Business software magic in the Cloud?

Looking to the Cloud

Looking to the Cloud

Soothsayers

Predicting the future is a fool’s pastime, especially when discussing technology of any sort. Yet we all have to try to anticipate our hardware and software needs in running a small business because we do not want to buy anything which will be obsolete the day after tomorrow.

Ten years ago, or even five, it would have been hard to predict the devices we use today to stay in touch and on-line. If you like gadgets, and I do, there are tablets from the iPad to a huge choice of Android devices, and items that we thought really cool three or four years ago, such as netbooks, are really old hat. I bought a netbook which frankly was seriously underpowered but gimmicky and that was my mistake; it has been saved from the scrap heap by installing extra memory and had to practically be dismantled to do it. That is an example of the price of getting it wrong.

Magic wands

Today I have three desktops, an older laptop and the netbook. Do I use these exclusively to stay in touch? Well, no, I have a smart phone and I have a cheap Android tablet on which I can do all sorts of clever or magic things. Yet what will be in vogue in terms of hardware in another five years? I do not know, and if I did, I would be a billionaire within the five years.

Of course what makes all these different devices almost interchangeable in accessing our stuff is that nearly everything happens in the Cloud, and probably soon everything else which is not in the Cloud will be available up there too.  Those who are paranoid about security, and I know some, will have to be provided for or satisfied that their data really is as safe up there as down here.

Past wizard

If it is difficult for us to predict the technology market, how much more difficult is it for the software companies? Some of the giants have not reacted as quickly as they might

The large players in accounting payroll and general business software, certainly for the UK domestic market, such as Sage and Intuit / QuickBooks, have historically filled in for Microsoft’s failure ever to produce decent accounting software for Windows. Very effective and popular these packages have been.

Apple has never seemed interested in producing decent accounting software, especially not country-specific, so there has been comparatively little choice but for Apple fans to go with the suppliers who dominated the Windows market, and either using Windows emulation or outsourcing.

The point about accounting and payroll software is that every business needs it or otherwise has to outsource, which incurs a certain additional cost. Many small businesses in the UK need accounting software which will handle VAT. A simple generic package will not do. There are really no short cuts. In the past so many small businesses have relied on the big independent software suppliers, the aforementioned Sage and Intuit. While they have served us all well, there has been a distinct lack of choice.

Sunny outlook with Clouds

The Cloud brings us so many choices. Because there are more devices available for getting on-line, we have more operating systems too. There are Windows and Mac, there are the most popular Linux OS choices, Ubuntu and Mint, and those are just for the “big” devices, the desktops and laptops etc.. Then there are the iPad and Android tablets, small Windows tablets, and we expect soon for tablets and phones both Ubuntu (maybe) and the Firefox OS from the open source Mozilla Foundation.

It is all a kind of evolution. All these devices will be able to access the Cloud through their browsers. Is the Cloud the driver for the diversification of devices and operating systems, or is it the other way round? It does not matter; the Cloud is the future, at least for the next few years.

The home patch

I use the Cloud for storing non-confidential files and personal stuff, and it has become a habit. I use Evernote plus Dropbox and Google Drive. We have Microsoft’s Sky Drive, and Ubuntu One. I have recently heard of Cubby so we are overwhelmed with mostly free document storage. I get one terabyte of space on Flickr for my photos. Good grief!

Like everyone else, I have now been conditioned to regarding Cloud software as normal.

Therefore it is hardly surprising that far-sighted geek-entrepreneurs have seized the Cloud-based accounting and business software opportunities rather quicker than some of the major players. The upstarts in on-line accounts include Kashflow, Xero, FreeAgent etc.

Of course Sage and their historical competitors are there too. They have their fans from their desk-top and server-based packages, and if those packages look familiar to their long-term customers and historical data can easily be uploaded to ensure continuity, those customers will remain loyal. The big difference from the past is that on-line software can be accessed from any browser running in any OS. It is inevitable that the market will be fragmented, which means that the customers have more choice, and also the actual subscription costs will be kept down because of the competition.

The future is bright

To me, the future in business software is:

  • In the Cloud
  • More choice in market players and packages
  • Low costs
  • Accessible from more devices
  • Freedom from our desks

So I have stuck my neck out and predicted at least the near future in business software, which is a risky thing to do. If I get carried away and next try to predict the future in social media, shoot me. Well, not literally; just shoot me down on-line.

Do you have your head in the clouds concerning business software, or do you run your business systems in the Cloud?

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