Of late, one particular term which has found its way into the lexicon of IT services and CRM is “cloud computing” or “cloud CRM”. Cloud computing is a new IT model wherein both the hardware and software services are provided on demand to customers through the network independently of the terminal device and location. In the current business environment, companies are investing heavily in hiring cloud computing providers rather than in enhancing their IT infrastructure.
There are different types of cloud computing, namely, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). Most of the firms are opt for SaaS cloud computing model as it is very convenient, with no maintenance and investment and just involves the use of the application through the Internet. Some notable examples of cloud computing are Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Hotmail for e-mail, Picassa for sharing photographs, Facebook and LinkedIn for social network etc.
A cloud CRM is a model in which the CRM software, tools and organisation’s customer data is stored in the cloud and is delivered to end-users via Internet. In other words, it is a technology which enables accessing the IT networks, servers, storage, applications and services that are shared with the multiple users through the Internet. Cloud CRM requires minimal IT personnel and management involvement from the users. A cloud-based CRM minimizes the costs involved in engaging the customers and makes CRM accessible to everyone.
As companies started to rely increasingly on the internet for various applications, there was a growing need to store corporate data on the web. Obviously, this arrangement required a very high degree of security and trust. Cloud computing offers the perfect solution wherein a data storage environment is made available through the internet which has secure access and controls. The relentless expansion of business operations, data and information has resulted in the CRM systems developing into massive, integrated systems. Therefore, these developments have made the use of cloud indispensable for CRM applications.
Another positive aspect of cloud computing is related to energy. The current rate of growth of IT infrastructure raises the spectre of an alarming shortage of energy as it is quite unsustainable in the long run. On the other hand, running a CRM system in the cloud is much more efficient and consumes considerably lesser amounts of energy. Cloud also facilitates better and quicker responses, agility, mobility and seamless communication. This has led to the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) becoming very popular. BYOD is part of a growing trend which encourages employees to work on the device of their choice, leading to increased productivity and reduced costs for small and medium-sized businesses.
Not withstanding the growing popularity of the cloud, there are many concerns regarding the security and reliability of the cloud-based systems. For this reason, it is important for companies to recognise the differences between public cloud and private cloud. Public clouds store resources at an off-site cloud provider’s facilities, while private clouds rely solely on virtual private networks (VPNs). Since private clouds are more secure and offer a greater degree of control, this might be more suited for storing sensitive information such as customer data.
The marketplace is becoming crowded with a growing number of vendors, each offering their own versions of the cloud. This makes it very confusing for a beginner to evaluate the multitude of cloud options and select the right fit. To solve this conundrum, some basic guidelines should be followed. While selecting a vendor, the degree of flexibility should weigh on the top of the mind for the firm. Whether the capacity can be increased, whether it is possible to move from a public cloud to a private cloud in the future, are some of the questions that need to be asked right away. Ultimately, there is an inevitable trade-off between future flexibility, functionality and costs while selecting the right cloud provider and solution.
The future of small and medium businesses (SMB) in the cloud computing landscape will be marked by a change from SaaS to PaaS or IaaS as the primary model. Cloud computing makes it possible for firms to engage in real-time analytics and help them become more competitive and proactive in their approach. Nowadays, many business relationships begin their journey in the Internet, through web searches, Facebook pages and other sites. The inherent flexibility through internet hosting allows SMBs to grow much faster and at cheaper costs as a major chunk of money which goes into upgrading physical services and assets can now be diverted to other, more vital business functions.
There is no need for a centralized office space as all the employees need is a laptop and an internet connection and hence helps in optimizing operations. A major fear that CRM requires complex installation is no longer true, as cloud-based CRM can be up and running in no time. Deployment of CRM in cloud facilitates easier social integration and communicating with customers through them, creating CRM logic and tracking of data. Cloud CRM is used to host the customer relationship management data, while social CRM incorporates social media and networking into relationship management. With the integration of cloud CRM and social CRM with the right tools, it is possible to obtain the best results.
Let us summarize the immense benefits of cloud-based CRM. The very nature of cloud-based systems makes it possible for an associate to login from anywhere and access their account or customer information. This can be particularly helpful while closing a sale from a remote location, making sales calls in the field and tailoring the pitch appropriately. Most CRM solutions are accompanied by mobile apps which are compatible with Android or iOS and helps provide crucial information on-the-go. A cloud CRM is an excellent repository for all the information pertaining to the clients and the customers. Each user has their own individual logins which enables multiple accounts to be logged in at the same time and operate on the data. A seamless information exchange is also possible through the cloud.Building on the premise of security, another key component is the data backup in multiple locations. Gone is the era of stand-alone devices which lack the flexibility of integration. Cloud CRMs can be easily integrated with different applications or software such as email clients, MS Office etc. and this compatibility is the key to ensuring CRM’s longevity and success.
Cloud computing will eventually become a way of life for almost all organisations, particularly the sales teams. The future of the cloud will be focusing on storage as its top priority next to security. Once these two concerns are addressed, companies will be able to channelize their abilities into handling additional functions such as subscription billing management and business process management to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business operations.