Salesforce is Making a Momentous Push into Advertising

At SalesForce’s recent Dreamforce Convention, they announced they will be partnering with Google Analytics and combining their data pools. This will allow marketers to have access to stats from both platforms. This is the first time that Google Analytics will be deeply integrated into a CRM system. This allows SalesForce to move into advertising by being able to offer consumers the option to purchase ads based on how users respond to email, SMS, and push notifications.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cloud-Based Products

At this point I think it’s safe to say everything is cloud-based. From cloud cars to Everything as a Service, the cloud has invaded more than just our email addresses. As a result, more and more organizations are moving all of their data into the cloud, including their more sensitive data.

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Recent Cloud Growth

According to a recent study from Ponemon Institute and Thales e-Security, a third of businesses admitted their data is completely unprotected in cloud-based systems. This development should be alarming to anyone paying attention to security news. Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s massive surveillance program over a year ago, exposing the stark truth that the United States government is snooping on its citizens for controversial reasons. Snowden’s massive information dump to news organizations continues to leak out and scare the hell out of people every few weeks.

Recently the internet’s had the epidemic scare of Heartbleed, a massive bug in the basic encryption safeguarding bank and personal websites. The Heartbleed bug has been patched, but most of the old, compromised keys went right back into use, according to the latest security news.

So with keys compromised and the United States government potentially spying on everything we do, why would we store our private information on a cloud-based platform? The answer is quite simple, if you’re willing to do the work.

Basic Security: There are many arguments from crypto alarmists that since no one truly knows where their information is being stored, cloud-based platforms are completely unsafe. In truth, the cloud is no more or less safe than the average personal computer hooked up to the internet. Yes, cloud systems can be hacked. So can unprotected personal servers. In my opinion, SaaS based programs are no more dangerous or vulnerable than legacy software systems.

Encryption: In the wake of Edward Snowden, encryption has become a hot-button issue. From NSA-proof phones to SaaS encryption platforms like Vaultive, everyone wants to lock up their information. That’s a good thing. Even basic, free encryption offers vastly more security than an unprotected system. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around, though. While Google Apps are offering Zix encryption, that doesn’t mean every cloud-based email is protected. Do your homework.

Personal Vigilance: Perhaps the most important form of security. Whether cloud-based or not, most people use the same simple passwords and do not change them. Most people leave their personal devices laying around unlocked. Keeping an eye on your credit score and using tough passwords goes a long way, even in our cloudy, stormy present.

Have you migrated your information to a cloud base platform, or are you still too leery? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Cloud Competition is Heating Up

Right now there is a war raging for the cloud, and companies (big and small) are spending large amounts of money for control.

What happens when companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft battle each other? We, as customers, all win. If you haven’t been following my coworker’s blogs, cloud computing is where companies or individuals can rent processing power or data storage as needed.

If you don’t think the cloud is already big, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, Azure, handles 100 petabytes of data per day. So what’s a petabyte? Well, for example, one petabyte can hold 13.3 years of HDTV video. What can 50 petabytes, or about half of the data Azure handles a day, hold? The entire written works of mankind in every language from the beginning of recorded history!

Greenpeace researchers estimate that if the cloud were a country it would be sixth in the world of biggest consumers of electricity on the planet. The cloud is big money too. Amazon Web Services, which was one of the first to offer these services, made close to 4 billion dollars last year. Experts predict worldwide IT spending will grow to 2.1 trillion dollars in 2014.

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Google Cloud Platform Manager Greg DeMichillie said, “There will not be just one company that’s the cloud provider. There will be several.”

Amazon Web Services has been the leader since it was created in 2006 and as of now controls five times the computing power of the next 14 cloud providers…combined. Have you ever watched a television show or movie on Netflix? “Amazon has the chance of controlling the public cloud just like Windows controlled the PC environment for a long time,” says Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus is a company that builds private clouds that can interface with Amazon’s public cloud. A few weeks ago, Microsoft cut prices on its cloud storage service by 65%. Google and Amazon Web Services followed suit by slashing their prices within the next few days. Some companies haven’t ruled out the possibility of cloud services dropping to zero.

