Get Off of My Cloud

Internet Cloud-based Services That Can Benefit Your Business
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Internet Cloud-based Services That Can Benefit Your Business

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Gordon van Zuiden (gordon@cybermanor.com) is president of cyberManor in Los Gatos, California.

Since 1999, my company has based its business strategy on distributing the entertainment and informational content of the internet into our client’s homes. The AV, control, and data infrastructure that we design and implement focuses on maximizing cloud-based services and pushing them throughout the home to as many devices as possible–computing, TVs, receivers, even alarm clocks and pianos.

As 2011 approaches, we recognize that the internet cloud (see sidebox) has also benefitted our own business operations in a number of profound ways.

As you plan on ways to improve your custom installation business, there may be no better way to increase your profitability in terms of top-line revenue and decreasing operational expenses than utilizing cloud-based services for your business. Here’s a brief rundown of several valuable sites that my company uses to great benefit to our business:

Intuit’s Quickbase
This online service has become an indispensible tool for scheduling, recording, and the billing of all of our service based work. An easy-to-setup database provides a customized service record for each of our accounts. Whether our technicians are in the office, on the road, or at home, having this information online allows them to review the scope of service work and to record their completed labor hours and materials used on a specific job.

With mobile computing products like the Apple iPad with 3G internet services, technicians can remain connected to this informational database wherever they happen to be. Our plan for next year is to incorporate an online change-order-based form that our technicians can show our client in the field to gain their signed approval for work they have asked us to complete.

Google Docs
Similar to Quickbase, this online spreadsheet also allows us to record our service-based work. However, we use this spreadsheet more for recordkeeping of ongoing, long-term projects. At a glance it allows us to easily review all of our work on a given job over a long period of time. It is instrumental in helping us compare the actual hours that we spend on a job to the original budgeted hours.

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Box.net
This is one of many different file transfer sites that are available on the internet. Over time we have used this site to store more and more of our company files. It has become very useful for the storage of large files that we need to share with our partners, consultants, and clients. It is also very useful for our technicians in the field that need access to sales or technical information to complete their work accurately. Again, with a product like the Apple iPad and 3G internet access, they can be on a job site and download a document such as a schematic wiring drawing to the tablet to give them instant access to the specific information they need.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Blogging
All of these websites in combination represent a new effort on the part of our company that allow us to better connect with our clients. This is a new strategy for us, but it is already paying dividends. We recently completed a Sunset showcase open house using Control4 products controlled by an Apple iPad, and we leveraged that work by making a video of our solutions and posting them on YouTube (more than 200 views in the first three days), tweeting the Sunset Open House information link, and writing about our efforts on the cyberManor company page in Facebook.

The internet services that I’ve described are just the tip of the iceberg for a wide range of cloud-based offerings that are available to help businesses like ours succeed. Implementing just a few of these ideas for 2011 may be the difference between surviving profitably or just staying afloat in this challenging economic climate.

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