Social networking has shown us how powerful the web can be for bringing people together and sharing information, ideas and contacts.
In a business context Cloud computing can perform that same function, enabling workers to collaborate over geographical distances and share expertise, bringing in the right skills as and when required.
For small businesses in particular, Cloud-based collaboration allows the use of web-based software to access collaboration tools without the technology overheads of traditional on-premise client/server computing.
One of the big arguments in favour of opting for software as a service (SaaS), or Cloud-based computing, is that it shifts capital spending (capex) to operational spending (opex). This is particularly attractive for small and medium sized businesses with tight IT budgets.
Cloud holds the potential to significantly cut overall IT costs as businesses no longer have to buy, manage and maintain their own hardware, software and licences. Instead, they rely on a service provider to run the equipment, and they gain economies of scale from operating it for multiple users.
Whilst lowering IT costs, web-based collaboration also brings new flexibility to IT users. For example, it means their Line of Business departments can quickly provision apps and tools as they are required. This caters for spikes in business demand, during a busy season for example, when the business needs to take on additional temporary staff.
Web-based collaboration also brings flexibility by offering the means for staff to work from home, or use laptop whilst away from the office.
As more and more businesses adopt this more flexible approach to working, they are changing the way they use IT, says Ovum lead analyst Mark Blowers. “[During] 2011, enterprises will move from a traditional hierarchy based on command and control, to looser structures using collaboration and teamwork,” he says, adding, “To cater for changes in work practices, an integrated approach to collaboration is needed which includes social networking and video conferencing.”
A useful feature that web-based collaboration brings with it is the ability to work on the same document as the rest of the department or team, regardless of their location.
In addition, online collaboration delivers the ability to maintain document version control. This is something that can cause problems for organisations that rely on emailing documents between workers. David Bradshaw, research manager, European SaaS and Cloud Services at IDC, comments, “Version control is a big benefit of Cloud-based collaboration. It can tell you how many versions of the document there are and where they are located.”
Cloud-based collaborative tools ease team working outside the firewall. One organisation that has benefited greatly from this is hospitality industry services firm Docomo InterTouch, a subsidiary of Japan's mobile operator NTT Docomo.
Docomo InterTouch is headquartered in Singapore but operates throughout Asia, South Pacific, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East.
It moved over 1,000 staff onto Google Apps, the online productivity and collaboration suite, and thereby covered more than 60 locations with the Cloud-based software.
As a consequence, the company experienced a productivity boost by using Google Docs and Google Sites as data sharing solutions. It also saved between 50% and 60% of costs over a three year period when compared to other solutions, and freed up time for its IT support staff by using Google Apps as the hosted email solution.
Darren Murphy, director of internal systems development, says, "We love the collaborative aspect of Google Apps and specifically Docs. Version control is no longer a concern as multiple people can now access the one document and make changes in real time."
He adds that staff, many of whom travel globally as part of their jobs, can now access and collaborate on shared documents at any time and from anywhere.