What SMBs should expect from and pay for a cloud service

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If you live in a metropolitan area of the U.S., you’re probably
fortunate in that you don’t have to think about where your power comes from,
and only occasionally do you think about where your connectivity comes from.


But those living in developing countries are always thinking
about the where, when, and how of power and connectivity, explains Ramon Ray,
editor and technology evangelist for

smallbiztechnology.com
. Ray sat down with CEO of Zoho , Sridhar Vembu, at the CRM Evolution Conference in August, to discuss vetting cloud providers and what prices SMBs expect to pay for cloud services.

Watch the interview to hear what Ray and Vembu have to say about SMBs and the cloud!

Cloud computing and productivity revolution

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“You can quote them; disagree with them; glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them” (thanks, Apple, for that eccentric commercial). Cloud computing isn’t as new as it seems and is popular among businesses of all types and sizes. Legacy or conventional desktop computing has been trending for longer than it should have been. Thankfully, it is fast changing. Changing to cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to software services and platforms offered through the Internet and is available to organizations on the basis of subscription. The cloud has been around for quite a while now, and is becoming the preferred choice for many businesses. Why are these organizations, that were doing fine with installed software, now turning to the cloud? What in cloud computing has won them over?



Many businesses have lost the traditional office model already. Cloud comes as a boon to relatively smaller organizations; emerging ones, whose employees work from home and collaborate online. Any device that has Internet connectivity is all it takes to have access to the organization’s data. More importantly, there are no futile copies of the same data. There is one central location where all the data resides, and every user is served that, from wherever he has access. There are precautionary backups though, but the host handles it all.
Second to costly infrastructure, constant software updates and maintenance are nightmares that haunt businesses. The sad plight of traditional desktop software is that integration and maintenance costs you way more than the actual software itself. On the contrary, cloud computing platforms are updated automatically by the provider, and this ensures that every employee is on the latest platform, without having to spend a fortune on updates alone.

Interestingly, this study on giving back more than what we take, reveals,

Large companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil – enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year.
So, for whatever reason you go to the cloud, be it environmental activism, online-collaboration capability, or freedom from infrastructure, maintenance and software updates, there is this one factor that desktop counterparts can never match. And that is ROI  (Return on Investment) or the cost factor. Because, in business, emerging ones in particular, money does matter. And money saved is money earned. The showstopper is that the cloud provides all this, and yet, there is no compromise on productivity. And that is why cloud computing platforms are rapidly gaining the appreciation they rightfully deserve.

Build Order Forms, Increase Sales: Zoho Creator Payment Module

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Just recently, the payment module in Zoho Creator was introduced. With the help of this module, users can set up a payment gateway using their PayPal account. Once this gateway is set up, users can build a variety of applications that involve collecting payments, donations, etc. Our enthusiastic users have come up with a dozen applications that use the payment module in innovative ways. Today, I am showcasing a simple e-commerce application using your familiar Zoho Creator forms.

The heart of the application is an order form. Potential customers can place their orders for the goods offered for sale through this form. Not just that, they can also pay for the orders that they placed. In this sample application that I created, I am offering discounts on bulk orders, sending email confirmations of the order and generating invoices to send to the customers. While this sounds like a lot, it’s really easy to put it all in place. My PayPal account is tied to the order form for collecting the payments, and the customer can pay using either a credit card or PayPal account.

In this application, I am offering customized t-shirts on sale. Customers placing orders for 20 t-shirts or more will get a 10% discount.

First, I create the Order Form and tie it up with my PayPal’s sandbox account.

 

Zoho Creator creates the base form, which will contain all the items up for sale and their respective prices. It also includes the fields from the base form in the order form. I can customize the order form to add more fields, like the buyer’s contact information, shipping address, etc.

 


Next, I include bits of Deluge Script that will calculate the discounted prices for the order, send the email confirmation and also generate an invoice to be sent to the customer.


Now that the application building part is over, I go over to the Items form and start adding the items available for sale.

 

The application is now ready. I simply embed the order form in my website. The orders start pouring in. Now that took me only an hour to build. Isn’t that neat? Do feel free to try the application. How could you use the payment module for your business application?


Is Double-Entry Accounting here for eternity?

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Take any popular

accounting software
 today, be it a SAAS player like us or our desktop counterparts or even the entreprisey ERP solutions, and I bet they all are based on double-entry accounting. For the uninitiated, double-entry accounting is a system of bookkeeping that enforces recording two aspects of a financial transaction – one that indicates the source of amount involved and another to indicate how it is put to use. It is said that this method was first codified by Luca Pacioli, an Italian monk in the fifteenth century (and I’ll leave it to The Almighty

Wikipedia
 to explain the rest).

It is fascinating to see that a system devised to catch financial inaccuracies six centuries back still finds its place in the world of accounting software and remains largely untouched. This when accounting software by itself is undergoing a transformation of sorts from desktop to the web.

To explain this phenomenon, let me first enunciate the benefits of manual double-entry accounting. Double-entry accounting is advantageous because it:

  • Is self-balancing in nature, enforcing arithmetical accuracy.
  • Makes it to easy to understand the source and uses of funds.
  • Ensures all aspects of all financial transactions available in a single place, so preparation of financial statements is easy.
  • Helps in fraud detection.

