The Advantages of Cloud-Based Tools for Social Collaboration - dummies

The Advantages of Cloud-Based Tools for Social Collaboration

By David F. Carr

Most traditional software vendors have adapted to some version of the cloud business model by now, offering customers a choice of software or cloud-based software as a service (SaaS). The advantage of choosing a social collaboration product that is available in either mode is you can start in the cloud and later switch to an on-premises version of the software, and vice versa.

For all the concerns they may raise, cloud applications have distinct advantages over on-premises applications.

Reducing the burden on your IT department

The cloud shifts IT’s role from maintenance to integration and innovation. With social collaboration in the cloud, IT personnel don’t have to worry about racking and stacking servers or provisioning more storage as users share files. A cloud provider may also be able to provide storage and network resources more cost effectively than the internal IT organization can on its own.

So what’s left for IT to do? In some organizations, it may be an IT person who administers the service: not in the hands-on fashion of administering internal IT resources but through the cloud application’s web-based administration console. Even if the administration function is designed to be self-service, IT personnel may be better equipped to know what check boxes to mark and what settings to tweak. Someone from IT or the web development team may also be in charge of whatever customization is allowed to the branding and appearance of the cloud service.

Taking advantage of continuous improvements

Cloud software products get better day by day, with more major upgrades arriving several times a year. When a cloud product gets an upgrade, every user gets access to the new features at approximately the same time. If the software developers introduce a bug fix, the bug is fixed immediately for all customers. However, that’s not how things work with enterprise software.

With the exception of bug fixes and patches made available for download, enterprise software products typically aren’t updated more often than once per year. Then, after a major upgrade is released, it may be several months to a year — or more — before users see the version. First, the IT organization needs to decide to buy the upgrade and win corporate approval for the purchase. Then, there may be months of testing to ensure that any customizations applied to the software or the underlying database will continue to function following the upgrade.

Often, enterprise software installations lag behind, maybe for budgetary reasons or because customers don’t want to go through the hassle of upgrading. It’s not unusual to find customers running, say, 4.x versions of the software a year after the release of the 6.0 version.

Reaching out to telecommuters and traveling employees

Cloud applications can be particularly convenient for employees who work from home or while on the road, delivering the best web and mobile app experience to workers anywhere in the world. Some cloud applications can be accessed from multiple data centers around the world, reducing transmission latency for those traveling internationally.

Although a web application hosted in a corporate data center may be accessible from anywhere, it would be unlikely to match the performance optimizations that a cloud vendor can provide.

Automating account provisioning

Jive introduced the first real cloud version of its social collaboration product in mid-2012, partly to enable a streamlined 30-day free trial sales model that would allow it to reach small to midsize customers. Instead of having to manually provision trial accounts for new customers, now it allowed them to sign up online.

True cloud services can be purchased online and activated within a few minutes, usually requiring nothing more than a few clicks on a signup form. Payment is typically by credit card, but in the case of freemium and free trial offers, a card number may not be required up front.

Upgrading difficulties become a thing of the past

Cloud application access also eliminates the traditional challenges of upgrading on-premises software, where the process may be significantly different depending on which version is currently installed, and what database, database version, OS and its version, and user customizations are in place. The process of porting content from the database structure of one version of on-premises software to the structure of the next may be a process that takes months of futzing around and testing the results on a staging server.

If a cloud application provider decides that the database structure must change to speed a critical query, it takes charge of porting any existing content to that new format. If the operator does its job right, the end user need never know anything changed.