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Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Top 5 Cloud Computing Apps for the Droid

Earlier this week when the NHL Stanley Cup playoff game I was watching ended in overtime, I started channel surfing. I came across one of my favorite movies from the late 1980s – Lethal Weapon starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

I happened to catch the part where Danny Glover’s character is driving and needs to make an important phone call. He pulls the over to the side of the road on an LA-freeway overpass and gets out of the car to make the call – no hands free in those days.

Glover proceeds to take out a mobile phone the size of a vintage WWII walkie-talkie. The only thing mobile about this contraption was that it could be carried around in a car. Of course in 1987, that was state-of-art mobile technology.

Watching Glover struggle to make a simple connection got me thinking about how dependent I have become (all of us really) on our mobile phones. Like all of you, using my mobile phone for making calls and sending text messages has become only part of how I use it. I use my mobile phone more and more like a laptop than I do a phone.

So I thought I’d list for you my Top 5 cloud computing based applications for my mobile phone (which happens to be a Motorola Droid running the Google Android operating system version 2.1 update 1, over the Verizon network).

In reverse order:

#5 Evernote. This a relatively new application on my Droid, but I can tell already it’s going to be one of my favorites. It allows me to type a note, copy a web page, take a photo, grab a screenshot and then store for easy access later (and it's FREE). I can organize my info into different “notebooks” where it is processed, indexed and searchable. Then using key words I can find my information quickly while on the go. I’ve only used it a couple of times, but I can tell already it’s going to be way more useful than my Three Stooges sound effects app. Well, maybe.

#4 Google Docs. Since the Droid runs on a Google operating system I have access to all of Google’s fantastic cloud computing apps, and I take full advantage of them. Google Docs is one of the handiest ways to access information – from plans to presentations to RFPs – from my mobile device. And the beauty of all Google cloud apps is that I can access my information from any wired PC too. Write a plan at the office, access it while waiting for a plane. Remind me again why I need a laptop?

#3 Google Maps. Yep, another Google app. In addition to owning a Droid I also drive a Prius (I’ll only admit that on Earth Day, however). Even though my car has a built-in GPS system, I find that Google Maps on my Droid proves to be more accurate. Plus, it’s handy when I'm walking around a city where I might be visiting because it will find my exact location and plot a path to where I’m trying to go. A very helpful feature when my Prius is stuck in a parking garage somewhere.

#2 Google Calendar. Yes, that’s now three Google cloud applications in a row. But hey, they’re good and I use them a lot. Calendaring typically isn’t a mind-blowing feature, but having access to it anywhere at anytime is certainly useful. And it is the feature on my phone – minus voice and SMS – that I use second most often.

#1 Gmail. Trust me, I do not work for Google. The thing I absolutely love about accessing email on my Droid is that I can configure the feature so I can open all of my email accounts on one screen (a feature I hear Apple is working to bring to the iPhone). This enables me to check my Gmail, Yahoo, work and other email accounts all at once without having to flip between screens. Since most of my written communication is done via email – including RSS feeds and web site updates – being able to look at all of my email at once is a godsend.

I’d be interested to hear what your favorite mobile cloud computing apps are. You can bet I’ll be checking your replies on my Droid.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For Cloud Computing, the "Plateau of Productivity" is the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Finding trusted information sources on your favorite technology can be a challenging undertaking these days with so many options to choose from. And even more so when your favorite technology is one of the most hyped in the galaxy. The "over-enthusiasm" or hype associated with an emerging technology has almost always been accompanied by an army of people or firms who over night somehow became "experts" in the field.

Today, if you're a devotee of e-book readers, social software suites, microblogging, wireless power, Internet TV, 3-D printing or green IT, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

All of the aforementioned technologies are nearing the top, or are at the top, or are just over the top of The Gartner Group's famous Hype Cycle (now in its 15th year for those of you keeping score at home).

Subsequently, one can easily drown in the fire hose of information that is available on technologies such as these, that are in the "technology trigger" or "peak of inflated expectations" stages of The Hype Cycle.

For many of these technologies, things quiet down when they enter the dreaded "trough of disillusionment" phase of the hype cycle -- the phase when a technology fails to meet the unrealistic expectations the market established for it. Technology categories such as online video, home health monitoring, public virtual worlds, RFID and others are currently trudging through the "trough" phase, hoping to rise yet again once they sled through the "slope of enlightenment" to hopefully live happily ever after in the "plateau of productivity."

Today, the poster child of the "peak of inflated expectations" however, is none other than cloud computing. And it's fitting that cloud computing earned this status this week, for this week is when Cloud Expo takes place in the Big Apple at the convention center everyone loves to hate -- the Javits Convention Center.

It's the same convention center, after all, that hosted the conferences of a number of "overly-hyped" technologies that preceded cloud computing. These include but are not limited to various UNIX conferences (remember UNIX?), such as UNIX/EXPO, and too many Internet and IT expos (like INTEROP) to remember. It's also the same convention center where trying to get a cab back to your hotel following a day on your feet had been next to impossible.

Aside from the vast number of announcements cloud computing companies are making this week at Cloud Expo, and aside from the industry alliances that have been formed and announced at Cloud Expo, it will be interesting to see what tangible customer benefits result from all of this business.

From all appearances, it seems that Cloud Expo has been well attended this week despite corporate America's lock down on business travel. The purveyors of "trusted" information about cloud computing are getting the job done at Cloud Expo and it does appear that cloud computing, given its status as the "peak of inflated expectations" poster child, is living up to expectations.

So far. So good.

With any luck, cloud computing -- like many of its predecessors --will find peace and harmony and practical adaptation in the "plateau of productivity" in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, it will be fun to to pay close attention to the cloud computing paparazzi to learn what they take back from New York City.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Four Cloud Applications Help Level the Playing Field for Small Business

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.

3. Ex WebEx
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,, 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.