Integrated “Cloud” applications and efficiency
Though Joni Mitchell’s famous song “Clouds” may lead you to conclude that the whole “cloud computing” phenomenon is just some airy concept (”I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now / from win and lose / and still somehow / it’s clouds illusions I recall / I really don’t know clouds at all”), the fact is, these time-saving, efficiency-enhancing technologies can help you to reduce costs, increase revenues and improve your agency’s margins.
In an interesting post on his IT Enquirer blog, Erik Vlietinck writes about how the “human factors” at a European ad agency led it to lose considerable time and money. Falling into the trap of acting as the “middleman,” the agency dealt with the client and two outside copywriters and caved in to the client’s insistence on weekly face-to-face meetings.
These meetings were often held to assign repeat work assignments and weren’t really necessary. Even worse, each party used different software and technology platforms – from Mac and Pages to an outdated version of WordPerfect on a PC – impeding work flow and slowing productivity.
At Yield Software, where I work, we serve a growing roster of agencies and based on what I've learned from these folks, I'm able offer insights around how to improve productivity. Like many companies, you may be stuck with legacy software applications – as are your clients. (We’ve found, for example, that many small businesses have remained with Windows® XP due to the well-publicized problems of the Vista operating system – and many are still using old versions of Microsoft® Office, not to mention ancient versions of Internet Explorer.)
Thankfully, many new Internet-based applications exist that aid collaboration and improve productivity. These applications work because they’re not platform-specific, and they can be accessed from any computer anywhere in the world – enabling you to hold a video conference with far-flung clients while sitting in your fuzzy slippers at your kitchen table at 6:00 AM.
Here then, are some of our favorite cloud-based (with one exception) collaboration tools:
Developed by 37Signals, Basecamp is project management made easy. Used by agencies of all types – including Web design, branding, SEM, graphic design, marketing, advertising, and freelancers – Basecamp allows you to easily manage projects and collaborate with customers, partners, and third-party vendors. Best of all, Basecamp eliminates the back and forth emailing as it keeps all discussions in one place, and it allows you to upload any type of document for easy sharing as well as tracking project time. Pricing is based on the number of projects you manage.
With this application, you can reduce or eliminate expensive face-to-face meetings while sharing information in real time. What we like about WebEx is that everyone sees the same computer screen – making it easy to present ad campaign concepts, data, and other information to clients. As with Basecamp, anyone can access WebEx from any computer – including a smart phone. We’ve also used GoToMeeting, which is a terrific alternative to WebEx and which offers competitive pricing.
3. Google Docs
We use Google Docs here at Yield Software to share information company-wide and with folks like consultants. Google Docs lets you create documents and spreadsheets, upload them, and then invite people to share and edit. Like Basecamp, Google Docs eliminates the back-and-forth emailing. As with most Google products, Google Docs is free.
Want to do video conferencing at no cost? Or how about secure chat? Skype is how you do it. Although each member on your team will need to download the software and set up an account, which means Skype isn’t technically a “cloud application,” the download process takes literally less than a minute. You’ll also need a webcam and microphone, which most computers and laptops now have built-in – but once you’re up and running, you’ll wonder how you did without it. What we love about Skype is that Skype-to-Skype calls are free to anyplace on the globe – including video calls – and the call / video quality is awesome. And, the newest version includes a screen-sharing feature so you’re able to show your co-conferees what you’re referring to on your own desktop.
5. Team Apart
We haven’t used this service, but have heard good things about it. Team Apart combines video, white boarding, and a real-time note pad (to record meeting notes) in one simple Internet-based interface – and it’s free. Each member of your team will need the latest version of Flash, a headset with microphone, and a webcam. The product is still in beta, but check it out!
Bottom line: Don’t overlook The Cloud.
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