P@W: How long have you been using cloud-based services and apps?
R. Michael McArthur: I started getting my feet wet about three years ago, but just for personal use. They gave me the functionality of important business processes when I was traveling or working remotely and didn’t have access to the office programs. I had three goals in mind when I started: first, to learn more about them and become proficient in their use, of course. Second, I needed to evaluate them from the aspect of regulatory compliance and administrative controls before we thought about making them accessible to our employees, business partners, and/or customers. Finally, I wanted to see which ones made the most sense for us to adopt in terms of providing the best returns through cost-savings or productivity improvements.
P@W: What are some of the cloud-based apps you’ve been using?
RMM: I’ve tried quite a few different ones and become a regular user of several, including Soonr Workplace (secure online file sharing and collaboration), Box (a secure, scalable content-sharing and collaboration platform), Cisco WebEx Meeting (anytime, anywhere videoconferencing with the ability to share video, documents, web pages, applications--any content at all), and Swiftpage Engage (email marketing, contact management, and social media marketing tools), among others. The fact that they were available through Comcast’s Upware Marketplace was important to me. I felt much more comfortable purchasing them through a channel run by a trusted business partner. We have a long history of business experience with Comcast, and we’ve never had an issue with any of Comcast’s products or services. I felt confident that they wouldn’t recommend anything they didn’t strongly believe in.
P@W: What’s your plan for rolling out these cloud-based apps across your business?
RMM: Well, we started the rollout about midway through 2013. We are taking a phased approach, doing it in steps so everyone has time to get comfortable using the apps. Right now, all our internal associates have access to them, and the next step is to implement to our sales force. That should be a good test because they are spread out across 16 states.
P@W: What benefits are you seeing from the use of cloud-based apps so far, and what are you expecting to see going forward?
RMM: The most visible and impressive gains have been in productivity and the elimination of paper. It’s really simplifying a lot of our business processes. For example, if I had to transfer an internal secure database to an off-premise location in the past, I’d have to copy it to a hard drive, flash drive, or DVD first. If it was going to a local firm, I’d have it hand-delivered; if not, I’d have to password protect it, send it overnight, then get on the phone with the recipient to confirm delivery the next morning. There were at least four steps involved, and it was very inconvenient. Now it just takes one step. It’s the same with file sharing. Now we can share files with each other virtually instantaneously, no matter where we happen to be. In the past, this used to involve a lot of paper shuffling. The cloud really is giving us the ability to work smarter, not harder, and I think the biggest gains are still to come. I foresee tremendous productivity improvements for our sales people when they have these tools at their disposal out in the field.