There are more than 4,000 business-related cloud-based apps on the market. Choosing the right ones can present a challenge for your business. Here are a few tips on building a winning combination of cloud-based business apps.
See our Infographic on the Do’s and Don’ts of Assembling the Right Cloud Apps for Your Business
Choose An Anchor
Determine the existing systems you are using that contain the data most critical to your business. Like the “anchor stores” designed to stabilize the financial stability of the shopping mall, your anchor apps are the ones that are critical to the financial stability of running your business.
What determines an anchor app?
- If you have spent a significant part of your budget on it. For example, your retail POS system or a custom developed registration system.
- If it is the only option in your industry. For example, the MLS database for Realtors®.
- Outside influences. For example, if your accountant requires all financial data be managed in a specific system.
While it is important to identify those applications that you are currently using that are critical to your business, don’t assume that they all are. While there may be important historical data in an outdated, unfriendly system, you may have choices for exporting the information or migrating it to a new system. You can also maintain both systems for a period of time until you are confident the old data is no longer needed.
Determine Your App Needs
Consider the functions that are necessary to make your business successful. Make a list of the types of apps you will need to run your business smoothly and efficiently not only now, but as you grow. Be sure to take all areas of your business into account.
What types of apps do you need?
- Consider the numerous ways you engage with your customers: Emails, Newsletter, Social, SMS, Help Desk, Contact Management, etc.
- Determine the financial apps that will streamline your sales & reporting: Lead Management, Accounting, Billing/Invoicing, POS.
- Consider how your team collaborates and whether or not apps will make it efficient: Conferencing, Project Management, Document Management.
- Look at the apps used to enhance & understand your web presence: Forms, Screencasts, Knowledge Base, Analytics.
- Don’t forget industry specific needs: Bug tracking for SaaS, scheduling software for services, etc.
As your list grows be sure to look for redundancies. For example, can the accounting software you choose provide the invoicing needs you have or is a 2nd app necessary?
Do Your Homework
Look for recommendations on other apps that integrate with your anchor app in Integration directories (ie The Small Business Web) and App marketplaces (ie Google Apps Marketplace). Don’t forget to check your software provider’s website and even social media for app recommendations.
Review for not only how well it integrates with your anchor app but also customer reviews on how well it works in general and solves the problems you’re addressing. Focus on the basics of the problem you’re trying to solve and make sure the app solves that problem well.
Talk to your team. Find out where their current pain points are and look for solutions that can address them.
Build a “Cloud Stack Guide”
After the time and energy devoted to developing a cloud stack specific to your business needs, make sure to educate your team! Create an easy to digest list of the applications your business will use as well as which teams/individuals have ownership or access to the account.
Include the information and metrics each app supplies and the business goals the app addresses. Giving your team a clear indication of what apps they should be using and why will exponentially increase the likelihood that they are used correctly and consistently.
Include links to app training materials for new team members as well as any standard procedures you’d like them to perform. And be sure this information is frequently updated so that teams are all working toward the same goal.
As apps are deployed, get feedback from your team on their effectiveness and how well they integrate with other apps. What is the end user experience? Does it meet your needs? Are problems easily identified and fixed? Are there quicker ways to the same information? Is the whole team on board and using the app as expected?
Be sure to check in with individuals, teams and across the business. Ensure that the app is effective for all teams and not causing bottlenecks for others.
Stay Lean and Mean
Cloud-based apps can help reduce the cost of running your business and give you agility and mobility. Be sure to review your stack occasionally for efficiencies, new time-saving features and redundancies. As new apps may need to be added later, be sure review needs, add to the ‘Cloud Stack Guide’ and evaluate its performance tied to the others. Small periodic tweaks can ensure that your combined apps provide a cost-effective, tech-savvy solution for your small business.
Once your stack is live, embrace the solutions you’ve chosen. Let the technology take care of the everyday tasks while you connect with your customers. Spend your time on the good stuff like changing the world.