Nov 27, 2012 (06:11 AM EST)
8 Cloud Tools For Road Warriors
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
It's not easy being a road warrior. As daunting as a day in the office can be, working while on the move presents an almost inexhaustible list of challenges.
Remotely accessing important documents, collaborating with co-workers hundreds of miles away, keeping track of clients while on the go, capitalizing on unexpected opportunities, staying productive while at the airport or on a plane -- the process is basically a beefed-up version of most on-site difficulties combined with the complexity of working outside an IT-controlled environment.
Consider the man in Germany who essentially built an entire office inside his car. While we can only guess what compelled this ostensibly dangerous tactic, it's probably safe to assume that one factor was the pressure to remain productive while on the road. Luckily, technology has advanced to keep road warriors in the game without resorting to such daredevil strategies.
It's becoming more and more common for employees to abandon their desks and to treat wherever they happen to be as a makeshift office. Mobility is a big part of this shift. With smartphones and tablets now offering much of the functionality that historically has required a PC, travel no longer means sacrificing utility.
But more advanced devices are only part of the equation. Cloud services are another indispensable factor -- and one that can take many forms.
For some users, clouds simply allow documents to be stored and accessed remotely. For others, they're the gateway to SaaS tools that give mobile devices specific functions and more processing power than their chips alone can produce. And for still other users, cloud services are a platform for teamwork among widely dispersed contributors. Streamlined paperwork flows, on-the-spot sales opportunities, better task management -- the list of applications goes on.
Many users will use only one or two cloud services frequently. Others will assemble a vast collection of tools to match their needs, or, if they're lucky, find a single service that integrates most of the work into a single interface. Some might rely on consulting companies to collect the right tools or build custom cloud apps.
Taking full advantage of the cloud sometimes means getting creative. It also requires an understanding of how mobile devices and cloud services present security risks, with data loss and unauthorized use of corporate content among the chief concerns. The right combination of tools will vary by organization and by individual user -- but the first step is to become familiar with the landscape (or cloudscape).
The following eight cloud computing services show how road warriors can remain productive and plugged in -- and how IT administrators can tailor and integrate tools to fit particular needs while keeping data safe.
Among productivity tools, Evernote is one of the most widely used. And for good reason: it offers on-the-go workers an easy means of categorizing notes, PDFs, images, sound recordings and other data.
Evernote provides a central hub for managing all the minutiae that comes with being a road warrior. With Evernote, there's no need to piece together a week's worth of information scrawled on sticky notes and napkins. The tool allows you to stay organized from the start.
Simple notes can be created natively within the app, and collections of notes can be categorized into albums, allowing users to segment data into projects. These notes can be automatically backed up to a master copy in the cloud and revisions can be automatically synced to all a user's devices. The cloud repository can also store and access files created outside the service and attach them to notes. Voice memos and images can be recorded using a smartphone or tablet's onboard hardware, and Evernote handles them just like it does all the other notes in a user's account.
Quickly looking up travel plans is no sweat with Evernote, and it's easy to add notes whenever appropriate, such as to document a last-second agenda change. Because the revisions sync to the cloud, a user doesn't have to worry about updating other devices. What's more, the automated syncing can facilitate remote collaboration by making the newest notes available to all the members of a team. Cameras can be used to turn business cards into PDFs, for example, or to store images of a whiteboard during a meeting and quickly archive a few notes alongside the image.
Evernote is also flexible. Available both as an app and a Web service, it can be accessed on virtually any device. OS support includes Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android as well as Chrome OS, WebOS, BlackBerry. Evernote also applies optical character recognition, enabling it to search any text in an image.
Evernote isn't perfect, of course. Each version of the app works a bit differently, so the experience of getting content into and out of Evernote can be inconsistent.
There's also the matter of Evernote's security. It provides password protection and encryption, but if you want additional fortifications such as more granular layers of password protection, you'll need to pony up for the Premium service ($5.00 per month or $45 per year), or the Business program ($10 per user per month, slated to launch in December).
That said, the Premium account includes nice service bumps, such as boosting monthly uploads caps, eliminating ads, and supporting larger files and text searches within PDFs.
And though additional apps can add complexity, they also create an ecosystem, which many users will consider more of a benefit than a burden. In fact, Evernote has been successful not only because it integrates note-keeping and archiving into a single UI but also because it can connect with so many other services and tools.
