One of the hottest words being thrown around these days is the “Cloud.” Though Cloud seems new and trendy, it actually refers to something almost as old as the Internet. Cloud-based software is very simple to define – rather than software you install on your computer, Cloud-based software runs on the Internet and generally requires little or no installation. If you are using GMail, HotMail, or AOL you are already “in the Cloud.”
Here are some of the benefits that immediately accrue to you if you move to Cloud-based software. First of all you avoid the pain of installing software, dealing with disks, “run-time” errors, computer reboots and so forth. Furthermore, all the data and files you generate are stored on the servers of the organization that provides the service, and not on your hard-disk. This means you don’t have to worry about backing up your work – the provider does it for you! A surprising benefit is that Cloud services are generally much faster than working on your PC. It’s hard to believe that performing a task on a system thousands of miles away is faster than the computer at your fingertips. If you don’t believe me, however, just compare doing a search on your installed Microsoft Outlook with Google GMail.
But there are even greater benefits. Because Cloud software is based on the Internet, you’ll be able to access your data all over the world. Furthermore, you’ll be able access the data from any Internet-ready device such as smartphone, iPad, tablets, and so forth. However, the greatest advantage to Cloud-based software is that the Internet is the perfect tool for collaboration.
Collaboration tools in the Cloud take many forms. One of the most popular of these tools is for sharing files. Products like Box.net and Google Drive let you upload files to the Cloud that you can share with anybody. Google Drive offers Microsoft Office tools like spreadsheets that multiple users can access and change at the same time. Dropbox is a very popular file sharing tool, especially in organizations, as it is based on virtual “folders” that can be accessed on a wide range of devices including mobile.
Evernote allows the sharing of “notes” which can consist of rich text, photos, web pages and more. These notes can then be tagged and commented upon, and organized into folders. For meeting planners, this can be a great way to organize and share information about events, facilities, site selection and so forth.
When planning an event, there will be many meetings with various groups of people from different organizations. Tools like Doodle makes it easy to schedule times to meet that are convenient for all parties. If your meeting involves brainstorming, then you might want to try online software such as MindMeister or Mindomo.
Since meetings are projects, there is a great need for information to be shared on various related tasks and responsibilities. Project management software is among some of the top tools available in the Cloud. The standard bearer in this area is Basecamp by 37Signals. With this tool you can create multiple projects with different teams of people. Besides tracking tasks, you can include related timelines, documents and so forth. A simpler but also powerful tool is Wrike. We use this in-house at EventRebels to track projects large and small and have found it to be very user friendly.
A discussion of meeting software in the Cloud would not be complete without mentioning conference-specific tools. These replace your work in spreadsheets with data in the cloud that can be easily shared and accessed anywhere. Without plugging a specific product, here are the classes of software that you should consider for your meeting:
- Online Registration
- Exhibitor and Tradeshow Management
- Call for Papers and Speaker Management
- Banquet Seating
- Email Marketing
- Venue and Room Mapping
- Travel Management
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Cloud-based software that is available for purchase has a different business model than software you buy “off-the-shelf” and install. The general model in the Cloud is “usage based” – namely pay on a regular basis (such as monthly) based on much of the software you use (hence the phrase “Software as a Service”). Many companies use a “freemium” module where use of the software to a certain point is free. Higher usage or more advanced functionality would then be covered by usage fees.
If you’d like to find out more about the software discussed in this article, please feel free to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).