Google alone has spent over $2 billion on data centers and equipment. It’s on track to spend over $10 billion per year on data centers.

Competition isn’t good for all businesses though. Smaller cloud service providers will either get bought up by the larger corporations or left in the dust (or cloud…pun intended).

Do you still have questions about cloud computing? We would love to chat!

Thinking About Cloud Computing on Earth Day

First started in 1970, Earth Day is now celebrated as a day to promote environmental awareness by over 190 countries. Typically people use this day to plant trees and clean up litter, but we should also consider clouds. No, not the fluffy white ones above our heads. I mean the revolution that is cloud computing.

Rob Phillips, StrataBlue’s Director of Services, has mentioned the benefits of the cloud in his previous post, but the numbers are still staggering. Cloud spending is posed to grow by as much as $180 billion by 2015, according to a recent study by Gartner. People and organizations have embraced the cloud definition for much more than simple storage and email, making the cloud a powerful ally for apps and programs. But what does all this have to do with environmental issues and Earth Day?

IBM and Trinity College recently unveiled Stratus, a set of powerful cloud computing algorithms that proved a connected set of data service centers could effectively lower carbon emissions by 21% while still performing essential duties. While this is great news for future users, current cloud converts are still benefiting when it comes to environmental issues. Here’s how.

Less Space

The cloud is up in the air as they say. Some people struggle with the location of their data in the cloud, but the simplest definition is that it gets virtualized in servers on other people’s machines. No matter the location, your data is currently taking up less space in the cloud than it would in your own private data center. Virtual technology today like VMWare allows companies to consolidate up to ten servers into one virtual server. With a shared virtual server, everyone’s data is taking up less space.

Less Power

According to a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, cloud computing could save up to 87% more power than traditional systems. Since everyone is sharing data service centers, less power is going to all of those old private data centers. This is a quick answer, but you really need to look at the whole picture. With less private servers, less power is going to air conditioning, alarm systems and basic electricity to all those private buildings. Since server space is shared, there is also less power being used to move data around. Also consider the environmental issues that companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple take into consideration when they build a new data center.

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Cloud Energy Savings on Earth Day!

Less Waste

Traditional IT practices are dying out. Prior to the cloud, an organization had to spend a lot of time and energy buying legacy software if it wanted to upgrade. Now many software packages like Office 365 can easily be updated, or even automatically update on their own. This saves time, money and resources since IT doesn’t have to upload software onto individual computers from CDs. Just consider the reduction in cardboard, packaging and plastic waste from all those software products!

The Future of cloud computing is a dark path. I don’t know exactly where this technology will take us. However I can feel a little more proud on this particular Earth Day. I know I’m supporting a platform that is greener than the last. Rob Phillips couldn’t say it better: “Moving to the cloud is the fastest way to reduce a company’s carbon footprint while recognizing significant savings.”

How has the cloud saved you time and energy? Let us know in the comments below!

6 Cloud Solutions Your Small Business Needs Today

As a small business owner, your life is moving at break-neck speeds just to keep up. Wouldn’t you like to feel more organized and less stressed? It’s one deadline after another and they tend to creep up on you. Like the dreaded April 15 tax deadline, every year I say I’m going to prepare earlier and have everything ready ahead of time. Yet here I am, literally a week before the due date, when I sit down to prepare and in turn cause more stress to both my accountant and myself.

Large enterprise firms have adopted cloud technologies at a rapid pace and continue to see savings in both time and money as these products mature from a concept to a “must-have” to survive. However, the time is right for small businesses to reap these same rewards. If you are using a software company that doesn’t offer a cloud solution, you need to rethink doing business with them. The benefits are endless and have been written about over and over again, so I won’t go down that road. What I would like to do is help out the 23 million plus small businesses in the United States that represent over 54% of our economy.