Like it or not, doing business means paperwork. The flow of documents doesn't stop just because workers are on the road, and a variety of electronic signature tools have emerged to keep the process flowing regardless of whose signature is needed or where that person is located.
RightSignature is one such tool. An SaaS offering, it allows users to create and sign legally binding documents online. Documents can be uploaded from a variety of cloud repositories, with add-on integration available for Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, Microsoft SkyDrive and Salesforce, among others. After an upload is complete, users can quickly distribute documents to specified recipients. These recipients can sign in a variety of ways, from using the mouse to typing in initials to turning an iPhone or iPad's touchscreen into a signature pad.
Other benefits include multi-party signing and a slew of security benefits, such as 256-bit SSL encryption and archives backed up to VeriSign's AWS cloud servers. Options for biometric authentication, webcam photo authentication, document expirations and more are available for users who need to meet rigorous compliance standards.
On the downside, documents can't be modified after they've been sent, which makes RightSignature fine for finalizing documents but not necessarily for earlier stages. The service also fails to offer any free plans. Personal accounts are $14 per month, and business accounts, which support up to 10 senders and bundle a number of additional tools, are $49 per month. Both options allow senders to distribute an unlimited number of documents, and neither requires that recipients have a RightSignature account. Costs can also be reduced if users sign up for annual contracts.
Because RightSignature is Web-based, it can be accessed on almost any device. Apps iOS and Android are also available, though they are less fully featured than the browser-based version.
As an alternative, DocuSign, a competing service, offers a free plan. This trial version is limited to five request signatures but allows users to get a taste of what electronic signature tools can offer. DocuSign also hooks into many CRM forces, such as Salesforce, and offers attractive security features, such as SSL encryption, cloud archiving and document expirations. It doesn't, however, offer the extensive API integration that RightSignature boasts. It also lacks options like photo authentication, which some users might consider important.
In many organizations, individual teams and departments might store data in different places using different services. In such heterogeneous environments, on-the-go workers can be forced to juggle multiple apps while IT administrators juggle multiple policy dashboards and security concerns. AppSense's free DataNow app for iOS and Android strives to simplify this by allowing users to manipulate multiple cloud repositories in roughly the same way that they can manage multiple accounts within a mobile device's native email client.
The app offers links to DropBox, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Citrix ShareFile and other popular cloud services, making it a one-stop hub for wrangling data spread across numerous contact points. A simple touch-based interface allows files to be shared via email or transferred from one cloud provider to another, and options are also available to remotely access traditional storage using FTP or WebDAV.
While road warriors will appreciate a single interface for organizing and accessing files in different cloud-based lockers, IT administrators will appreciate the app's backend controls and security features. These include the ability to limit to how data is accessed -- for example, one option allows users to access files only while connected to the Internet; another option stores local copies of recently opened files so that a subset of data is available for offline use. Encryption can be applied to individual files for additional granular control.
What road warrior isn't annoyed by expense reports? Expensify aims to appease your frustrations.
Expensify is available both as an SaaS that can be accessed on laptops, and as a mobile app that lets you organize expenses on the fly by snapping photos of receipts and turning the images into PDFs that can be sent back to the office. Available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and WebOS, the service should fit almost any device requirements.
The basic Individual Plan is free but supports only a single user. The Team Plan includes two free accounts and adds $5 per month for each additional active user. A corporate plan is also available, which supports two users for free and charges $10 per month for each additional user. The individual account supports Evernote integration, but additional API hooks for Salesforce, Google Apps, FreshBooks and other services can be unlocked only through the paid versions. Central account administration, policy enforcement, reimbursement options and other advanced features are likewise available only through the upgraded plans.
Paperless receipts that will meet IRS scrutiny are another perk for users who link their accounts to credit card or bank account information. Security checks include redundant storage in the cloud in PCI-compliant data centers as well as SSL encryption for data transfers.
Mobile workers aren't just traveling to conferences and meetings-- some are also harnessing smart devices to set up cash registers in just about any location. Many service providers have emerged to provide ad hoc points of sale, and Square is one of the most visible players in this growing space.
A free service, Square Register can be installed on Android and iOS devices. After you sign up, the company will send you a free card reader dongle to complete the account registration process. From there, you're ready to turn any on-the-go conversation into a possible sales opportunity.