All of these are extremely helpful in producing accurate financial statements. And when human beings step aside and software takes over, much of these benefits still hold true. The reason for this is that double-entry accounting enforces some sort of a relational structure on the way transactions are recorded. For example, an accounting software would still record the two sides of a financial transaction and moreover, all of these are typically recorded in a single place (table in Relational database parlance), which makes it easier to summarize financial information.

Alternative accounting models like

REA (Resources, Events and Agents)
 that did away completely with double-entry and models that retained the double-entry flavor but tweaked other aspects failed to take off. My reasoning for this: the traditional double-entry model was deeply ingrained in the business person’s and accountant’s psyches, and it was never going to be easily changed. Also, amongst the more complex accounting alternatives, double-entry has remained one of the easiest and most effective solutions.

The accounting software industry will definitely undergo some changes in the times to come, but double-entry accounting will be as relevant as ever. And I bet somewhere up there Luca Pacioli must be smiling.

Discipline your customer strategy with a financially directed approach

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Many people believe that customer service is based on common
sense. And while that may be true, it’s not the basis for forming, or more
importantly, growing a business based on delivering customer excellence. What
would it mean to your business’ bottom line if you could deliver an excellent
customer experience? If you could actually calculate that, then you would have
the financial motivation to deliver top-tier customer service, explains Lior Arussy of the

Strativity Group

.


The reason many organizations don’t deliver “Customer Experience 2.0,” Arussy explains, is because they believe they’re already
doing an adequate job. Their attitude may be, ‘Our customers are already buying from
us, why should we change?’


Arussy refers to that attitude as the “Return on
Nothing.” Specifically, there is a cost to not delivering excellent customer service.
Look at the delta between how much you currently charge and what you can
charge: that’s the amount you’re losing by not delivering a great customer
experience.

“Go beyond the parity line to the unexpected,” said Arussy.
You can’t simply ask customers what will surprise them, so you need to understand the entire ecosystem and their pain
points. With that knowledge you can best address their concerns and deliver top quality customer experience, each and every time.

Watch the video to learn more from Arussy on maximizing your customer experience.

And tell us about your customer service strategy. What works best for you?

B2B company’s guide to getting up and running with CRM

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When it comes to rolling out CRM, you need to “think big, but implement in stages,” says John Johnston, eBusiness Marketing Manager for Volvo Construction Equipment .

As you’re building out your integrated CRM strategy for your whole organization, think about what your database is and the inputs you create. Will they or will they not integrate with your CRM system? You want to integrate with as many systems as possible. “The goal is to use CRM to compliment, not replace, your existing data,” Johnston explains.

“Next step is to identify your key deliverables/key performance indicators (KPIs) and synchronize them with your CRM application to make your customer relation campaigns measurable,” Johnston adds.

Got the “big picture”? Test it out with a small group of people and then roll it out in stages to others.

“Realize that when you implement your CRM not everything is going to go the way you want it to go at first,” admits Johnston, speaking specifically of a stumbling block his team had with data integration.

Volvo Construction Equipment discovered that certain data couldn’t match with their existing content. They had to replace the source and the data feed, which slowed them down and forced them to regroup.

In his closing advice, Johnston suggests that if you’re interested in a CRM solution, you need to get a team together to determine what your short and long term solutions are. Figure out what you can and can’t do. Ask lots of questions now, because they’ll be a lot easier to tackle before you start implementing.

 

Thank you, John, for sharing these tips! To hear more about Johnston’s experience with implementing a CRM application, check out the rest of our interview.

Can Small Businesses Benefit from Custom Software Apps?

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Every business can benefit from custom software applications, regardless of the service or product it offers. However, if you are a small business, spending on the right applications is particularly crucial due to a tighter IT budget and being more vulnerable in the dynamic corporate world. This could lead to conflict about whether you should spend on generic desktop software or custom web software.


To resolve this conflict, we look at the key performance indicators of any business: the data about its customer-practices and business process management. What the organization has learned about its customers and how effectively it uses this data to provide better and relevant solutions to its users is what keeps them on the charts. In such data-centric times, an organization’s data is distributed across various inevitable software solutions it uses: CRM, accounting applications, project management, inventory management and resource allocation, support ticket management, enterprise resource planning, revenue, expense and commission trackers and much more. That means multiple copies of data are stored at multiple locations, leading to ineffective usage of resources. What if all the data pertaining to your customers could be stored at a central location, and all the custom software applications you use could access the data relevant to them? What if all these software solutions could communicate with one another, effortlessly?


Well, this is possible if the applications are from the same vendor and hosted online. But it is more about picking from the lot, those applications that best suit your business. Why insist on appropriate ones, and not generic ones? Because not all businesses are run alike. Each has unique use-cases, and thus needs unique applications for each requirement. Generic software applications are almost always full of compromises. You end up paying for more than what you actually use. This is one good reason why you should consider building your tools, yourself. Building custom applications using web application building platforms is more beneficial than settling for ready-made software. Customization not only costs a lot less, but it also speaks your language. Not all of us are programmers, after all. What stops you now? Get started with custom apps today!