I’ve put together a list of the top six solutions that will provide you with the largest return on your investment and in turn allow you to spread your software costs out monthly. I took into account costs, growth, reliability, integration and backups in determining what solutions are mature and truly the best of breed in their markets.

Email and Collaboration

Collaboration is the key to success in any small business as well as the ability to allow its workforce to be at any location. Office 365 is the most mature and secure cloud solution in this space. Just think, you can collaborate via document repositories utilizing SharePoint, email with Outlook and have instant meetings with Lync from any location as well as most mobile devices.

Here at StrataBlue, we make full use of these technologies daily with remote meetings and video conferencing. In fact, we are starting to adopt more document sharing via SharePoint instead of having emails flowing back and forth with large attachments and different versions. Trust me when I say this one cloud solution will help organize your team and facilitate a more efficient, collaborative work environment. Offerings are quite affordable starting at $4 per user per month up to $24 per user for a full Office 2013 version.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

To me, this seems like a no-brainer! You have a sales team that is largely remote and on the road most of the time, so why not provide them with a tool that helps them track, close and nurture their sales leads all while reporting this progress to management? There are many options for these tools at any budget. The obvious choice is Salesforce but it is also the largest animal in the kingdom. There are many open source options, such as SugarCRM, which allow for truly customizing it to your liking and making it look and feel like your own personal CRM solution.

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Please be aware: these products are not for the faint of heart and can seem daunting to tackle. It will take proper planning with your sales and marketing teams along with a solid knowledge of database software to implement it correctly. Most small business accounting software also has modules for customer relationship management as well. These solutions tend to be more expensive than other options, however, they also provide the largest return because they help nurture leads and close sales. A typical monthly cost per user is around $25-$50.

Small Business Accounting Software

Do you use QuickBooks or Sage? Did you know there are online or cloud versions available?

Most business owners don’t realize it or haven’t thought about moving it to the cloud. The benefits are numerous , including the ability to work remote, have redundancy, disaster recovery and integration with other solutions, especially the cloud solutions highlighted in this blog post. What if you could track sales relationships from your CRM using email and collaboration while pushing it into your accounting system for invoicing? That is truly automation at work and will make your life as a business owner (as well as your employees’ lives) easier.

Cloud Storage

Are you still saving files on a local server, or worse yet, your computer or laptop? Apparently you have never lost data or a drive, but it will happen one day and is a costly lesson. Why not use the tools that are available to avoid this?

Storage is (quite frankly) cheap! There are many solutions for small businesses that provide backup and restore, scalability, productivity, collaboration and security. If you use Office 365 as described above, did you know that OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) gives each user about 5GB of storage for personal use and to share with their team members? Another popular choice is Dropbox for Business, which is a very affordable solution. Each of these offer access from anywhere and user interfaces from any desktop, as well as most mobile devices in the app stores. If you are a bit skeptical and want to dip your toes in the water before jumping in, then try the free options that many tools offer, including Dropbox and OneDrive.

Electronic Forms and Signatures

If you are going to be digital then you need to add these tools to your repertoire. They will allow you to speed up any transaction with your clients as well as your business partners. DocuSign and Adobe provide fantastic cloud solutions that are easy to configure and get up and running. These are incredibly affordable, ranging between $11-$24 per month per user. We have personally observed the time to close a deal shrink by offering these solutions and the adoption rate has been very high.

Digital Signature

Project Management

If you manage large projects or even small ones in which you need tight collaboration, you absolutely need to look at a cloud solution. We are particular to Basecamp because it is open source and has a wide variety of plugins from billing and time tracking to integration with your CRM. I would say it is about the easiest of the solutions in the list to configure out of the box. You’ll be up and running in minutes. Your team and clients will love the professionalism and ability to collaborate on any project as well as track key milestones. There are literally hundreds of solutions online and range in cost from $5 per user per month up to $99 per user.

