Biz Tip – Taking your branch offices online using the cloud

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For some, this may seem like a rookie tip with using the internet to make business easier and more effective, but for some others, this might be quite new from the context I am sharing it from.

In the early 2000s, a new buzzword in the Nigerian business scene called ‘online’ got popular, mostly among banks. This didn’t mean online as in creating a website for your business but it meant enabling all your branch offices have access to the same information in real time (albeit ‘near’ real time at the time). Banks jumped on this bandwagon very quick, deploying custom and home grown solutions that took advantage of the internet, or private multipoint wireless networks they created at the time to make this happen. This involved a huge capital investment and was terribly cost prohibitive for a small or medium enterprise to event think of.

Fast forward to 2013, Moore’s Law and internet penetration equations applied, we have the cloud. Data centers all over the world that are organization independent and can carry, replicate, update or manipulate data as we deem fit, every one has the access to this type of technology, applied properly, to enable all their branch offices, maybe even partners or distributors, share information real time, or near real time depending on the internet connection at the edge.

In this article, I’ll use Google Docs as an example. They enable you share documents with any individual in any part of the world in a matter of seconds. Not only do they enable you do that, they also enable you collaborate with them and update the document with them in real time. Where the power really comes in is when you think about the sheer potential of the Spreadsheets functionality. Along with it comes Google Forms.

You can create a form that dumps data into a spreadsheet, collect information (surveys, for example) and share the results with as many people as you want to. In another application, you can have your branch offices enter transactions into the Google Form, and write formulas in the spreadsheet to calculate things like account balances, inventory balances, stock requests etc. As a distributor or retailer, you can have your customers put in their orders as well using a Google form and set it up to notify your via email whenever a new record gets added to the spreadsheet. The possibilities are limitless, but most importantly, the ability to take your business ‘online’, especially one with geographically dispersed branch offices is no longer a luxury of the deep pocket enterprise. Armed with free Gmail accounts, you can create superb workflows for your business that enable you run more effectively and deliver more value to your customers free of charge (of course, with internet access).

This article first appeared on BizThinktank

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