Category Archives: SaaS

Signing On The Dotted Cloud

Signing On The Dotted Cloud

Signing on the Dotted Cloud

One area where the virtual world of the cloud leads to a sense of discomfort has to do with signing documents and contracts. For centuries, the binding value of an agreement was based on an individual’s capacity to sign his or her name at the bottom – a visual and permanent testament to a person’s consent to the terms of the agreement. Prior to the age of the fax machine, these documents were signed and then transported by courier or mail, but this changed once it became possible to enforce contracts based on a document’s own digital facsimile.

Today, in a world where almost everything is accessible instantly via the cloud, the act of physically printing a document in order to sign it, scan it and fax it back seems dated and time-consuming, and to that end a number of online solutions have appeared that allow individuals to append a graphic signature to an electronic document such as a PDF or Microsoft Word file.

Currently the most widely-used online signing tools include Echosign by Adobe Systems, DocuSign, SignNow and HelloSign, although there are many others. In all of these cases, the recipient of a document is prompted to place a signature, initial or date at specific locations on a page, and then save and re-send. It’s as simple as that. The signature itself is formed from either a selection of cursive-style fonts from which the signer can choose, a space for the signer to physically scrawl their autograph, or the option to upload a previously-saved image of their own signature.

Naturally the initial resistance that many organizations feel when confronted with this technique has to do with security and legitimacy. After all, how can it be proven that a signature delivered electronically is real?

agreement-documentEach of the major online signing companies explain very clearly on their websites just how security is maintained. First they make mention of their adherence to national and international signing laws such as the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) established in 1999, The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2000, and the Canadian privacy law, PIPEDA. These international laws established standards for the legitimacy and legal enforceability of electronic signatures. Furthermore, some of these providers will demonstrate compliance with the information security management system (ISMS) standard ISO27001.

Next, they highlight the actual security features that accompany every single document. An electronic signature represents more than simply a visual graphic; it includes encryption to ensure that the sender is indeed the sender, and backs this up with an extensive digital paper trail and audit process.

And finally the provider takes care to demonstrate the types of clients who have already embraced and benefited from electronic signing, from airlines, engineering and insurance companies through to law firms and even professional athletes, signing multi-million dollar contracts.

As with all things computer-related, the decision to embrace online signing should be made after sufficient research and testing to ensure the the chosen technology is physically useable and acceptable by both internal staff and external clients and suppliers. Decision-makers should be able to understand the difference between an electronic signature, as provided by online document signing suppliers, and a digital signature, which is a certificate-based user ID often used for access to databases or in smart cards. For contracts and other paperwork that requires agreements between people, the electronic signature is sufficient, legal and enforceable.

With the cloud becoming the centrepiece of business, and with the adoption of mobile devices and BYOD as standard practice, the concept of keeping crucial documents in a centrally accessible, secure and auditable zone makes more sense than ever before. As with many innovations before it, its relative novelty and the very human sense of fear and mistrust that accompanies change will spur decision-makers to do their homework before embracing this technology, and in so doing will help ensure its safe and practical relevance.

The bottom line – literally in this case – is that signatures made online can actually be more secure than any action short of signing in person in front of witnesses. It actually offers a greater degree of safety than a faxed document, and one need only think of the numerous times people leave their signatures lying around, such as when signing credit card slips, signing for courier deliveries, or forgetting original documents at the photocopier, to realize the types of dangers that online signing actually removes from today’s high-speed business world.

By Steve Prentice

How To Set Off With Confidence On The Road To Cloud Computing

How To Set Off With Confidence On The Road To Cloud Computing

How to Set Off with Confidence on the Road to Cloud Computing

At its most basic level, traveling along the IT transformation journey from conventional data centers to the dynamic, intelligent environments of cloud computing is an adventure in self discovery that has a way of changing you as much as your technology.

You may start out thinking you know who you are and where you are going, but as you dig deeper into cloud computing, your goals will inevitably change as your awareness of who you are expands.

No Leap of Faith Required

The good news is that it is possible to start the journey toward cloud computing one step at a time from wherever you are, and even realize some efficiencies and performance rewards in the early stages. No leap of faith required. Implementing cloud computing is a pragmatic decision that needs to be executed with a painstaking attention to detail and a deep and broad understanding of your organization.

It can be a challenging process, but the payback is worth it: If you can define it in enough detail, you can have it. The first step is knowing where you are today.