These products are very mature, secure and provide integration hooks in the form of custom modules and Application Program Interfaces (API’s) that allow them to integrate with each other. Many companies are running fast to deploy these integrations as well as creating a reporting tool called Business Analytics. Business Analytics can help pull all of this important information together to provide you (the business owner) with a smart dashboard of what your business looks like inside and out today, tomorrow and next month.

Did I forget any tools that you find useful in the cloud? StrataBlue is proud to offer all of these solutions along with assistance in integrating them with one another and with your existing applications. Contact us today to get started!

CRM and the Cloud Platform – A Match Made in Heaven

The concept of “heaven” has been debated by countless philosophers throughout history and there are various theories on size, temperature and location. While there is some debate on the specifics, most people agree that heaven is where various personalities and types can co-exist in complete peace. Until now, that concept was a bit hard to swallow.

Heaven is a place on Earth? The story is an old one: sales and marketing often butt heads. Sales doesn’t see the point of marketing campaigns and blames marketing for lack of leads. Marketing blames the sales department for not properly implementing marketing strategies or driving the campaign in the correct direction. However, all this strife can be avoided with cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The CRM: Customer relationship management systems are nothing new. As far back as the 1980’s, database management systems were tracking customer behavior to send out personalized communication for better sales. This software continued to mature, but it didn’t really take a large step forward until companies like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics began to create CRM that integrated customer data with other software like Outlook. However, the best was yet to come.

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The Cloud: The cloud platform is quite powerful and Software as a Service (SaaS) has only shown the greater potential of working straight out of the cloud. Applications like Outlook and Office are available on the web as a scalable application that can be accessed anywhere. Since the products don’t technically exist on computers, there is no need to upgrade the software. Suddenly organizations aren’t investing fortunes on software. The cloud offers fast, cheap freedom to large organizations and SMBs as well.

The Connection: Cloud-based CRM has been available in some form since 2007, but recent improvements to cloud platforms have completely changed the game. Suddenly SaaS allows access to customer data 24/7 from virtually any mobile device. That means that CRM can be used by small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) as well as giant companies with smart phones. Smart Point of Sale (POS) systems allow every sale to be monitored and stored in the cloud. Social Media and Big Data work together so that customers’ personal data is more readily available, making customer touch-points that much easier to track. Now the sales department is receiving reliable leads and truly customized customer information. The marketing department can easily trace the success rate of their campaigns because of tracked sales and touch-point interactions.

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The Future: CRM is growing and it’s only going to get bigger. In 2012, CRM grew by 12.5%. Gartner predicts $36 billion will be spent on the industry by 2017. Companies have taken notice and they continue to expand into the market. In fact, IBM is spending $1.2 billion this year to expand its cloud network. Everyone is banking on cloud-based CRM. Can your organization really afford to ignore that?

The easy part is accepting the cloud-based CRM. Now comes the hard part—how do you find the right CRM software and begin to make all that data work for you? Well, that’s where we come in. If you want more information on cloud-based CRM, please contact us for more information.

Adopting the Cloud in 2014

Two years ago, the cloud was something tech companies were suggesting we get excited about. But for the average user, the power of cloud technology was amorphous. Now we’re hearing all about cloud apps and the “Internet of Things.” Everyone knows they should adopt the cloud—it’s faster, cheaper and safer for your data. The real question is, why aren’t more companies adopting?

Concerns of the Past

This was a typical business response to cloud adoption in 2013. In the undisclosed future, a business (might) be interested in adopting a cloud platform. Maybe. I’m not poking fun at these business leaders; they had reasons to be worried. Public clouds have been criticized for their security gaps and their vulnerability to everyone from hackers to the NSA. On top of that, the cloud is just… new. So you have a new platform that is under scrutiny and possibly vulnerable to attack.

So, why would your organization migrate to the cloud in 2014? Because the cloud continues to become more versatile, reliable and secure. Let’s look at some improvements that are going to be big in the coming year:

SaaS. Software as a Service is going to grow by 14.7% this year, but what exactly does that mean? Put simply, SaaS is any application that can be accessed via the cloud, usually through a web browser. A great example would be Office 365. Previously, this program had to be put on every organization’s computer and required a large IT budget to get the job done. Now, companies can access what they want when they want it via the cloud. SaaS is also cheaper than typical enterprise software—companies are renting what they need instead of buying large software packages they might not fully employ.

