Cloud computing and productivity revolution

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“You can quote them; disagree with them; glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them” (thanks, Apple, for that eccentric commercial). Cloud computing isn’t as new as it seems and is popular among businesses of all types and sizes. Legacy or conventional desktop computing has been trending for longer than it should have been. Thankfully, it is fast changing. Changing to cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to software services and platforms offered through the Internet and is available to organizations on the basis of subscription. The cloud has been around for quite a while now, and is becoming the preferred choice for many businesses. Why are these organizations, that were doing fine with installed software, now turning to the cloud? What in cloud computing has won them over?



Many businesses have lost the traditional office model already. Cloud comes as a boon to relatively smaller organizations; emerging ones, whose employees work from home and collaborate online. Any device that has Internet connectivity is all it takes to have access to the organization’s data. More importantly, there are no futile copies of the same data. There is one central location where all the data resides, and every user is served that, from wherever he has access. There are precautionary backups though, but the host handles it all.
Second to costly infrastructure, constant software updates and maintenance are nightmares that haunt businesses. The sad plight of traditional desktop software is that integration and maintenance costs you way more than the actual software itself. On the contrary, cloud computing platforms are updated automatically by the provider, and this ensures that every employee is on the latest platform, without having to spend a fortune on updates alone.

Interestingly, this study on giving back more than what we take, reveals,

Large companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil – enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year.
So, for whatever reason you go to the cloud, be it environmental activism, online-collaboration capability, or freedom from infrastructure, maintenance and software updates, there is this one factor that desktop counterparts can never match. And that is ROI  (Return on Investment) or the cost factor. Because, in business, emerging ones in particular, money does matter. And money saved is money earned. The showstopper is that the cloud provides all this, and yet, there is no compromise on productivity. And that is why cloud computing platforms are rapidly gaining the appreciation they rightfully deserve.

Build Order Forms, Increase Sales: Zoho Creator Payment Module

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Just recently, the payment module in Zoho Creator was introduced. With the help of this module, users can set up a payment gateway using their PayPal account. Once this gateway is set up, users can build a variety of applications that involve collecting payments, donations, etc. Our enthusiastic users have come up with a dozen applications that use the payment module in innovative ways. Today, I am showcasing a simple e-commerce application using your familiar Zoho Creator forms.

The heart of the application is an order form. Potential customers can place their orders for the goods offered for sale through this form. Not just that, they can also pay for the orders that they placed. In this sample application that I created, I am offering discounts on bulk orders, sending email confirmations of the order and generating invoices to send to the customers. While this sounds like a lot, it’s really easy to put it all in place. My PayPal account is tied to the order form for collecting the payments, and the customer can pay using either a credit card or PayPal account.

In this application, I am offering customized t-shirts on sale. Customers placing orders for 20 t-shirts or more will get a 10% discount.

First, I create the Order Form and tie it up with my PayPal’s sandbox account.

 

Zoho Creator creates the base form, which will contain all the items up for sale and their respective prices. It also includes the fields from the base form in the order form. I can customize the order form to add more fields, like the buyer’s contact information, shipping address, etc.

 


Next, I include bits of Deluge Script that will calculate the discounted prices for the order, send the email confirmation and also generate an invoice to be sent to the customer.


Now that the application building part is over, I go over to the Items form and start adding the items available for sale.

 

The application is now ready. I simply embed the order form in my website. The orders start pouring in. Now that took me only an hour to build. Isn’t that neat? Do feel free to try the application. How could you use the payment module for your business application?


Can Small Businesses Benefit from Custom Software Apps?

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Every business can benefit from custom software applications, regardless of the service or product it offers. However, if you are a small business, spending on the right applications is particularly crucial due to a tighter IT budget and being more vulnerable in the dynamic corporate world. This could lead to conflict about whether you should spend on generic desktop software or custom web software.


