In very simple terms, the cloud is the remote set of tools and data that live in the Internet. For example: the cloud version of movie rentals is Netflix, the cloud version of a checkbook is PayPal (Square, Stripe), and the cloud version of Walmart is Amazon. You know it's cloud if you help yourself to what you want anywhere, anytime, and it's easy to take care of your own needs (answer your own questions, pay your own bills, find what you want, etc.). The cloud is a tech cliche by now, but to the woodworking industry, (and countless others) the cloud is barely coming of age.
Turns out, data is in its natural element in the cloud, not in the physical world. This is why cloud computing is talking off like a rocket. When data lives on a piece of paper multiples may exist, it can get sucked up in the dust collector, and your dog can pee on it. It can only be read by the person holding it (or looking over his shoulder), and you have to walk across the shop to see the data. When you make a note on that paper, nobody knows it unless they're holding it.
When data lives in the cloud, there's one version, backed up on multiple servers (if done right), and can be accessed by exactly who you want to grant access at any time. When someone modifies it, it changes for everyone in real time, in their pockets.
Very soon, the cloud will become as important to your business as your sander. You're presumably spending time on the sanding process because it's a necessary step to selling your customer a finished product. Like your 4 head sander, the cloud is as much a tool to sell your customers products because it saves time, eliminates inconsistencies, and keeps labor costs down. As an added bonus, the price of this "4 headed invisible machine in the cloud" is dropping every second and is already well under the price of every machine on your floor. The price of data and communication is on a steep decline (where it will continue). In fact, the price is dropping so rapidly, many cloud solutions have already reached the rock bottom price of free. This drastic reality has already started to disrupt many industries.
Where there exists one user group who implement the technology and one group who stays away, a large disparity exists, and a disruption begins. The woodworking industry is seeing the beginning of this disparity. Companies who have adopted cloud based technology (and have recently done us all the favor of working out the bugs), are beginning to outpace (with incredible results) those who avoid it.
Fine, so what does this have to do with woodworking businesses? When you apply it to billing, it takes away the lag of the post office, the labor of collections calls, double (and triple) entry, and improves your cash position drastically. When you apply it to your catalog, it eliminates the expense of printing, distribution, amendments, and makes you "instant to market" and always open. Additionally, you can eliminate about 50% of your incoming phone calls as customers self serve information about pricing, availability, options, and more. When customers take care of themselves, you eliminate order entry, reworks, and so many other issues. Scheduling, supplies, accounting, team communication, and so much more can be moved to the cloud for exponential benefits.
Look for cloud based tools that can elevate, automate, and allow you to stay competetive.
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