The Hybrid Cloud. If everyone has access to your cloud, how safe is your information? Many organizations have opted for the hybrid cloud to ensure data availability while still protecting their sensitive materials. In brief, the hybrid cloud is a combination of a company’s own private cloud platform and the public cloud that all employees can access. This mix of openness and security allows for a greater employee adoption while still protecting organizational data. For that reason, Gartner predicts half of all large organizations will have a hybrid cloud by 2017.

Encryption. If 2013 was the age of NSA revelations, 2014 may very well be the Age of Encryption. And this is a good thing. Encryption of sensitive data allows an organization to move onto a cloud platform with less fear of breach. Not only have huge companies like Google and Windows pledged to encryption their data, but now smaller organizations can afford SaaS encryption. Companies like Vaultive offer encryption-in-use technology that protects sensitive data at every stage of delivery, even while it is being deployed by the end user.

As you can see, not only are cloud platforms getting more secure, but they are allowing an unprecedented level of control and customization. That optimization can lead to real savings on software and time, especially for smaller organizations. Cloud innovation has already happened. Now innovations will get refined for all users. The real question is, when are you going to adopt?

Interested in migrating to a cloud platform? Please contact us.

Your Business Should Float Up Into The Cloud

You could be sitting in an airport and look down to realize that your laptop is no longer there. Or maybe you went out to dinner and came home to find that a burglar ransacked your house while you were gone, stealing your tablet and PC. Perhaps your town was hit by a powerful storm, destroying everything in its path.

No matter what the circumstances are, there are infinite possibilities of problems that can arise causing you to lose all of your important business data. You probably keep your data all over the place…on computers, external drives, DropBox, tablets, flash drives and more. Once your files are lost, stolen or damaged, it’s too late to recover, so why not consider integrating to the cloud? Here are five reasons why you should convert to the cloud.

Backup and Recovery: External hardware can be stolen or damaged, but the cloud is safe and secure. No matter what happens to your gadgets, your data is backed up in the cloud. You don’t need to keep important business files on your computer (that could be hacked, stolen and sold) when you have your data in the cloud. Let’s say you’re a graphic designer and you have hundreds of designs and projects stored on an external hard drive. If someone steals that hard drive from you, what will you have left? The thief could potentially make a financial gain from all of your hard work. If you kept all of those files in the cloud, you wouldn’t have to worry about it.

Easy Access: Forgot to bring your laptop to work? Lost your iPad? No problem, you can access and share your data from anywhere that has an internet connection when you use cloud integration. On some devices where internal storage is not an option, using the cloud is the wave of the future. It’s very difficult to store large amounts of data on an iPhone, Android, iPad or other mobile device, so why not use the cloud?

Storage: One concern most people have is how much storage you  have left. When it comes to cloud storage, you have near-unlimited storage space for your data. Using a free account, you can usually get anywhere from 5 to 15 GB as an introductory package, but after that you must buy a subscription. You want to have enough space in the cloud to back up your important files and not worry about a thing, so as a business, it’s wise to pay for your cloud storage.

Automation: You hear it over and over and over: back up your data. This tedious task of backing up your files manually each month can be eased with use of the cloud. You can backup your files in the cloud by synchronizing in real time or you can put it on a schedule for worry-free maintenance without having to install any software.

Cost: Cloud services are becoming more affordable for data backup and storage. Services like DropBox and SkyDrive make sharing documents and files simple while giving you the peace of mind that the data is backed up. It is approximately the same cost as purchasing the hardware and software up front, only it is spread out monthly. Consider it like buying an insurance policy for your files.

The latest release of operating systems are integrating Cloud Services, making it simple to access, use and share your data and files. Do you use the cloud for your business? If not, we can help integrate you to the cloud, contact us today.