Is cloud computing changing our work culture?

By Guido Marchetti, Office 365 Specialist for O2 Telefonica, MJ Flood Technology

Cloud computing is becoming more than just a buzz word and a talking point over that first cup of coffee in the morning. It is quickly becoming an accepted standard for IT infrastructure.

All of the business benefits of availability, accessibility and reliability are key elements driving the adoption of cloud services such as Office 365. But within the concept of accessibility, there is an opportunity to boost productivity and allow employees work from anywhere.

There’s nothing new here, you might say. But the pervasive nature and ease of use of cloud applications coupled with the explosion in smart devices are for the first time, really challenging the traditional definition of what constitutes the timespan of a normal working day. Could services such as Office 365 even help to strike that elusive work-life balance without compromising on either?

Very few industries would say that they can survive on the traditional 40 hour week. Whether we like it or not, this culture has become a thing of the past and more and more companies are expecting their employees, clients and suppliers to be available at hours outside 8.30am to 5.30pm.

The explosion of mobile smart devices means we all now have email in our pockets at a minimum, but with the right cloud services and the end devices, flexible working can be easily introduced into your company.

So using the Office 365 service let’s look at what can be placed in the cloud and what that means to the end-user using this flexible model:

  • Email
    With email in the cloud and messages being delivered to all my devices that are connected to the system, we have email always on the move without the complexity of VPN or third party apps to secure communications.
  • SharePoint
    We can now share documents with colleagues on a centralised web space, which will manage the copies and ensure we always have the most up to date version on all devices, editable even on an iPad with a clever web apps tool.
  • Lync
    A clever, personal communications tool that gives us presence, when we sign in and when others are available/busy and so on. It represents a way to communicate via instant message or voice/video call, and the ability to have a webinar with colleagues and clients.

With information stored in the cloud and the ability to access this data via smart phone, tablet device or laptop, we can now effectively allow our employees to “work from wherever” a phrase that was coined and used as an initiative last week by Microsoft to encourage location-independent working.

This flexibility with technology, however, now challenges employers to consider the question of trust: do they trust their workforce enough to allow them to work remotely using these tools and not insist that they are present and accounted for as part of a “roll call” every morning?

The mainstream introduction of these communication tools at an affordable price point, is allowing small business to deploy technologies, previously only enjoyed by large global companies such as Microsoft, Google or Facebook.

Now every employee can benefit from the tools to work efficiently, while having the flexibility to catch the kids’ school play in the knowledge of being able to log on later that night at a time which supports work/life balance.

This is a culture that is growing, driven by technology but also driven by employees themselves. Work/life balance has become increasingly important for staff and offering this option provides greater career satisfaction. As the old adage goes: a happy work force is a more productive workforce.

A New IT Model for a New World: Cloud Computing Apps

by Guido Marchetti

Small businesses have been struggling over the past few years with the demise of the Celtic Tiger. Gone are the days where they could invest significant amounts of hard earned cash in the latest version of Small Business Server or its equivalent.

Over time, small businesses have become reliant on technology as it has enabled them to offer an enterprise-class window to the world and to do more. However, over the last two years, their efforts have been concentrated on battening down the hatches and trying to survive. During this time, IT assets are aging – depreciating with time and the capital cost of a technology refresh is climbing steeply. In fact, these costs are already well beyond the reach for most SME organisations.

A dark cloud is looming with the fear that this technology might fail. IT partners are encouraging an upgrade sooner rather than later, as the technology itself will become more of an administrative headache for them too, resulting in increased service cost to the business.

But, with every cloud comes a silver lining. And in this case it is within the cloud that we might find the answer.

Cloud computing and cloud computing applications have exploded over the last 12 months and have been heralded across all media spectrums as the next disruptive technology – a technology which is going to fundamentally change that way we purchase and use IT services. This has led to an eagerness to learn but has also created its fair share of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. So what is cloud computing and how can it help?

What is cloud computing?

Put quite simply, Cloud Computing is the use of business software hosted in a datacentre that is charged on a per user basis, for example Microsoft Office 365. This delivers a change on two fronts for the Irish market place across SME and large enterprise sectors.

It challenges the traditional purchasing model of capital expenditure, where we invest heavily in hardware and software and in some cases end up writing some of that investment off. Let’s not complicate this by trying to point out that you double the investment to deliver High Availability of systems. Let’s keep this as simple as possible.

Negating the need for capital investment, we simply pay as we go on a monthly basis which is scalable, reliable, accessible and cost effective. For the enterprise space, companies continue to benefit from the high standards of technology delivery that they would be used to but can reduce costs on replication and deliver higher Service Level Agreements.

For the SME market we are now delivering enterprise technology and availability at a small user price, enabling them to have all the benefits of enterprise level technology without the large cost and the necessity for in-house IT skills.

Let’s take the example of a small business currently using Microsoft Small Business Server 2003. To protect the continuity of their systems, they would now have to look at upgrading to Microsoft SBS 2011 and making a similar investment to what they did 5-6 years ago (longer in some cases). This needed VPN technology to get email, or SSL certs for email delivery. Most SME companies use Sage 50 which also runs on that server too. That is a lot of eggs in one basket.

How would it work?

Under a new hybrid model, we can completely redesign the IT infrastructure of that small business with clever on-premise server technologies such as Windows Server Foundation and SBS 2011 Essentials (designed for cloud integration) coupled with cloud services to deliver email, collaboration and communication tools (Like Microsoft Office365) and finance packages such as Sage that are also now online. This delivers a breadth of feature-rich productivity tools that small businesses could not afford to deliver in the past. It also changes how we as a company work and how we allow our employees to work.

This is a cultural change that we will start to see take root in the Irish market over the next 12-24 months as more of these solutions move to the mainstream. These technologies will allow us to securely access our email data, financial data, share files and communicate in more cost effective ways without adding complexity to our IT systems and needing an IT degree to access data that we need.

Cloud services for the first time in the IT industry do not focus on the “T” of “Technology” but rather on the “I” of “Information”. Information is our intellectual property and it is that information which allows us to engage with our colleagues, clients and partners. To be able to access this information on the move from any device without having to manage the complexities of an IT network in the back office is ultimately where we want to get to – allowing ease of access and ability to work smarter.

That is clever computing; that is cloud computing and that is why more and more companies of all sizes should investigate if cloud services are a fit for them. Some companies will embrace cloud computing; others will hide behind misconceptions of security concerns but most companies will find that cloud services will keep their business just one step ahead of the competition.

IT made simple without the pain. Sounds like a great idea to me.