To resolve this conflict, we look at the key performance indicators of any business: the data about its customer-practices and business process management. What the organization has learned about its customers and how effectively it uses this data to provide better and relevant solutions to its users is what keeps them on the charts. In such data-centric times, an organization’s data is distributed across various inevitable software solutions it uses: CRM, accounting applications, project management, inventory management and resource allocation, support ticket management, enterprise resource planning, revenue, expense and commission trackers and much more. That means multiple copies of data are stored at multiple locations, leading to ineffective usage of resources. What if all the data pertaining to your customers could be stored at a central location, and all the custom software applications you use could access the data relevant to them? What if all these software solutions could communicate with one another, effortlessly?


Well, this is possible if the applications are from the same vendor and hosted online. But it is more about picking from the lot, those applications that best suit your business. Why insist on appropriate ones, and not generic ones? Because not all businesses are run alike. Each has unique use-cases, and thus needs unique applications for each requirement. Generic software applications are almost always full of compromises. You end up paying for more than what you actually use. This is one good reason why you should consider building your tools, yourself. Building custom applications using web application building platforms is more beneficial than settling for ready-made software. Customization not only costs a lot less, but it also speaks your language. Not all of us are programmers, after all. What stops you now? Get started with custom apps today!


Prototyping with Zoho Creator: A Unique Use-case!

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Zoho was a platinum sponsor at this year’s CRM Evolution Conference, held in New York on August 10. The event brought together many CRM users and vendors, and although CRM was the focus of most discussions, we were looking forward to hearing about Zoho apps too.

And so, we were happy to hear from Charlie Isaacs, a Zoho Creator enthusiast. In addition to working with Alcatel-Lucent, Charlie also works as a social media strategist for Genesys Lab.

When asked about how Zoho Creator simplified his requirement, Charlie had something unique to tell us: he prototypes using Zoho Creator.

Listen to Charlie explain how he does it:

Whenever Charlie gets a new idea for a project, he prefers to use a prototype to propose his plan. He says, and we agree, that a prototype is almost always more compelling than a 20-page document. Charlie takes advantage of Zoho Creator as he builds form-based solutions. The advantage Zoho Creator has over MySQL, he says, is that MySQL doesn’t allow the association of a form on the front-end.

There is always Oracle and MySQL, but to get something up and running, Zoho Creator is there for me.

In addition to prototyping, Charlie also spoke about an interesting mobile application that he uses to read QR codes, which are looked up in a Zoho Creator database. Based on the information returned, like UPC codes, Charlie then dynamically constructs the menu on the handheld application.

Thank you, Charlie, for sharing with us two very new use-cases of Zoho Creator. We’re glad to hear that it only takes an hour with Zoho Creator to complete the prototypes, versus 8 to 10 hours without it.

Zoho Creator and The Playwrights’ Center – The Plot Thickens

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Premise:



 


The Playwrights’ Center focuses on both supporting playwrights and promoting new plays to theaters across the country. Significantly, they offer over $200,000 in fellowships to writers and theater artists each year. They also organize workshops where playwrights can get together with actors and directors to see their script at work, and manage several other programs that help playwrights get connected and build their careers. As they work closely with theaters, actors, directors, and writers, they have an advantage when it comes to advocating for artists and promoting them.




 




Flashback:



 


Way back in 1971, five playwrights were seeking professional assistance and support.

The Playwrights’ Center
 was founded by these five writers to help them secure productions of their plays, and later expanded to offer multiple forms of support and professional assistance. Since then, it has served as a launch-pad for numerous artists and currently serves over 1,100 member playwrights, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive play-writing centers in the country.


 




Lead:



 


Tom Borger is the Communications Associate there, who is responsible for social media coverage, as well as print and electronic communications. He was the person who set

Zoho Creator
 up for the Playwrights’ Center. He spoke to us about why and how they got started.


