Although the technology behind the scenes can be complex, the premise is simple - instead of accessing your applications and data using software installed on your desktop , laptop or server in your office - you access them via a browser on the web.
I have started using many of these tools in my, very small, business and have typically found them simpler, cheaper and more powerful than their locally installed counterparts.
For the record, I am using Kashflow for my accounts, Salesforce.com to manage my relationships with clients, Payroo for my payroll (amazingly this one is free) and have just started using Google Apps for email, calendar, online documents and spreadsheets, etc.
There are numerous other similar packages out there, but I can only talk from my own experience. Please comment below with your own experiences, so that we can have a broader picture.
The general benefits I have found:
- No IT headaches - I have no software to install, no updates to worry about, no concerns about which version I am using. As long as I have an internet connection, that's all I need to concern myself with;
- Manageable cost - I can use all of these for a total of less than £65/$100 per month, with no set-up costs;
- Ease of use - I have found all of the above to be far easier to use than their desktop counterparts;
- Greater functionality - with these packages I have the kind of functionality only previously available to large organisations who had invested a fortune in their IT infrastructure. I have access from anywhere, on any machine (including my Blackberry). The programs pass information to each other in real time as well as integrating with my web site where I need them to. Even ignoring the benefits resulting from online access, the functionality of each of these programs is typically greater than their desktop equivalent (with the exception of documents and spreadsheets in Google Apps which have far fewer features than the Microsoft Office equivalents, although this is compensated by the fact that they can be shared with anyone, and any number of people can edit them at the same time!);
- No obsolescence - I am always on the latest version as upgrades happen seamlessly behind the scenes and I am notified of additional features I can now use.
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