It wasn't long ago, that the idea of a point to multi-point broadband video conferencing system was the exclusive domain of the Fortune 1000. A low-end system cost at least $10,000 and required specialized videoconferencing hardware from companies like PictureTel and Compression Labs along with widescreen monitors, cameras and controls and networking equipment all tucked into a dedicated room whose layout probably tipped the scales at another $10,000. Of course, your system only worked with other sites that had the same expensive system installed, and both sides usually required someone from IT to get you set up and stand by throughout the call.
Today, thanks to the cloud, you can do a point to multi-point call to six separate people or locations with a $20 webcam on your desktop or laptop. And it is easy enough for a fifth grader to use it. This isn't an instant-message-based system with postage stamp video, but a full-screen, cloud-based videoconferencing system from a company called ooVoo. Like so many cloud-based apps for small business, it is easy, affordable and it works as promised. We use ooVoo here at 3Point and have found the video to be smooth, the audio clear, and the experience of working with remote colleagues vastly improved. Our business is not among the Fortune 1000 -- or even the Fortune 5000. But we can work like them and look like them for pennies with cloud apps like ooVoo.
So that got me to thinking what else is out there that gives small business the outward appearance of big business and helps level the playing field? I could have listed at least 20 companies, but I'll start with three more in addition to ooVoo and come back to add others in a later blog.
2. Cloud Collaboration and Project Management
What is so interesting about this topic is that some of the apps we think of as the toolkit of small business are now being adopted by large businesses as well. One such example is Basecamp. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time believing a person who lives by a Gantt chart. Life just doesn't work that smoothly, even if you are a certified project manager, of which there are thousands here in the Washington, D.C. area. To make a Gantt chart the essence of management is sort of like making an elaborately crafted grocery list the essence of your family values. Lists change and evolve, deadlines slip, ideas evolve, budgets get cut, and people like to talk to each other and come up with new ideas. All those nice boxes, colored lines and finely tuned schedules may work in an autocratic command and control system, but in the Collaboration Economy there aren't many autocratic businesses I know that are cited in lists of best places to work. Basecamp is built on a concept of project management focused on communication and collaboration -- the way most of us actually work. As their website says, "pictures and numbers don't get projects done." Amen.
Companies like ours need to collaborate with colleagues around the world and people inside and outside our walls. We need a sophisticated project collaboration tool to set goals, manage and measure projects and collect a whole lot of information to guide our analysis and decision making. We found Basecamp at the recommendation of our friend, Jay Murphy, founder and CEO of Trionia in Boston. Jay is a really smart digital marketer who uses Basecamp for web projects, software development, client collaboration and a whole list of other core business activities. We got hooked on it quickly in developing a massive proposal for a client prospect that included teams from around the country. It was seamless. We shared a range of research articles, ideas, drafts, edits, calendars and task ownership and put together a terrific RFP that succeeded in moving us to the next level of the competition. We could not have completed this without Basecamp, and we are not alone. Kellogg's, Patagonia, Adidas, USA Today, National Geographic, Warner Brothers and others are all Basecamp users. At $24 a month, the entry price is well worth it.
When we first started out, Jay also pointed us toward DimDim. Have you ever tried WebEx? DimDim is WebEx for the rest of us. Easy to use and free for up to 20 users, and the people you invite to your meeting do not have to install anything to join! DimDim lets us do webinars, internal training, shared whiteboard, online conferences and a host of other applications. We are satisfied customers who look and act like a much larger company thanks to DimDim's use of the cloud. (But we'd really appreciate a name change to something that doesn't sound like the name of a cartoon character.)
4. Google Apps
Much has been written about Google Apps. Rather than repeat it all, let me just cite a statistic that should make you feel comfortable if you are considering the move: more than two million business run Google Apps and more are joining every day. They use it for email, company calendars and as a replacement for word processors, spreadsheets and other basic needs products. First adopted by individuals, then small businesses, Google Apps is being used by more and more enterprises at the expense of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. The free versions will handle most basic needs of small business. With Google Apps Premier Edition (annual fee of $50 per user), a customer gets inboxes that store up to 25 gigabytes of messages, a video chat system (not equal to ooVoo in our estimation), anti-virus/spam protection, disaster recovery and a 99.9% uptime SLA. That is why Google can boast enterprise customers like Motorola Mobile Devices, Salesforce.com, Genetech and the District of Columbia.
So, there you have it. Four ways the cloud lets you level the playing field and look like a billion bucks for less than your monthly coffee budget. They may not get you from the Inc. 500 to the Fortune 500, but the playing field is becoming more level every day.