Cloud Computing, also known as web-based software or SaaS (Software as a Service), is the latest buzzword in a long string of computing buzzwords and at first blush most travel pros might tend to dismiss it as “not applicable” to their day-to-day operations. Considering that the major advocates and advertisers are large (expensive) players – IBM, Sun & Microsoft, to name a few – it’s an easy assumption to make. Cloud Computing’s main purpose is offering shared access and data storage, which, of course is practical and a huge advantage for companies spread out all over the world. But what if your company is a small or home-based operation? How does Cloud Computing help you? Let me count the ways.
First, there are practical and financial benefits. Moving the software to a web-based type of access reduces the need for computers requiring huge hard drives and lots of processing power, since the storage is web-based and not on the local machine. All the processing is done on the server side before bringing the finished page back to the desktop. This means that you can access the program on any type of machine capable of serving up the website – mobile phone, iPhone, PC, MAC, Netbook – it doesn’t matter. The speed is only limited by the bandwidth of your internet connection and the web browser you’re using.
Cloud Computing software is scalable, meaning you pay for what you use. In some cases, in the spirit of open source, basic plans are free. Some applications are always free, or advertising based, like Google Apps. Going head-to-head with Microsoft Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access, Google Apps offers Gmail and Google Docs with virtually the same, and in some cases, far more powerful features, without the price tag, installation and licensing hassles. Zoho.com is another popular product with multiple applications. Choices are plentiful and growing every day. So, what’s the catch? If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true, right? So far, the only catch is dependence on the Internet – which exists anyway – and the presence of advertising. Advertising seems to be a small price to pay for access to world-class software at an affordable price, And dependence on the Internet is less of an issue with the ability to use a program called Gears to synchronize many programs with your hard drive – calendars, email, documents, to name a few, making it more like desktop computing.
I must also mention the benefits of innovation. Since most web-based software is built on the common web platforms, software makers generally make available parts of the source code to any developer through what are called APIs, or Advanced Programming Instructions. Independent developers from all over the globe in turn produce “add-ons”, “plug-ins” or separate programs to add functionality to the main program. This is known as “crowdsourcing” in the tech world and the possibilities are impressive.
Let’s look at a real-world example. I use a product called Highrise to manage my day-to-day contacts. Very similar to ACT or Salesforce. Planning my marketing strategy, I decided I would want a form on my website that potential customers could complete that would do several things upon completion of the form:
- Add their contact info into the database, with tags that describe their interest (ie. marketing, prospect)
- Add them into my “prospects” opt-in email list – with full name and how they joined the list to use later
- Send them a series of autoresponder email replies
- Add a series of tasks to my Google Calendar for follow-up
This would save hours of retyping, reduce mistakes and insure a good chain of follow-up. I was sure others would want it too, so I jumped on the 37Signals website (maker of Highrise) and posted a suggestion in their forums. 37Signals said that would be really cool, but they were working on a whole list of other things. Here’s the good part. Several other developers read my suggestion and wrote three different add-ons, based on my suggestion and those of others who contributed to the conversation. Our little crowd of users contributed ultimately to three solutions. One is free, one is a monthly service and one is an outright $39 fee for the form. I didn’t have to wait for the main company to release it. I didn’t have to pay my own development costs. I only needed to share an idea and someone smarter ran with it, and I have exactly what I wanted for $39.
It is practical, affordable, scalable and most, importantly, accessible. Cloud Computing is most definitely the wave of the future for the travel industry. The potential for removing all dependency on GDS systems and proprietary accounting and marketing software is quickly becoming a reality, and especially in today’s economy, it presents an opportunity for savvy travel professionals to take charge of their office rather then being dependent on others. For a list of personal web-based software picks, plus ratings and reviews of options, visit http://travelwebmarketing.com
Chelle Honiker Yarbrough, CTC is the CXO (Chief Everything Officer) of TravelWebMarketing.com which offers weekly teleconference training classes, videos, marketing tips, software discounts and website advice to travel industry professionals for a low monthly fee. She’s often paid to speak at the travel industry’s finest conferences, which she thinks is ironic since her husband would pay her to shut up, and she wouldn’t have to do a slideshow. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Profile where you can read more about her self-proclaimed awesomeness with all things travel and internet. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, or catch her next at ASTA’s THETRADESHOW September 13-15, 2009, where she’ll be discussing Twitter and Customer Relationship Managers.