The Cloud Office Part 1: Review and Improve Your Operations

Brian Farhi of SolarNexus contributed an article to RenewableEnergyWorld where he identified the soft costs of solar installs as the next frontier in cost reductions in the solar industry. Brian’s analysis was spot on, as were the remarks of many who commented. However, the successful control of operations costs are multi-faceted and include a range of tactics that we can assign under the heading The Cloud Office.

The Cloud Office philosophy covers everything from minimizing junk mail to digitizing internal or customer forms and everything in between. Cloud-backed offices range in complexity. Some might include thin client workstations connecting to the cloud for customer service reps and sales staff with smartphones connecting to with a Customer Relationship Management System on the go. Or, they might appear as simple as a sole proprietor using Google Apps and WordPress to launch their business.

If you’re lost in the lingo already, don’t worry! Cloud operations doesn’t mean you and your staff suddenly have to become Information Technology experts. In fact, depending on your organizations’ needs, you can choose what aspects of the business you would like to digitize and weigh the costs and benefits. This post is the first in a three-part series investigating the tactics and tools available for transitioning to a Cloud Office.

How To Start

Before we begin digitizing or changing operations, we first begin by conducting an operations review to get a clear view of current operations and practices.

Brainstorm an Operations Flow Chart

By writing down and stepping through every part of your company’s operations in a simple decision-tree, you can view at-a-glance the steps, procedures, and relied-upon processes. In many cases, this can immediately point out inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the process. If you have never created a decision tree before, see examples at this Google Image search.

Track Your Time

The first step to choosing the most effective processes to digitize is to set up a system for employees to track their time if you do not use one already. Giving employees ways to sub-categorize their time tracking will help you better analyze where the time-consuming bottlenecks are. Are they spending a lot of time on data entry? Are they spending too much time in a warehouse or storage area preparing for a job? Pick sub categories appropriate of job tasks for the office and the field employees without providing too many options. You can start with paper for now and publish a key with codes that correspond to the sub categories. Eventually, you can move up to a digital system for time tracking, invoicing, and payroll all in one.

Take The Guesswork Out of Software Decisions

Having the expertise of an in-house or consulting IT professional can help save a company a lot of money, headache, and training budgets through avoiding purchasing and setting up ineffective or inappropriate software. It will help if you spend a little extra money up front to get the expertise of someone who is current with software to keep your company from investing in often expensive applications that might not be a good fit. IT professionals can also help plan data storage strategies (including and most importantly, backups!!), sensitive digital information transfers, intranets, and even homogenization of hardware and software on deployed desktop, laptop, and mobile computing devices. From roaming user profiles to automatic updates to virus and spyware scanning, having an IT professional in your ranks can go a long way to avoiding even greater expense down the road from incompatible software and hardware or even catastrophic data loss.

Invest in Training

New software and new digital operating methods are only as effective as they are effectively employed. Taking the time to train employees to use new software and methods will ensure that your transition to digitally-supported paperless operations will be successful. Ensure that employees understand how to access self-service help and who to escalate more serious problems to. Take the transition slow and in stages if possible with more complex and feature-rich products.

In the next post: First Tier Tactics for Any Small Business. We'll examine simple low or no-cost tactics that can often be implemented by only moderately technical people without the need to understand complex IT systems.