What does the Cloud do for me?

It doesn’t matter if you follow the latest IT trends or not - regardless of your technology awareness, you have probably heard about Cloud Computing. You may even have read our blog post from last December: iCompass Explores the Cloud. One of the questions people often ask me is "What is the Cloud?"; however, as soon as I start to explain in my usual over-technical way, they quickly change the question to “So what does it do for me?”

The main question is - why does the Cloud make life easier? Simply put, Cloud Services store your data so that you don’t have to worry about losing anything and they can all be accessed anywhere through a web browser from any web enabled device. Cloud Computing has the benefit of connecting you more with your life, your friends and your colleagues. It enables you to share information easily and still have time to experience your off-line life.

I will talk more about some of the Cloud-based solutions I use later in this article, but there are countless others you may want to explore; a good example is the ability to share your shopping list between devices. This means you can create your list on your home computer as you use house items up, and then use your mobile phone to access that list while you are in the store. There are also social media applications to keep in touch with friends and family that many people find useful (I will dedicate a separate blog post to social media in the near future).

All of these Cloud solutions help you connect more with people online and still live a full off-line life, because they save you time and effort. If the hard drive on my home computer crashes, I don’t lose anything. Nor do I have to upgrade my software or use the same machine all the time.

 

Product Development Often Fails to Meet Customers’ Needs

There is a crucial difference between what consumers say they need and what they really need (or want). Companies often focus on products, failing to realize that their customers’ concern is actually the desired outcome of using those products.

Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt illustrated this difference with a straight- forward analogy:

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Marketers tend to focusing too much on demographics segmentation and qualitative research methods, improving their products in ways that are mainly irrelevant to the needs of their consumers - focusing on the drill, not the hole.

 

Cloud Computing Delivers True Benefits

Google's Cloud-based AppsJust the other week my wife’s hard drive died on her. Fortunately, she didn’t lose much at all. Julie does not store very much on her machine - all her documents are on Google Docs, other files are in Dropbox and her e-mails are on the server. So, thanks to Julie making a lot of use of Cloud Computing, she only needs a back-up system - just another computer that can access the internet until I replace the hard drive.

My iPad has very little storage, as do most tablet devices; however I do not need much storage as I am only reading information on the internet or working on documents that are stored in the Cloud. Why would I want to keep a copy on the iPad itself? That would cause problems later on if I wanted to edit the document and I didn’t have my device with me.

Read my recent blog post on mobile computing for more information on tablets and other mobile devices: Mobile Computing Demystified

How many USB keys do you carry? Do you remember burning things to CD or DVD? Have you ever carried an external hard drive around? What is your strategy for backing up files? All of these questions become less important with Cloud Computing. So having said all this, let's look at some of the applications I personally use to make regular life easier.

 

My Favourite Cloud-Based Applications:

Dropbox

Drop Box is a free service that lets you store your photos, documents, videos and lots of other types of files, and share them easily with others. It allows you to work on articles from any machine that has internet access. For example, I can sit at home on the deck and work on an article on my iPad, turn the iPad off and put it away. Later sitting at the computer in my den, I can work on the same article from before by simply double-clicking the Dropbox folder, and off I go from where I finished on my iPad. The next day at work I can finish the document from my work machine and can easily share it with other Dropbox customers if I want, or e-mail it to various people. When going to a meeting, I don’t carry all the documents I need to the meeting, I just ensure there are copies in my drop box and access them from my iPad as needed.

 iCompass Action Tracking

Yes, I know Action Tracking is one of our own products, but I really do use it to keep myself and projects I am working through on track. Action Tracking allows me to keep track of the status of anything. Once again, regardless of my location, I can access the information I need to track as long as there is an internet connection.  It captures all the actions and related information in one place, grouped in convenient tracker modules that make it easy to keep on top of what's happening. From meeting actions to public records requests - and every other list you keep - our  Action Tracking tool gives you the power to better manage your critical information and keep everyone informed of what is going on.

Google Docs 

Google Docs allows me to create basic documents from scratch or start from a template.
I can easily do all the basics, including making bulleted lists, sorting by columns, adding tables, images, comments, formulas, changing fonts and more. It is free for anyone that has a Gmail account. Google Docs accepts most popular file formats, including DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV and PPT, meaning I can upload my existing files as well. Google Docs provides plenty of storage space, however you can only upload documents in some file formats, so it is still useful to have a Dropbox account as well as a Google Docs account.

