There was a time, not long ago, when cloud-based solutions aimed at the office space were met with skepticism, trepidation and even a dose of fear. The “host locally” crowd gradually dissipated to a fringe core of holdouts, however, based on two primary drivers: the pandemic forcing office workers into remote settings, necessitating cloud use to a greater degree, coupled with the epiphany that many applications/platforms the holdouts utilized were cloud-based, anyway.
While many businesses had long since embraced the cloud and its many benefits (scalability, security, accessibility, etc.) prior to 2020, we open this month’s State of the Industry report on software with an overview of the titles and solutions that have gained traction in the years following the pandemic’s outbreak, courtesy of our dealer panel.
The best place to start is a conversation about a client or prospect’s IT plans for the next 18 months, a strategy embraced by The Swenson Group of Livermore, California. According to President Dean Swenson, that can yield long-range plans such as retiring on-premise servers, to which the dealer can offer private/shared cloud options.
One of the greatest opportunities for The Swenson Group is backfile conversion. Many clients are saddled with filing cabinets/banker boxes filled with paperwork—often unorganized and lacking security. More importantly, the inability to easily access the data found on these paper documents could represent a missed opportunity to leverage the information in a profitable way, or at the very least, enable the company to be more efficient.
The true value comes on the back end of a conversion project. “We ask them, now what do you want to do with that information,” Swenson said. “We’re working with a private school that wants to mine the data for alumni and donations, but the information resided in banker’s boxes and wasn’t up to date. It wasn’t being utilized. But once captured digitally, the client can organize, filter and target to improve donations.”
Communications tools have taken on greater significance in the past two years, which is one area capitalized upon by Edwards Business Systems of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The dealer turned to Konica Minolta for a VoIP communications solution to provide end-users the same experience while working remotely that they enjoyed while on-premise.
According to Dan Lamborn, Edwards’ IT services sales specialist, having the app reside on a laptop, mobile device or desk phone ensures all dials are received regardless of the recipient’s location. “There are multiple ways and flexibility to make dials from anywhere, whether you’re in the office or at the local Starbucks,” he said. “Users love the ability to field/make calls and be able to continue with business.”
The pandemic’s impact on compelling the cloud holdouts to make the conversion put many businesses in an unenviable position at a time when they were already taxed to devise remote work strategies. Matt Kanaskie, vice president of solutions for St. Cloud, Minnesota-based Marco, notes the dealership has always stressed the importance of being prepared for disasters that can impact a business. While COVID doesn’t fall in the traditional realm of floods and fires, the common thread of disrupting daily operations certainly qualifies as such.
“While we never want to use fear to sell a product or service, we have always felt it was our duty to talk about how to prevent significant disruptions and how to build more resiliency into your tech stack,” Kanaskie said. “It’s our job to provide our clients with everything they need to make informed decisions, but we can’t make those decisions for them.”
The upshot is that many of the products and services that Marco has been advocating the adoption of during the past decade is finally being heeded. “While we obviously don’t take any pleasure in watching an unprepared company struggle, it’s been very validating of our comprehensive approach to client relationships,” Kanaskie added. “It has built even more trust in Marco as a technology partner as opposed to a technology provider.”
One of the greatest growth areas for Frontier Business Products has been document management via solutions from both Square 9 and DocuWare. According to Scott Schnabel, chief operating officer for Frontier, the ability to create workflows and provide access to mission-critical information for decentralized employees has taken on greater significance for end-users.
Schnabel points out that cloud aversion is not entirely a thing of the past. “We’re more at an accepting point now,” he said. “It’s easier to relieve fears with the [client] realization that, between email and their line of business applications, they’re already doing business in the cloud.”
Finally, there’s the realization that many software titles and solutions will ultimately find a home in the cloud and be offered on a subscription basis. Brad Rozmarynowski, executive account manager and partner at Impact Networking of Lake Forest, Illinois, cited an example of a law firm client that has used an on-premise case management software for years and was considering moving its infrastructure to the cloud.
Impact’s recommendation was to either move to a hosted platform or transition into a new system that is wholly cloud-based. The dealer dug deeper, interviewed the solution provider—which had acquired the original software firm—and learned the on-premise version was being sunsetted in favor of a cloud-based subscription model for all customers.
The benefits are obvious, according to Rozmarynowski. “You’re not buying servers, you’re not dealing with updates, you’re not dealing with maintenance and you’re not dealing with security,” he pointed out. “So we’re enabling that.”