Category: Feature

by Adrian :: 18.03.11

You can teach yourself anything with Lynda.com

I wanted to share with you the most amazing online learning library. Using my subscription with Lynda.com, I’ve just taught myself a basic skill in Final Cut Express– a video editing suite. I happen to think video editing is a bit of a life skill in this day and age but I’ve had several false starts with trying to teach myself – it’s always a matter of trying to find an entry point. Lynda.com sorted that out for me.

There really isn’t a better resource on the web for teaching yourself anything whether it be a software package-  a development language – do take a look for yourself.

So I sat through Lynda.com’s Final Cut Express Course – took me less than 3 hours and ran it on a second monitor next to the project I was working on. So from Zero to the below in 3 hours (and a lot of fiddling I admit) – I also admit that my first editing project has some rough edges but it’s a great start (in my most humble opinion)

Anybody can do anything now – and to think the membership is an all-you-can-eat learning membership of $25 per month – no contract committment.- how many self-learn books lie on my shelves unopened?

by Adrian :: 6.12.10

My questions for Dreamforce

Over 27,000 cloud computer enthusiasts are congregating in San Francisco this week. We’re being hosted by Marc Benioff the Founder and CEO of Salesforce.com at a conference called Dreamforce. Benioff has grown Salesforce.com from a startup in a rented apartment into the world’s fastest growing software company in less than a decade.

A few months ago, I was at the Royal Festival Hall where Benioff presented to a circa 2,000 head audience in a London gathering called CloudForce at the  Royal Festival Hall. In the Youtube clip below he says:

As we’ve travelled around the world in the last 12 years our message has been clear: Cloud computing is the future. The first time I came to London I did not play at the Royal Festival Hall- and I think there were about 4 people that showed up – two of them were lost and the other two came for the free food!

There are a few things I’m hoping to figure out at Dreamforce
1) Is, as Benioff evangelises, Cloud Computing and more specifically Salesforce.com really for companies of any size? My experience is that SMEs in Europe are battling to afford the per seat charges that Salesforce.com expect. Is pricing the barrier and what is the extent of customisation. I advised a big-budgeted financial services company (with 800 employees globally) who were looking at Salesforce.com and, disappointingly, they couldn’t afford it.
2) Are the hurdles in the European race to Cloud Computing higher than our compatriots’ in the US? Firstly there’s the culture, fear and lack of understanding. Secondly there’s the bandwidth issue in the UK – working in the cloud can’t be achieved on bandwidth speeds that most of the population outside the major cities have to settle for. Why are we Europeans slower to adopt new technologies?
3) At Cloudforce London, Benioff promised a UK data centre in 2011 – but is this enough to alleviate worries about data being transported across borders. I need to understand more.
4) How easy and feasible is it for SMEs to custom develop applications on the force.com platform and is this something on which I should be looking to skill up?

Of course I’m also looking forward to hearing President Bill Clinton’s address and Stevie Wonder sing at the Gala concert on Tuesday night. For those who won’t be here you can register to watch Benioff’s keynote online on Tuesday afternoon European time. It’s really something you won’t regret.

by Adrian :: 4.12.10

Why account in the Cloud?

Again drawing on experience, let me tell you why in 2010 running a finance function in a small business is less complex, costly and gives you a competitive edge.

In the days before the cloud

No two ways about it, but, in 2004, once we’d delivered on quality: my Digital Agency’s competitive edge was sadly reduced to price. Design and Development skills were slowly becoming commoditised by the technology platforms and freelance and outsource markets. We had to cut cost wherever we could as our clients demanded price reduction. We had a highly skilled team in Sofia, Bulgaria and not only did the developers cost far less than in the UK but their skill and qualification was deeper. (they’d all qualified at Sofia University mostly with degrees in mathematics and computer science)

Setting up the finance function

As the business grew, personally, I needed to move away from the finance stuff (my time was more valuable in the sales function as by that stage we had 10 hungry mouths to feed in London and 30 in Bulgaria) Since we already had an existing business in Sofia, it was as a no brainer to have our finance function relocated there. Again, there was no shortage of skilled accountants in Sofia, and like-for-like I hired a Bulgarian controller for a fifth of what I’d ended up paying in London and kept a desk free in London for a badly needed account manager.

