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Cumulus Global, SMB Cloud Pioneer, Takes on Microsoft Cloud

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A pioneer in cloud computing solutions for small and mid-size businesses, Cumulus Global (www.cumulusglobal.com) announced today the addition of Microsoft Cloud Solutions to its portfolio of solutions. The addition of Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure services expands the range of cloud platforms, services, and applications that Cumulus Global provides directly to its customers.

“We are excited to have Cumulus Global join our partner network,” stated Jennifer Heard, vice president, Worldwide Corporate Account and Partner Sales at Microsoft Corp.  “As a born-in-the-cloud solutions provider, Cumulus Global understands that any successful migration to the cloud depends on user adoption of enhanced collaboration and information access capabilities. This opens up massive opportunities for partners and helps our mutual customers realize the true value of their solutions.”

In addition, the company is an authorized Microsoft Surface reseller, offering the tablet-based devices as a replacement for traditional desktops and laptops.

“As a cloud solutions provider, we have always focused on giving our customers solutions that help them succeed, directly or as a broker,” notes Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, “Our relationship with Microsoft empowers our customers with a broader range of solutions that we can directly design, plan, migrate, manage, and support.”

Beyond email, file services, and collaboration, Cumulus Global is offering platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a- service (IaaS) solutions. The company has existing relationships in place to assist with integrated CRM solutions.


Companies interested in learning more should contact us for a complementary discussion with one of our cloud advisors.


 

 

Drive Sales Enablement In Your Business by Leveraging the Cloud

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It’s not news that the environment in which your sales team operates is changing dramatically. According to Gartner, by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human; that means your sales team will need to be more efficient with their prospects and be empowered to deliver the right information at the right time.

And they’re not the only ones dealing with changes. CFOs are no longer dealing only with financial reporting, compliance and cost control. According to a recent study by BI company, Adaptive Insights, “By driving a culture of agile, data-driven decision making throughout a company, CFOs can help create a significant competitive advantage.” CFOs are more plugged into data than ever, and that is pushing entire organizations to adopt technologies and practices that support this.

Sales teams and their support systems are no different. With all the changes empowered customers are presenting sales teams, it’s more important than ever to know what tools and techniques will really work to help your sales team operate more productively, spending less time on non-productive administrative functions, and more time with delivering value and closing deals.

Sales Enablement

A key focus of discussion in how mid-sized businesses are addressing this change has been sales enablement. It’s widely agreed that sales enablement is constantly evolving, and there’s been plenty written about it to-date with multiple interpretations and definitions of just what it means to organizations. We prefer the definition that spun out of IDC a few years back:

Sales enablement is “getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward.”

So let’s break down sales enablement into its individual components, and see how your sales team might address each aspect by leveraging cloud-based technologies to make them faster, more efficient, and more responsive to your existing—and future—clients’ needs.

Getting the right information…

How often has your salesperson been sitting down with a prospect, and they’ve had to respond to a request with the words, “I don’t have that, but I can get it to you when I get back to my (room, office, house)”? Often, sales people don’t have exactly what they need right when they need it. Perhaps it’s a PDF of a sell sheet they forgot at the last minute. Maybe it’s the contract is MS Word format, and they can’t edit it in the moment. Or, it could be a performance report showing how much more competitive your solution will help your prospect become. Depending on who you talk to, approximately 40% of sales go to the company that responds to your prospect first.

Imagine empowering your sales teams to get the right information in the hands of their prospect—right when they need it.

No need to return to the office and email a document. No need to leave, make a change to a contract, and delay signing (or worse) losing momentum. Better yet—being able to access proprietary and competitive information in the moment it’s needed to close the sale. Having your sales team plugged into and empowered by the cloud can really help them get the right information to those who need it.  

To the right sellers…

Who’s to say that your salesperson is the one that’s going to move the next big deal through the next phase of the pipeline? A seller might be a customer service rep who’s helping your existing customer with an issue and has an opportunity to upsell them on your services. Anyone in your organization has an opportunity—given the chance—to sell to new and existing accounts.

In this scenario, having your data and collaboration tools in the cloud allows for a few things:

  1. Real-time communication. With cloud-based tools and apps, if a customer service rep is on the phone with a customer, they can instant message another employee to help solve a problem or meet a need.Or, imagine for a moment that you’re closing a deal without an engineer on hand to answer a critical question. With cloud-based communication, on-demand video conferencing brings the engineer into your meeting.
  2. Real-time collaboration. With the ability to upload, store, and access documents in the cloud, multiple users in different locations (or even right next to each other) can now comment and update documents in real time. The ability for a salesperson to update a proposal during a meeting, while project teams are on-hand to review, is a true game changer for many organizations.
  3. Assisted information and context. Cloud-based solutions allow you to bring all your tools and data together in one place. For example, in a properly implemented Google Apps or Office 365 cloud solution, you’re able to do a number of things that aren’t possible with on premise solutions:
    1. With email, you can see your current chain, as well as other recent conversations with that person.
    2. When you’re searching for material and information on a particular topic (for example, a client or engagement), you’re able to search emails AND documents stored online.
    3. With cloud integration, you can view social and business content alongside the email you are responding to or the voicemail transcript you are reading, providing context to conversations.

