's very character-building.”

13 “You can’t just ask the customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

14 “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

15 “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

16 “When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

17 “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

18 “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem. It's ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.”

19 "I don't think I've ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn't be ours anymore. When we finally presented it at the shareholders' meeting, everyone in the auditorium stood up and gave it a five-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe that we'd actually finished it. Everyone started crying.''

20 “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

8 reasons to manage your accounts in the cloud

October 05, 2011 by JulianSayer

Market analyst IDC predicts that spending on public IT cloud services will hit £46bn in 2015 (up from £13bn in 2010).  Cloud technologies are no longer up in the air, it’s now a reality for many innovative businesses, regardless of size, to access their technology in a ‘virtual’ environment. 

As cloud becomes mainstream and security concerns diminish, companies should also consider the benefits of moving their finances to the cloud too.  According to the Cloud Industry Forum, 29% of SMEs already use cloud-based accounting, so what is the appeal and why might now be the right time to reach for the sky?

Here are the 8 key reasons why you could benefit from cloud-based accounting in both the short and long term:-

  • Lower costs and no upfront capital costs - solutions are typically charged on a monthly subscription basis, allowing you to pay for what you use e.g. volume of transactions
  • Better control over cash-flow - Taking advantage of new and extended functionality such as real-time dashboards will give you the ability to make more informed decisions
  • Additional security and resilience - All data is held remotely and is automatically backed up so in the event of fire or any other disaster you are assured that you can be up and running again with minimal downtime
  • Less IT infrastructure required internally - You don’t need to buy the servers/PCs to support running the accounting software yourself
  • Reduced staff overheads - Fewer support staff are required to manage the system, liberating resources to be re-assigned to more productive activities such as credit control
  • Support for Flexible/Mobile/Remote Working - Accounts can be accessed remotely, anytime and anywhere on any device from an iPhone to a Blackberry, making it ideal for multiple sites, home workers or staff on the move.
  • Greater scope for IT integration – with sophisticated cloud accounting solutions you can get other applications such as your CRM to update information automatically so all systems are in sync with each other
  • Fast implementation time – With a new on-premise accounting solution it could take a few months to install and get fully trained on the system, but with a cloud-based option, you can be up and running in a matter of hours - ideal for start-ups or fast-growing companies that don’t want to waste unnecessary time and resources.

Is security an issue?

The reasons for adopting a cloud strategy are convincing, yet there is often reluctance to move from an on-premise solution that is managed in-house.  The arguments surrounding whether your data is safe in the cloud can be easily discounted, as providers are likely to offer at least the same if not better protection of data than you could internally.  However you should ask your provider where your data will be stored, as you could be contravening data protection legislation if it is held somewhere overseas.

How do you select the right system?

One of the main issues is how a solution integrates with your other key back office systems such as a CRM database.  When selecting a system, you should ask the supplier about the range of functionality.  Is it ‘open’ so it will integrate easily with other critical systems? Will it be straightforward to blend and share data simply?  Remember that there is a huge amount of choice out there, so be careful to match your wish-list with what is being offered.

The advantage of cloud-based accounting is that you don’t need to compromise; you can expect the type of functionality that you would expect from a corporate system, but with an affordable price tag.  For ambitious, growing companies, a cloud offering is ideal because it gives you the accounting features you need now and in the future, as well as driving business performance and profitability.

Julian Sayer is the Sales & Operations Director at Accounting software vendor, bluQube

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