E-Mail

Do any of you remember the days when you used to save your e-mails to your desktop to ensure they were backed up? Perhaps some of you still do this. Most e-mail providers today allow you to store your e-mails on their server but also allow you to connect with other tools such that you can keep a local copy as well. In case your hard drive dies or should you lose your computer, you do not need to worry about losing all your e-mails and appointments - they are safe on the Cloud.

Online Photo Albums

There are many different places to publish your photos to today so you do not have to store them on your local hard drive and risk losing them. FacebookFlickrTwitterPicasaInstagram and Picplz are the most popularly used programs. The problem a lot of people find is that they end up using more than one site to store their pictures, and they have different pictures on each site. Never fear - there a solution out there for that as well. See the next section on Pictarine.

Pictarine

Pictarine is a service that will gives access to all your photos from Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, Instagram and Picplz, as well as the photos from your computer or your camera. You can mix all these photos to create virtual albums (called Zest) and invite your friends to view, comment and even add their own photos. One odd thing about Pictarine is that while it allows you to connect to friends and mix photos, it is not a photo hosting website. You continue to host your photos on your favorite website - Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, Instagram or Picpl - but view them all from a single dashboard.

Amazon Kindle Store

Ebook reading is all the rage today, whether it is on a computer, tablet or ebook reader. There are lots of tools available for you to keep and organize your ebook collection. If you use an Amazon Kindle to read your books then you do not need to store them anywhere as Amazon does it all for you. Whenever you want to look at your books you can do so and download or remove them from your reader. If you forget you have purchased a book in your collection, and try to repurchase it from the Amazon store, it even lets you know that you have already purchased it. It also keeps all the highlighting, notes and annotations you make on your ebooks.

Netflix

Why download films to your hard drive? Why rent movies from the store? I use Netflix for films. I can  watch half a film, leave it for as long as I want while watching other films, and then go back to exactly where I was in the film I previously started. I can rate films I like and it gives me new suggestions based on what it knows I like based on my viewing history.

 iCompass FilePro

While we use FilePro constantly at the iCompass office, I also use it often to find specific documents at our local City of Kamloops website. FilePro itself is a simple yet powerful system that allows you to publish documents and make them available to others via the internet. It becomes even more powerful when used with our other applications.

 

Other Powerful Cloud-based Solutions

These next two products I don’t use myself, but I would be short-changing you if I didn’t bring them to your attention:

iCompass Meeting Management Solution

Here at iCompass we use our own Meeting Management Solution for many of our internal meetings, just as many of our customers do. This solution integrates with FilePro to link attachments to Agendas as well as to Action Tracking for actions that come out of a meeting and need to be tracked. It's main purpose however, is to help you create a meeting agenda with page references to all the attachments, and to help you to quickly produce the meeting minutes during and after the meeting with specific follow up activities.

iCompass Records Management Solution 

If you already use our FilePro software, you may want to look at adding our Records Management Solution as well. Although you likely have all your various documents shared with different security levels, it is helpful to classify them all as well. Let’s face it, why not put all your documents in one place and classify them so that they can be properly accounted for and retained for the right amount of time? You can even classify and track your paper-based documents through this interface, and provide the location of that paper document through an easy search from the system.

Paul Archer - Director of Research and Development

-Paul Archer, Director of Research & Development

Paul has been an indispensible resource at iCompass since 2005, his previous position being an Application Development Manager at Nottingham County Council in the UK. His experience in product development throughout his career and his strong business development skills continue to support the company's growth objectives.

His focus is on driving product development strategy with a tight focus to ensure the product is in alignment with the "jobs" the customers do, release satisfaction through product testing, and attention to security, performance, scalability, maintainability and usability.

He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree, Post Graduate Teaching qualifications in Computing and has participated in numerous Computing related courses throughout his career, including Microsoft certifications, Oracle certification, Crystal reports, and has delivered teaching courses up to Higher National diploma level. He keeps busy with an active social life in Kamloops with his wife, Julie, and is a Director of the Board of Local Economic Development Organization and has sat as the President of the Interior Technology Industry Association for the past year. 

 

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 11:17
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