Regional road trips. No doubt you’ve, “been there, done that before” and experienced what a nightmare it can be to get any internet coverage. No matter what the reasons for our travels out of town may be, one thing is certain: We still need our connection to the big, busy world via our trusty iPhones or Blackberries – or in my case, both!
A short time ago, I had the pleasure of attending a friend’s birthday party on the Gold Coast of Queensland and spent 10 days there to catch up with some old friends.
I was based in Ormeau. For those who don’t know where this is, it is about 1 hour’s drive south of Brisbane (Australia’s third largest city) and is in Australian’s largest growing region.
I had a great time catching up with friends in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast (North of Brisbane).
And of course, being me, I needed to have constant and regular access to my ACT! contacts, to email, and to various other office and on-line services and forums.
I was carrying an iPhone4 and a Blackberry Pearl (both with Handheld Contact) to give me the remote access I needed and hoped to find Wi-Fi connections where convenient to sync and to access my other information.
I suffered serious regional culture shock
Now don’t get me wrong. Like most people, I love getting out of town and escaping the hustle and bustle, but coming from Sydney, I’m used to the comforts of being connected at anytime of the day or night. I’m used to having a 30Mbit connection and 3G/4G network coverage. That’s not the reality though for my regional friends as I discovered while on my road trip. Here’s what I discovered on my travels:
- Mobile access was shocking: I had to wander from street to street, just to get a measly 1-2 bars on either the iPhone4 or Blackberry. As a customer of Telstra - this country’s largest telecommunications provider - it felt way short of my reasonable expectations for adequate coverage. It could have been worse – I could have had no coverage like any other poor person with the other carriers!
- Not all regional areas have ADSL coverage: Telstra has only put in enough lines for about half the properties in this new estate so the place where I was staying only got access after a neighbour moved out – the new resident in their neighbour’s place would be out of luck.
As frustrating as it was for me venturing out into this regional area...
...These frustrations are also being experienced in metropolitan areas of Australia!
There is “business park” in Brisbane itself (Australia’s third-largest capital city), that has virtually no broadband access at all …
Read that again if you need to, because the mind boggles. Even in a city like Brisbane, a business park doesn’t necessarily have broadband internet access. You can check out: Brisbane's NBN 'will transform people's lives' to get the lowdown on that story
For now though you might be wondering how this is relevant to this blog dedicated to Sage ACT!, CRM and IT?
Well, much in CRM is about mobility… and recently a lot of the press have jumped on the “trendy” technologies of cloud based computing – both for phone/tablet access and for general access.
For those of us who have been in the computing industry for long enough, we remember that the PC was originally viewed (by IBM) as little more than a slightly more intelligent “dumb terminal” to main-frame applications. Later, as the power of PCs increased, more of the data was stored locally and out of IT control. This lead to a gradual pull-back of control via networking, and then via various remote solutions.
These remote solutions are collectively referred to as “cloud computing”:
- ASP – Application Service Provider
- On-demand software
- SaaS – Software as a Service
To be honest, I’m not sure how to really define the differences of those … other than that they are buzz-words from different decades.
They are usually accessed via one or more of these methods:
- Remote Desktop Protocol Connection (Terminal Services or Citrix)
- Virtual Desktop (VMware, etc)
- Virtual Private Network
- Browser based applications
Cloud-based technologies do have some benefits:
- The data is live to the remote users
- Software integration issues are largely eliminated from the client side
- It can be platform independent – although, this can depend on browsers / versions that are supported
- Key software systems are kept up to date, available, and managed for performance by experts
- Improved reliability, availability, scalability and security of internal IT systems
- A provider's service level agreement should guarantee a certain level of service
- Access to product and technology experts dedicated to available products
- Reduction of internal IT costs to a predictable monthly fee
- Redeploying IT staff and tools to focus on strategic technology projects that impact the enterprise's bottom line
But there are also some serious disadvantages:
- The client must generally accept the application as provided since vendors only fully customize solutions for the largest clients
- The client may rely on the provider to provide a critical business function, thus limiting their control of that function and instead relying on the provider
- Changes in the market may result in changes in the type or level of service available to clients
- Integration with the client's non-hosted systems may be problematic
- Accessing data to convert to another system later maybe costly or not-available
- Loss of control of corporate data
- Loss of control of corporate image
- Insufficient vendor security to counter risks
- Lack of internet access (even temporarily) prevents users’ access to their data
- What happens when the provider suffers problems? Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Salesforce and many others have been in the press during the past year for being down for periods of time. Or some, like Google for losing data.
So where does that leave potential CRM users looking for remote access via the cloud?
I wrote an article a year ago on “Supporting Remote Users with ACT! by Sage”. In selecting the best method for a specific site, there are two questions you need to ask:
- Will the master and remote users always have reliable connection when they need access? If not (especially in the case of regional access as per the beginning of this article), then you should look at a sync-solution. The users work off-line and sync the changes with the master
This is especially important for smartphone and tablet users who may want to do work in areas not covered by their phone carrier or Wi-Fi (eg on a plane, some buildings and areas)
- Do you have the necessary reliable bandwidth and access to IT skills to self host or do you get it hosted by a third-party for an on-going fee? This is a bit more complex and can depend on:
- How good is your internet connection (for host and remote)?
- How responsive are your support options (in-house or out-sourced) if the server has issues?
- For hosted solutions:
- How reliable are they?
- How good is their tech support? Do they provide a service guarantee?
- How financial are they?
- What happens to your connection and data if their business or service fails?
- If the third-party host is down for a day, how much will the loss of access cost you? Will it be less if the remote users are using sync to local copies?
- How secure is the connection? At a minimum, must use one or more of SSL, VPN, RDP
- If you want to change application, will the hosted provider allow you to access ALL of the data in a format suitable for importing into other systems?
- How customisable is the application? Can you integrate it with your legacy systems or add functionality that you might require?
While SaaS/cloud offering will be suitable for many users, there are some questions that you need to ask to determine if it’s the best solution for you.
I feel certain that SaaS offerings will become more viable as time goes by, but right now I’m reminded of the line that for those on the bleeding edge of technology, that “a pioneer is frequently the guy with an arrow in his back!”