Sounded practical and achievable, but..

This all sounded like a credible plan but this decision cost me a fortune because, at the time, the technology was a barrier not an enabler. Like any UK business we were forced to settle for Sage, a server-based accounting package. To cut a long story short, I ended up throwing £25k at the software and hardware and another £10k at a consultant who had to come and set it all up so that we could have more than one use in more than one geography. Sadly, I gave up because it took more than a year to get going and I couldn’t afford to be without a growing finance function. Regrettably, it ended in me having to make our BG controller redundant.

Would it be different in 2010?

Oh yes! The Cloud would have enabled me to make my plan work quickly and cost-effectively. A flexible web-based accounting package didn’t exist in those dark ages. Today I could turn to one of the three leading Cloud Based Accounting package providers in the UK: Kashflow, Xero or Freeagent. I wouldn’t have had to invest in consultants, expensive accounting packages and servers that needed continual maintenance and upgrade. Even before wanting to move the finance function to Sofia I remember having to go into the office to work on Sage because I couldn’t access the data with any reliability even though I had stumped up an additional license for my laptop or home computer.

AoB runs its finances in the cloud and while I’m writing this article I’ve just had an email in from a client asking for a copy of an invoice. I logged into the system from my Peet’s Coffee shop in San Francisco and it was in his inbox instantaneously I could just have easily done it on my iPhone if I’d been out an about. If you’re a client of mine, you’ll be used to me raising fee notes on my iPhone that we both agree on when I’m sitting in front of you.

The Cloud is more flexible, scalable and less monolithic and costly

I also wanted to point out that a Sage server license for line 50 which most small businesses still get flogged (most probably recommended by their Accountants)- with all its inflexibility and sluggishness costs a small business annually circa eight times as much compared to a Cloud computing solution. And that’s not where it ends – Sage’s bolt on support, payroll and other solutions are far more expensive than the equivalent offering from the Cloud providers.

AoB has just put a plan together…

for a client to help them move their finance function to the Cloud. We’ve shaved substantial budget and shortened their billing and collection cycle which has, in the first 3 months, paid for our fees. This saving excludes all the administrator’s time we’ve freed-up from paper pushing allowing her to do things that add value to the business making her job far more fulfilling.

by Adrian :: 1.12.10

Saved by the Cloud

Before I embarked on the treacherous school run this morning, I received an email from the local village school to tell me that it was closed. Thankfully, to send the email, the school administrator didn’t need to drive on the icy roads to get to her school PC. She relied on the cloud to send the email to the parent distribution list. In this case she logged into the Yahoo mail system from her home pc or mobile device- the originate from the cloud. All she needed was a web browser. Arguably, before the advent of the cloud we wouldn’t have received that email.

In a nutshell then, the cloud enables you to access your data and applications from the end of any internet connection. The application and data sits in the Cloud.

I’m off to a conference in San Francisco tomorrow safe in the knowledge that I can access everything I usually do at the office either on my iPhone, iPad or Mac/PC. In fact, I could even resort to accessing my cloud on someone else’s device if I couldn’t get to mine.

Cloud computing is a great enabler and that’s why entrepreneurs need to take advantage of it.  Firstly, you don’t need to have huge processing power on a PC anymore. Just a reasonable internet connection and a modern internet browser. Secondly, people can work remotely – from home, the office, at a client’s premises or whilst commuting between clients. The barrier to entry for a startup business is significantly lower being able to access all the (often free) power in the cloud. Take Google Apps for example. I’ve planned many posts in the future to help you understand what you can do with the cloud so consider this a teaser.

Cloud computing is also referred to as Software as  a Service or (SAAS) –  no need to get befuddled by what you think are geekish acronyms. You will be using them in common place very soon. And if you cant get used to adopting these words and concepts, remember how you used to smirk when people suggested you Google them!

This is SalesForce’s most popular YouTube video worth watching

If I still haven’t demystified the cloud why not visit Cloud Computing in Plain English which is a very good introduction to the concept by Common Craft – an while you are on the Common Craft site  – have a look at some of the other Plain English productions – they’re great.