The service backs up data to Square's servers in the cloud, so a lost device doesn't mean lost business. Encryption kicks in as soon as a card is swiped. Analytics tools are available for the iPad version, with somewhat stripped-down capabilities accessible on the phone-based offerings. Though accounts can be established for free, transactions fees still apply. These are somewhat flexible, however; users can choose to pay either 2.75% of every purchase or a flat fee of $275 per month.
Competing services are popping up all the time, but Square has been aggressive in forging partnerships. The tool has always been an equalizer for SMBs but recent unions show that the company has aims for bigger enterprises as well. A deal with NetSuite, for example, pairs Square Register with the NetSuite cloud commerce offerings. A recent investment from Starbucks, meanwhile, could hasten the shift from traditional payment methods to purely electronic ones. It could also portend other large business embracing the appeal of mobile, cashless transactions.
If one thing matters to most traveling workers, it's the ability to access important documents at any time and from any location. There are plenty of options, such as Drop Box and Google Drive, available for this purpose -- but Teambox aims to be the box to rule all boxes.
Teambox differentiates itself from other storage lockers in that it's not just about storage. The open source, Web-based tool's central dashboard, for example, presents collaborators' updates in a cascading display that resembles a Twitter stream or Facebook newsfeed. Within this interface, you can make comments and share files, and a separate Task Management page offers additional ways to keep track of ongoing group projects.
Integration with services such as Box, DropBox, Salesforce and Google Apps help further Teambox's goal of being the central hub for various cloud activities.
The free version supports up to five users and offers 5 GB of storage. A paid Pro version removes the user and storage caps; it offers pricing models that scale with user needs, with monthly fees running from $25 per month for five users to $275 per month for 100 users. Both the free and Pro options boast secure cloud storage in PCI-compliant data centers, allowing Teambox to boast 99.9% up time. An enterprise-oriented service that offers custom plans for on-site hosting is also available.
BYOD poses numerous IT challenges, but SaaS is at least a partial solution. If data protection and storage are handled by apps, browsers, and clouds, administrators don't necessarily need to provision mobile devices to access sensitive documents while on the move. Doing this is still a good idea, of course -- but with encryption surrounding work done in the cloud, the task of repelling threats isn't confined to the device. Rather, it can be shared, or even owned, by the dashboard that controls the SaaS policies.
Even so, SaaS offerings rely on cloud storage, and for some, the idea of leaving important information in a single location -- even one advertised as secure and reliable -- can be unsettling. Content could be backed up to on-site servers, but that could require additional infrastructure investments that some organizations, particularly SMBs, might not be able to take on. There's also the issue of user error. If an employee accidentally imports inaccurate data into the cloud and overwrites the correct information, an enterprise could face headaches restoring valuable information.
That's where Backupify enters the picture. It's essentially a cloud service for backing up other cloud services, with Salesforce and Google Apps representing its largest targets to date. Users simply allow Backupify to access their accounts and automated archiving ensues on a daily basis, leaving on-the-go workers free to access corporate information without worrying about data loss catastrophes.
Plans are flexible. Salesforce storage starts at $50 per month for 10 users and 1 GB of storage per user. Each additional user adds $5 to the monthly cost. Google Apps backup starts at $3 per month per user for 35 GB of storage. An Enterprise Plan that removes data capacity limits is available for up to 25 users for $4 per month per user, and an Enterprise + option allows an unlimited number of users to share up to 1 TB of storage for $990 per month per domain. Audit logs and administrator controls are offered in the two enterprise packages, and all versions boast secure encryption for both in-transit content as well as at-rest data stored on AWS servers.
Whether it's an executive masterminding an enterprise-wide strategy while traveling between meetings or a mobile salesperson looking for insight into client retention, many workers need to keep track of revenue streams while on the go.
ServiceSource's Renew OnDemand cloud apps are designed to fit these needs. The CRM suite's Renew Analytics offering, for example, provides both on-site and mobile workers with a dashboard for viewing and analyzing customer data. With the ability to drill from a macro view of service subscription renewals down to specific variables, the app allows users to understand factors like why certain customers departed and how effectively certain tactics, such as up-sell campaigns, are working, among other things. It also offers both real-time sales data and role-based access that lets IT administrators provide the right information at the right time for a given job. The Renew Sales app allows sales campaign tools, such as email notifications or self-service renewal portals, to be automated. It also permits different strategies, such as cross-selling or win-back programs, to be tracked and offers forecasting tools.