 




Action:

 

The Playwrights’ Center wanted to track the careers of writers who had benefited from their programs. Knowing where each of their playwrights’ plays had been produced, as well as what honors and awards that playwright had received, would help them promote and advocate for the playwright. The Playwrights’ Center also wanted to measure their own effectiveness. This data would go to funders and donors interested in the impact of the Center’s work.


The extensive documentation
was gratifying to have; there were so many examples, and the message
boards were full of other people’s experiences.



The problem was that they had theaters, productions, awards, and past development to track, in addition to playwrights. Also, a play would often have more than one playwright. When a play was selected, all artists associated with that play needed to be populated in the respective fields, and vice versa. Handling these complex branches of data on spreadsheets was the last thing they wanted to do because it led to multiple versions of the same data. So, Tom decided to build a new database using Zoho Creator.


Credits:


The very few times I ran into snags, I emailed support and heard back
really quickly. That was impressive because all that was for a user who
wasn’t even paying; I was doing all this on a free account.



Tom is now set for the next step; publicizing the applications on their website using a JSON feed. He also suggests that the number of specific scenarios addressed on our

community-forum
 should keep growing in order to guide new users. That, we will do.  


(And, personally, I loved using

Pixlr
for editing the images for this post!)

Zoho Creator – Zoho CRM Integration : A success story of Credible Systems

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Guest post by Mark Thurman of Credible Systems:


Credible Systems joined the


Zoho Alliance Partner Program
 2 years ago, with Zoho Creator as their main focus, and later expanded their scope to include Zoho CRM, Zoho Reports, & Zoho Projects. Founded in early 2009 by Mark Thurman and Sarah Treanor,


Credible System
 is a consultancy focused on helping organizations of all sizes and types, leverage the growing power of cloud-computing. Their clients range from schools and SME’s to much larger enterprises. Here is how Mark

sees it all:



The Client:


We were approached by a European-wide consultancy to assist them with extending the functionality of Zoho CRM. The client provides a broad range of business consultancy services to blue chip organization across Europe.

The Problem:


Their need was to effectively track the utilization of resources across their various clients and projects. Of course, a spreadsheet solution could have sufficed as a short-term solution. But we had our doubts about it being a scalable, long-term solution, keeping in mind the client’s growing operations. An external third-party solution would cause an additional problem of duplicating all data, inevitably leading to differences between the two sets.


Zoho Creator
 would be a fine solution for such a problem in any case, but its recent integration with Zoho CRM made it the perfect solution.

Zoho Creator, it seems, has something for everybody
.


The Implementation:


We created a custom database application that allows the user to import opportunity details directly from Zoho CRM, based upon certain criteria. For instance, only those with a status of “Closed Won” are brought into Zoho Creator. Using Deluge script, we then provided methods for 
  • Creating sub-projects for each opportunity 
  • Assign a unique Project ID 
  • Relate the project to specific internal business units for project work and administration 
  • Expose relevant CRM data for the selected opportunity 


And with reports generated from within Zoho Creator, they were able to



  • compare planned and actually delivered values for an opportunity against the estimated Opportunity Value in


    CRM






  • chart the utilization level for a specific resource, business unit or entire company against a threshold for a


    specific


    time period




  • create calendar views of resource


    allocation


    providing consolidated information at a glance



The Next Step:
We intend to use Zoho Creator for Google Apps, combined with


Zoho CRM’s sync with Google Contacts and Calendar
. By this, we can provide resource utilization calendars within Google Apps, for the data residing in Zoho CRM.

When an Activity is created, we can provide a function to ‘write’ the Activity details to Zoho CRM as an ‘Event’.
  • Create custom calendar views in Zoho CRM for ‘All Events’ and ‘My Events’ 
  • Set up CRM calendar sync with Google Apps calendars 
  • Then ‘All Events’ and ‘My Events’ CRM calendars will be visible on Google Calendar too.
Resource planning using Zoho Creator has allowed them to see how much resource is currently planned against each project, and how much they can possibly expand, thus enabling them to manage available resources effectively.