EPMEPM: Technology & Social

Reaching for the Clouds

The move to web based “always-on” software now has demonstrable advantages for both start-ups and established property management businesses alike. Story by Alister Maple-Brown.

Thinking back to the 1880s, individual electricity generators were the norm. However they were expensive to run, a burden to maintain, and fundamentally inefficient. Technology changed that paradigm with the centralisation of power generation (the power plant) and the building of the electricity grid. Electricity via a socket in the wall became something that was expected, it was easy to access and it simply worked. Is the same thing happening with the Internet and the applications that run on it?

Today, when many of us think about information technology (IT), we think about the Internet on one hand and marvel at all the amazing innovations that are being introduced daily. As individuals, we continue to consume more applications and services every day from all corners of the globe. On the other hand we (especially those over 35 years of age!) think of IT being about servers, networks, PCs, software and so on. Many of these components are part of our life in the work place – a place where things at times seem to become more complex when they should be getting easier. In the end, however, whether for personal or business purposes, all we as individuals want are tools that make things easier. We want them to work and we want to them to be accessible from anywhere at any time.

This is the promise that the Internet and cloud computing holds for us. We welcome a world where access to all of the applications we need are accessible from wherever we are, at any time and without any additional need to worry about maintenance, backups, software and all those things that seem to challenge the IT promise of improving our lives.

If we divide Internet applications into two groups – consumer and business – we see that the ‘consumer web’ has, in recent times, outrun the ‘business web’. Thanks to many of the leading Internet companies, the pendulum is swinging back to the business side and genuine web based solutions are popping up and providing real alternatives. However having access to the new tools is only part of the equation. Wanting to change and understanding why is even more important along with having a clear path of how to implement the changes.

Why move to web based software?

Beginning with the “Why”, I’ve outlined just four of the many reasons highlighting the benefits of moving to an environment where web based applications are ubiquitous.

For the better part of the last 30 years, businesses have seen significant benefits and efficiencies brought about by the adoption and use of IT. At the same time, businesses have been challenged by the ongoing need to buy hardware, upgrade networks, install software and manage a backup regime. All this is, and has been, a critical part of business practice.

With the transition to web based applications and the rise of cloud computing, this task and its associated complexities disappears. The application provider takes on this responsibility as part of the service delivered to the end user. Businesses no longer need to worry about hardware and software, installations and upgrades. Users simply ‘access’ an application (or service) via any Internet connection, from any location, on any device.

Secondly, when taking the leap to web based applications, the end user is forced to look at a world through different lenses and see that having data sitting ‘outside the office’ is in effect more secure. Data sitting in professionally managed, highly secure data centres inside well designed applications, is substantially more secure than it currently is, sitting inside the office. Many will see this benefit as a possible risk. This is not helped by segments of the press who like to focus on such issues. While we can never ignore the risks, nor trivialise the potential challenges, it’s important to focus on the fact that security is improving every day and our acceptance of working on the web is become commonplace. Who can imagine not doing their banking online anymore?

Thirdly, data sitting on the Internet or in the cloudcan be instantly and easily shared with those who need access. We see this today in the consumer market where users on social networks upload photos and documents and decide who can have access. The process is simple and efficient. The principle is the same for sharing files related to business and clients.

Finally, web based applications benefit from the fact they are centrally delivered and managed. This enables providers to create integrations between databases that are transparent to the end user yet enable the end user to save time immediately by displaying data within the one screen that may be from data sources dotted across the Internet.

Making the Transition

The reasons are compelling, the next question is how this can be achieved.

Like all industries, there are large, medium, small, boutique, franchise, and independent businesses. For many of the well established large businesses the transition to a fully web based environment will take time and commitment. In many instances medium and large businesses are entrenched in their current systems and are comfortable in the knowledge that such widely used applications are continuing to be heavily developed. In addition, technologies exist today that enable such applications, originally built for the office network, to run across the Internet and essentially be made available 24/7. Such technologies are being used by providers to ‘web-ify’ applications and for good reason. While such deployments are providing benefits, they do not take the path of the genuine web based/cloud solution of the future.

Yet, for those businesses that are small and/or starting from scratch, opportunity exists today to build a business using applications that you never need to install, manage or upgrade manually. They are supplied to you via the Internet just like your electricity is supplied to you via the grid. The analogy can also apply to the costing as you pay for what you use. This makes the barriers to entry almost non existent.

A new business starting today could have its email, calendaring, intranet, instant messaging, social network and productivity software (for example word processing, spreadsheets) provided online. In addition, the business accounting software along with the sales and marketing software and the property management trust accounting software could be delivered all online. Such a business would be flexible, ready for growth and free to get on with doing what it does best!

So, when is the right time to move? There is no such thing as a right time. As businesses evolve, needs change, and applications grow, the drive toward cloud computer and Internet delivered applications will only increase. The benefits are mounting every day and the perceived risks are decreasing.

Can we say therefore that the world of Internet applications is following in the footsteps of the electricity grid? With the transition to centralised computing and application delivery well and truly in full swing, we will see fewer companies having to manage their modern day power generator (or IT infrastructure). By creating economies of scale through centralising the complex components of IT, the end user can only benefit.

While these new technologies are exciting and the pace of change will increase, we must never forget that the Internet and the applications it delivers are the enablers and not the do-ers. It will be the people who see the benefits by making the change and utilising the cloud to create new business models and in turn realise great value.

Alister Maple-Brown is General Manager of PropertyTree, a division of Rockend, providing online property management and trust accounting software for Australian and New Zealand businesses.

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