All of these combine to empower sales teams and other employees when they’re in a position of adding value to prospects and existing accounts.

At the right time…

It’s 8:00 AM in Boston, and your top sales team is getting ready to deliver that huge financial pitch over breakfast in the CEO’s conference room. Based on a late night email from the prospective customer, they realize that they need information from another presentation — but it’s 5:00 AM in your Los Angeles office and no one’s home. Fortunately, with the cloud, your team can remotely and securely access your file services, update the document, and be ready to go without batting an eyelash.

And place…

VPN has long been the go to for providing employees remote access to company assets. Everyone has a story about trying to work remotely and having to deal with VPN issues. These go away almost entirely when dealing with the cloud.

In the right format…

We’re all pretty familiar with having our email and calendars on our phones now. But today, we have full editing suites that include document editing, presentation development, and spreadsheet tools available on mobile phones and tablets. The ability to work directly in the environment, with the necessary tools, in the application preferred by a prospect, is invaluable to a sales person. No more looking at a printed page or pdf on your phone and waiting until you get back to the office to make changes. With the cloud, you make critical changes right on the spot.

To move the opportunity forward

If your sales team isn’t focusing on moving opportunities to the next stage (closing), then they aren’t being productive. Research by Innoppl Technologies shows that 65% of sales reps who have adopted mobile CRM (cloud-based) have achieved their sales quotas, while only 22% of reps using non-mobile CRM have reached the same targets.

What are key components of the cloud that drive enablement?

Three of the ways that the cloud can enable your sales team:

  • Assistive Information: the ability for your salespeople to access related information and context, in real time, while on the phone or responding to emails.
  • Mobility: true integration of mobile and remote users into your environment (or, no more VPN!).
  • Personal Communication Modes: We operate in a time when 3 or 4 generations of people work on the same team. Preferred communication methods vary wildly. Cloud-based communications help bridge the gap between those that prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails, and texts.

One final bonus

Once you’re in the cloud, the cost of making incremental improvements goes down. There’s no need to invest in expensive software to see if it works with your sales team. You can begin implementing trial versions and adding incremental features to see what sticks and what adds value to your business.

Do you have a sales team that is mobile, but struggling to respond quickly to prospect demands because they’re ultimately tethered to a desk? What opportunities do you see in your organization for mobile solutions? Think it might be time to switch?

If you are not sure, take our Quick Cloud Readiness Assessment.  It’s only 10 questions and will tell you in less than five minutes whether your organization is ready for the change.


 

Outlook.com Goes Dark This Time: Can Microsoft Run Cloud Services?

 

As reported by ZDnet on the Feb 25th, Microsoft’s new Outlook.com service suffered an outage lasting more than seven (7) hours.  Many customers could not log in, and those that could experiences significant performance issues.

Even more disturbing, Microsoft did not acknowledge the outage until over 4 hours into the incident, via Twitter.  And,  7 hours into the outage, the outlook.com status page failed to note the outage at all.

This outage follows two Office 365 Outages totaling more than 9.5 hours of down-time in November, 2012.

While Microsoft has not commented on the cause of the Outlook.com outage, their apology to customers back in November disclosed that Microsoft cannot dynamically add and allocate resources to their infrastructure.  The best they can do is improve their ability to recovery (related: Microsoft’s Apology Says Volumes about Office 365 Outages).

With a history of operational failures and acknowledged limitations in the underlying architecture, one has to wonder how well Microsoft is able to manage multi-tenant services.  Will the pattern of failures lead to a lack of trust?

 

Microsoft’s Apology Says Volumes about Office 365 Outages

 

It should be no secret that Microsoft’s Office 365 service continues to experience the types and frequency of outages that plagued its predecessor cloud service, BPOS.  While the outages receive little press coverage (they are frequent enough that they are not newsworthy?) , customers feel the impact.

In response to outages on Nov 8 and Nov 13, Microsoft sent customers a formal letter of apology (read it here).

Most disturbing to Office 365 customers is what Microsoft’s apology says about the quality and capabilities of Microsoft and the Office 365 platform.

With respect to the Nov 8th outage, Microsoft states the following:

“Office 365 utilizes multiple anti-virus engines to identify and clean virus messages from our customers’ inboxes. Going forward, we have built and implemented better recovery tools that allow us to remediate these situations much faster, and we are also adding some additional architectural safeguards that automatically remediate issues of this general nature.”

What this says is that, at times, significant virus traffic makes it to the email servers, and Microsoft has technology to remediate this problem by scanning servers and removing these messages from inboxes.  This is troublesome for a few reasons:

  • Best practice is to prevent viruses from reaching email servers, as any inbox remediation system allows the possibility that a virus is activated by a user before being cleaned.
  • Remediation of this problem has been manually driven and that automating the process is still in development
  • Remediation of virus infections dramatically impacts performance, up to the level of an outage.
  • Microsoft has not yet built an infrastructure that is capable of preventing virus infections, and continues to be focused on remediation.