A comprehensive assessment of your IT environment begins by identifying what’s in it. There are off-the-shelf tools available to collect data on everything in your environment. For example, there are tools that inventory every device in your physical environment, others that examine your virtual environment and others that look at your application layer. No one tool is going to be enough. You need to determine more than just how many devices you have, you also need to understand where your systems are under or over-utilized as well as the dependencies of the various workloads.

A detailed assessment will identify what resources are being used effectively as well as where there are inefficiencies associated with server sprawl. A large enterprise I visited recently had multiple, highly-virtualized server farms. An examination of how these resources were being used, however, revealed that one was only operating at 20 percent capacity and another one the same size was only 30 percent utilized. It’s great that their server farms are highly-virtualized, but inefficient server farms — virtualized or not — still waste time and money. And moving an inefficient virtualized environment to the cloud does not make it intrinsically any more efficient.

If someone screams…

During your initial cloud assessment you also need to look at the condition of the data center facilities where your virtual infrastructures live: Are they energy efficient, are they overheating, are they overcrowded?

I met with an IT director recently whose data center was jammed full of devices, only half of which were turned on. When I asked him how he knew what systems he actually needed, he said, “I turn it off, and, if someone screams, I know I need it, and I turn it back on.” A detailed assessment of your IT environment in preparation for a move to the cloud can provide the data you need to progress from a reactive to a proactive, approach to IT management. Instead of having to guess if an asset is needed or not, you will know.

The status of disaster recovery and business continuity is another area of uncertainty in many IT environments. Most IT departments have a DR plan, but too many haven’t updated it on a regular basis. They dutifully send their tapes off to some storage facility and think they are protected. A review of the availability requirements for mission critical data can be a startling eye opener. Having to send off a team of technicians to the tape storage provider to download their raw data and return with a trunk full of tapes that still need to be uploaded, may not, in fact, be possible within an acceptable recovery window.

While you are reviewing your DR plan, you should also re-evaluate available DR services. Advances like DRaaS with high availability replication can recover your data and have you up and running in hours instead of days…or longer. Thinking about DR, as a result, has become a whole lot easier  for those IT directors who are willing to evaluate their risk of downtime and consider new ways of protecting their data.

Across the Aisle

Just assessing your technology environment is not enough. A comprehensive assessment should look at your organization from three distinct points of view: your technology team, the business leaders IT serves and the finance executives who have to agree to pay for it all. The true potential of cloud technology can only be realized by tightly aligning technology with business objectives.

A healthy relationship between IT and business leaders is a good sign that an organization has the level of cooperation and maturity it will need to successfully leverage cloud computing. I could tell one organization was ready to move forward with a cloud strategy by the way the CIO answered a single question: When I asked what challenges IT had with business leaders, he said, “None. The first thing I did when I got here was set up a taskforce with IT and business stakeholders that focuses on how we align business with IT throughout the organization.”

This CIO knew the flexibility and efficiencies that cloud computing could mean for his IT environment. As important, the business leaders could see how cloud computing would respond more quickly and effectively to their needs, and the CFO understood the value of being able to pay for technology as needed from the operating budget, as opposed to paying in advance from the capital budget for future capacity that they may or may not end up needing. Cloud computing can only succeed if it has buy-in from the top down, and the top needs to understand what they are buying into.

Your Cloud. Your Way.

Most cloud providers and purveyors of cloud technology like to act as if they have all the answers. In fact, you are the only one who really does. The goal isn’t to be able to see cloud computing from their perspective, but to use the viewpoint of cloud computing to see yourself and your business needs more clearly and in more detail. Knowing who you are today will provide you with everything you need to critically evaluate what cloud providers have to offer. You need to be able to do more than just access a cloud environment. Lots of providers can give you access to raw cloud environments. The real value comes from accessing a cloud environment that is designed to be a secure, flexible, highly available extension of your overall, unique IT environment. Don’t settle for anything less.

Dazzling promises, emerging standards and other baffling changes constantly swirl around cloud computing technology. Don’t be distracted. The most important consideration — in fact, the only consideration you need to worry about — is what cloud technology means to you.

My next blog will look at how you take the information you have collected in your assessments and design a cloud strategy that fits your unique set of challenges and resources.

By Kevin Gruneisen, Logicalis Senior Director Cloud and Data Center Solutionskevin

Kevin has nearly 30 years of experience in the Infrastructure Technology business. His key responsibilities at Logicalis are focused on matching Logicalis’ capabilities with the cloud and data center needs of its customers. Kevin joined Logicalis in 2004 when Logicalis acquired Solution Technology, Inc. He began his career in technology with IBM in 1984. 

