The Cloud in action

I had an interesting conversation with Jon Stacey of Riley Chartered Accountants.. I first came across Jon’s firm when I read about them on the Google Apps blog where there was a write up on their move to Google Apps and I was interested to discuss with him how the process had worked and more importantly, the decision process behind it.

Riley is obviously not your average firm of accountants. A quick look at their web site shows that they have embraced online technology and are making good use of social media such as Twitter. They also have an active blog on their site which is both informative and entertaining. I asked Jon what was behind their decision to move to Google Apps – he explained that historically the practice had used Lotus Notes as their main communication source with a system that had been setup by a former partner who had since retired.

Rather than try to get to grips with a legacy system – plus the fact that an old server needed upgrading – provided an excellent opportunity to make a clean break and go for something new and innovative. He says on his blog:

“Our office systems were almost totally reliant on Lotus Notes – a secure groupware system which enabled us to store, catalogue, discuss and record the way we worked and the communications that we had with our customers, referrers of business and suppliers. Notes also handled our e-mail, contacts and diaries. We started using it in 1998 and quickly became dependent on it for all we did. However, over the years we started to see the deficiencies in the system, the difficulties of the technical management issues, the “clunkiness” of it’s user-interface (UI) even after major updates and the access issues compared to the personal e-mail systems we had all started to use at home.”

He goes on to say:

” However, changes in our key team forced us to look properly at other solutions and we settled on migrating our e-mail, calendars and instant messaging to Google….. and we moved the majority of our communication IT to web-browser access without a hitch.”

This is, of course, one of the key drivers in making a move to the Cloud – the need to make changes to legacy systems due to their “architect” leaving the firm or infrastructure becoming out of date and requiring replacement.

He then goes on to say:

“That first step was a revelation. Not only was our information now accessible from anywhere in the world, from any computer or device (phone) with an internet connection, the move massively freed up resources of people (and cash) and removed the restrictions on our thinking about IT. We still had (and have) certain legacy databases on Notes but have started to wind these down as more content is now cloud based. For example our old Teamtalk database from Notes which contained office gossip, quick updates on who was where and why and news snippets has been moved to Yammer. This application also contains our “humour” database – a “must read” compendium of up to date jokes, links and general office twaddle. What we also found was that Google Apps allowed us to store all of our templates for letters, spreadsheets and many of our management tools too”

Take a moment to re-read this paragraph – not only does it succinctly sum up the raison d’etre of the Cloud, but emphasises the innovative thinking of the firm in the way that they communicate internally as well as with their clients.

And he finishes with what I see as the proverbial “icing” on the cake…

“We have also been able to dispense with the office-based back-up solution which was the bane of many of our lives. This has been replaced by on-line back-up for server based systems and a reliance on the cloud for back-up of e-mail, calendars and contacts. And there have also been no problems with software updates – I’m sure that they exist but they happen painlessly when we don’t notice or incrementally as the developers finish a feature. We don’t have to buy an upgrade path or worry about compatibility – it just happens”

I make no apologies for cribbing so much from Jon’s excellent blog as it so clearly shows how firms can adopt the Cloud painlessly and efficiently – for the benefit not only of their clients and contacts but internally as well.

We finished our conversation with me saying how refreshing it was to speak to an accountant who “got it”.. normally it was like pushing a boulder up hill. Jon’s reply sums it up…

“I’m glad”, he says..”it might not be good for you, but whilst no one else is doing it, we have the advantage…”

Couldn’t put it better!