I just composed this email to a client, and thought it would be a useful posting — good for a quick pasting into future proposals.
Benefits of online services
In brief, working online, or “in the cloud,” simply means using an application on the Internet using a web browser, as opposed to one that resides on your computer.
I’ve looked for a really good video to explain “What is the cloud?” in simple terms. This one from salesforce.com is good (ignore the loud-ish music and sales-y tone). And here’s one by Rackspace’s Lew Moorman. Both come from a business perpective, but it is easy to translate into a non-profit context. Also, here’s a blog post about nonprofits and “cloud computing.”
A quick sketch of recent history: Within the last four years, the internet has become a proliferate garden of services, with readymade options for collaboration and communication. The last two years, especially, have brought affordable and powerful features to organizations, saving tons of time and money while allowing workflows that simply weren’t possible before. Most obvious, as Google Apps users already know, working on the web allows any user to do their work from any computer or mobile device, anywhere in the world.
Prior to these innovations, organizations frequently turned to database developers to create proprietary, bespoke solutions. These were, of a nature, expensive, hard to manage and upgrade, and difficult to use offsite. Even worse, because they were created by an individual or a small agency, getting support for or adding new features to the software could be frustrating and costly, or downright impossible.
Online software is typically designed more generally, to be used by people in many different industries. We shouldn’t assume this means it’s less powerful. In fact, because it has lots of users, it has give all those people a lot of reason to come back. (With conventional software, or custom database, the developer already has your money, and you’re only paying them once. The next time they actually have to impress you is when they have a new version out, and you’re going to pray it is better than the last version, while you fork over your dough once again.) So cloud applications are designed to be plain but potent.
I suppose my favorite bonus of online software is that I don’t have to install or update anything on my computer, and I don’t have to wait for entirely new versions to get new features; they just show up!
Here are a couple of examples of cloud applications. I listed these because they were pertinent to a particular client, but also because I think they are good examples of cloud apps. Also, it’s worth mentioning again that Google Apps Marketplace is my go-to directory for such services.
Insightly.com is a tool for Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. Other popular CRM apps are ACT! and Salesforce. They are targeted at salespeople, but helpful to anyone needing a shared database of contacts and projects. Insightly offers tagging of contacts, Google Docs, and email messages; linking contacts by relationship, organization, job titles, and miscellaneous associations; and project and task management. It also integrates with Google Apps to simplify user management (i.e. one place to add users and change passwords). There are other similar tools out there, but I’ve been satisfied with Insightly’s mojo.
Oh, yes — Insghtly is FREE.
Mailchimp.com is a flexible and friendly bulk mailing service. It has many features that I appreciate, but my favorites are: using a custom web page to build a newsletter, so it looks how you like it; demographic information on subscribers, based on public information available via social networks and the like; clever techniques for knowing who opened your email and when; and methods to prevent your newsletters from being tagged as spam.
I also find Mailchimp’s pricing to be more reasonable than others’.