For more information, Kevin recommends IT pros explore the IT Transformation Journey, a microsite dedicated to this topic, at www.unlikeanycloud.com.

Five Cool Technologies Cloud Services Make Possible

Five Cool Technologies Cloud Services Make Possible

Five Cool Technologies Cloud Services Make Possible

Cloud computing is essentially IT as a Service, where shared resources, software and data are accessed on demand via an internet connection. Whilst no one can predict how this will revolutionize technology in the future, for now, it’s already facilitating some pretty cool technologies.

On-the-Go Entertainment

Gaming platform Steam allows its users to purchase access to and play video games from their internet connection. Unlike the old days, where they would need to venture down to the nearest Game, purchase the hardware, come back and install it on their computer, they now have instant access with the click of a button.

What’s more, Steam is a social platform so users can choose to play against each other, set up gaming clans, use the chat facility, and even create their own content to share with others, making gaming an increasingly social activity.

Much in the same way that the cloud computing is revolutionising gaming, entertainment media, such as TV and film are now much more accessible than ever before. The likes of Netflix and LoveFilm now allow their users to stream content over an internet connection, so the days of going down to the video shop are gone. In fact, Netflix makes up an entire third of North American internet traffic during peak hours.

Remote Collaboration

We’ve all been there, desperately trying to access a document at work, but it’s locked for editing by Janice in accounts. And she’s locked her computer. And gone to lunch. It’s frustrating to say the least but still ridiculously common.

However, with cloud based documents like Google Drive, any number of users can work from the same document simultaneously. All changes are made immediately and because everyone’s viewing the same version of the document, there are no over-write issues.

Customer Service

Customer service is vitally important to brands. The relationship between brands and technology is inextricably linked, with rapid advances in computing forcing brands to continually revolutionize their service to stay ahead of the game.

Cloud services facilitate a superior customer service experience as sophisticated CRM applications allow brands to cross-examine social media platforms to gather important data about their customer-base.

For example, salesforce.com’s sophisticated cloud-based applications, such as MarketingCloud and SalesForceChatter, give brands the benefit of connecting with their audience over easy-to-use platforms. Such managed services applications also allow brands to gather key metrics about their customer base that will allow them to devise strategic and highly targeted marketing campaigns, which in turn, help to drive sales.

BYOD

byod

By 2018, Gartner predicts that 70 percent of professionals will conduct their work on personal mobile devices.

Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, essentially allows employees to access essential business information and software on their own device via an internet connection. Not only does this benefit businesses in that they no longer need to spend money on hardware, but it also brings a greater level of flexibility to the working day.

Suddenly, employees can work from anywhere at any time as long as they have an internet connection, so for those with a young family or who spend a large amount of time ‘on-the-road’, the cloud has the potential to increase efficiency tenfold.

Social Sharing

Last but not least, the one that everyone seems to forget: social media. In fact, if you’ve made use of any social media channel, from Facebook to YouTube via LinkedIn, there’s a 100% chance that you’ve come across cloud computing.

Anything that is uploaded to any of these sites whether that’s video content, photos, updates, or profile information, is sorted in the abstract cloud space.

No one actually knows the full capacity of cloud-based services like Amazon or Google, but it’s estimated to be around one Exobyte – or 4.2 million Macbook Pro hard drives. This is a staggering amount of storage that clearly opens a wealth of doors for future computing developments.

By Ali Raza

This is written by Ali Raza on behalf of Interoute-IAM, who are one of the UK’s premier providers of Application Managed Services, Managed Cloud Services and Infrastructure Solutions.

How To Secure Your Cloud Data In A Collaborative Setup

How To Secure Your Cloud Data In A Collaborative Setup

How To Secure Your Cloud Data

The recent revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been extensively spying on its citizens and key organizations overseas has sent a number of corporations in a tizzy and have made them question the way they conduct their business. A recent survey conducted by Redmond Magazine revealed that close to 40.5% of respondents felt the need to pull back on cloud based initiatives to protect their enterprises from espionage. Could this be a fleeting reaction arising out of panic or will we actually be seeing a drop in cloud based initiatives?