With respect to the Nov 13th outage, Microsoft states:

“This service incident resulted from a combination of issues related to maintenance, network element failures, and increased load on the service.”

Microsoft acknowledges that they perform maintenance that can interrupt customer services outside of maintenance windows and that the Office 365 architecture lacks sufficient redundancy.  Microsoft is also admitting that the Office 365 infrastructure does not have sufficient capacity to handle peak demand loads and does not allow for automatic activation and allocation of resources based on demand.

In response to these outages, Microsoft promises the following:

“Significant capacity increases are already underway and we are also adding automated handling on these type of failures to speed recovery time.”

In essence, Microsoft cannot  predict or manage capacity, so they are throwing resources at the problem.   More importantly, Microsoft is not fixing the architecture in order to prevent load-based failures — they are automating how they respond to failures.

In other words:  Microsoft expects future Office 365 outages;  So, too, should Office 365 customers.

 

Office 2013 – Much Ado About Nothing New

 

Microsoft recently announced and started providing demonstrations of Office 2013.  And as discussed in this Vanity Fair article, it is clear that Microsoft continues to suffer from lack of innovation.  The number of new features is limited, many of the new features are playing “catch up”, and Office 2013 will lock you into a closed ecosystem.

Here is some of what is “new” in Office 2013:

  • Office 2013 will work with touch and stylus devices like tablets and smart-phones.  You will be able to navigate and annotate documents using touch, much like you can today with a mouse in Powerpoint.  (Not really a new feature, but you can use a touch screen instead of a mouse)
  • Excel 2013 has a few new advanced analytic features that will be useful to hedge fund managers and the like.

Here is some of what is in Office 2013 that is new to Office, but catching up with the competition:

  • In Outlook, you can reply in-line (just like Gmail’s conversation view)
  • In Outlook calendar, you can put an address in the location of a meeting and have a link to pull up a map on Bing (just like Google Calendar)
  • You can save a file on your PC and access it on other devices nearly immediately via cloud storage (just like Google Drive and Docs has allowed for years, as have Box, Dropbox, and others)
  • You can have real-time video chat (just like Google Talk), but only if you install a thick client

Here is what you will NOT see with Office 2013:

  • Real-Time Collaboration:  Users are limited to co-authoring — serial editing by one user at a time
  • Office 2013 running on much of your existing equipment:  Office 2013 will only run on Windows 8.  Get ready to pay to upgrade your operating system and your desktops and laptops in order to install Windows 8 and Office 2013
  • Good Support for Macs.  Macs are second class when it comes to MS Office in general, and with the “Windows 8” only message from Microsoft, it is unclear if a full version of Office 2013 will even make it to the Mac platform
  • Smartphone / Tablet Integration:  Granted, you will be able to run Office 2013 (and connect via Office 365) from MS Surface tables and Windows 8 phones — but who is buying those?  Microsoft is hedging on support for iOS (iPhone/iPad) support and has said nothing about Android-based devices.  If you want to run Office 2013 anywhere, be prepared to change your mobile device strategy.

As noted in this analysis of Microsoft’s 2012 10-K filing on ZDnet. Microsoft is clearly using Office 2013 and Windows 8 to create a vertically integrated ecosystem designed to block out other technologies.  The question is, do you want to lock your business into an ecosystem and a company that has failed, and continues to struggle, to innovate?

File Sharing vs File Service: The Difference Matters

 

It is time to set the record straight — File Sharing and File Services are NOT the same thing.

  • File Sharing is the ability to share a file with somebody else.
  • A File Service is a structured service to secure, organize, and manage access to files.

File Sharing is a subset of File Services, if not a separate offering.  File Sharing is a feature, while a File Service should provide an integrated means of storing, security, sharing, and managing information.

In Google Apps, both Sites, Drive, Video can be used for File Sharing.  In both services, you can create and/or upload files in all three services and manage permissions that allow others to view and/or edit the files. Google Drive, however, can also be configured to provide a File Service.  With desktop and device agents, you can use the folder and permissions structure in Google Drive to provide users direct, integrated access to files and the access will appear ‘native’ to their computer or mobile device.

In other words, Google Drive can look and feel like a file server, even though it runs as a cloud-base service and offers additional capabilities.

DropBox, Box, and Egnyte are cloud services that can also be configured as File Services.  They run separately, however, so if you want these file services to integrate with other cloud applications, you will be investing in Single Sign On and, possibly, integration services.

With Sharepoint as a major component, Office 365 offers File Sharing along the lines of Google Sites.  SkyDrive, Microsoft’s File Service, is not an integrated part of the Office 365 suite.  Users must run SkyDrive in personal Windows Live accounts.  In effect, this creates a collection of personal file services, not part of the managed domain environment, through which uses may share files.  This is a very different service than an integrated, domain managed file service.

Conclusion

By understanding the differences between File Sharing and File Services, you can better assess the user experience of each service and best match the service to the needs of your business and your end users.