SharePoint experts believe that enterprises may eventually come to terms with the changing business climate and hence a move towards cloud collaboration cannot be impacted. However, they predict a future where enterprises will establish a hybrid set-up that will ensure easy handling of data over the cloud while being able to retain the more secure information on their local server. With Microsoft SharePoint, establishing such a hybrid setup becomes easy and simple. Here are some pointers to take care while handling your data in a collaborative cloud setup.

data-security

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

Upgrade To The Latest SharePoint

The latest version of the collaboration software, SharePoint 2013 is built on the Vertipaq engine and is integrated with the Powerpivot technology that enables enterprises to collaborate on datasets that are much larger than what was possible previously. If your enterprise requires big data to be handled on the cloud, the latest 2013 edition of SharePoint ensures that the best infrastructure to handle data on the cloud is available with you. Besides this, by upgrading to the new version, you get improved user security and authentication methods that prevent illegal user access to the system. This article on Sharegate should help you with the migration process.

Understand Your Business Requirements To Pick An Authentication Topology

When setting up a hybrid collaboration system, it is important to understand where your master data should reside – is it on the cloud, or on your own server. If your business is particular about confidentiality of data and also if most employees are centrally located to be able to directly access your on-premise server, then it is recommended to pick a hybrid one-way inbound topology. Using this setup, users on SharePoint Online will be able to query the SharePoint server but the reverse shall not be possible. This way, most of the data is secure within the local server which may be offered or denied to a remote user. For alternate business requirements, you may either pick a one-way outbound topology or a bidirectional topology setup.

Securing Your Collaboration Data

Once you have decided on your authentication topology, it is important to ensure that the data being shared is secured from external hacks. This may not be important if you have all your data residing in the cloud. However, if you have decided to keep your data secure on your local server and grant restricted access to external users, it is critical that you create and deploy a security channel certificate. This ensures that the data stays encrypted during transfers as well as is only accessible from devices that are recognized and trusted.

In addition to this, it is also important to configure your security settings to prevent anonymous interception of data. This may be simply done while configuring your primary web application by setting the ‘Allow Anonymous’ option to ‘No’.

Configuring The User Access Rights

One of the biggest challenges while managing the security of a large system like SharePoint is handling the amount of unstructured data. To keep all your data secure, it is important to map the users and groups in an enterprise to the data that they have access to. To do this, it is recommended that your business analyses the access rights to each and every site collection and review the permissions. This process needs to be conducted periodically to ensure no access right is made available to any old or dormant user.

Protecting SharePoint With Firewalls

Enterprises that have SharePoint to host websites handling secure data need to actively protect its access with the help of firewalls. Doing so protects the website from third party SQL injections and other attempts to steal data.

Security is an extremely important element of running your business on the cloud. While the steps above may not make you completely immune to data theft, it does go a long way in ensuring your business stays well protected in a cloud based data collaboration environment.

By Anand Srinivasan

Anand writes for ERPGuru, a company that specializes in implementing and supporting NetSuite Canada. He is in the process of launching his own SaaS-based tool for marketers shortly.

Cloud Infographic – PRISM Is Only A Symptom

Cloud Infographic – PRISM Is Only A Symptom

Cloud Infographic – PRISM Is Only A Symptom

There has been an endless number of articles discussing PRISM, NSA and a whole slew of other related privacy issues. When will this all stop? I’m sure most people feel that it never will.

Included is an infographic provided by PerspecSys which illustrates some very interesting figures surrounding data protection.

PRISM-Infographic

Infographic Source: PerspecSys

While Not Completely Cloud – Can You Stretch Innovation Too Far?

While Not Completely Cloud – Can You Stretch Innovation Too Far?

While Not Completely Cloud – Can You Stretch Innovation Too Far?

First let me begin by backpedalling. I am a huge Kickstarter and Indiegogo supporter. I believe in the push away from traditional innovation to this newer innovation model. My initial premise is that in fact you have to be careful about the concept of spreading innovation to thin.

There was a time, not that long ago when innovation came from large companies. The market moved slowly but, as many great business books explain if you didn’t watch the trends you would eventually fall out of market leadership and in many cases never rise again. There were of course small companies that burst onto the scene becoming large companies as well. It was a market that was stable to a degree with only the birth and death of some players marking change. It was stable as well in that there was the broad ability to hone and refine core and specific skills working for one of the small startups or for a larger company.

cloud-innovation

Today you can take that great idea and instead of learning the craft, you can now post it on Kickstarter and get your idea funded. This is intriguing in the broadest sense, spreading innovation out beyond the artificial barriers that were created in the past. But I still have to ask that question that bugs me, can you stretch innovation too far?

First of course you have to buy into a concept, that innovation is finite. If you had asked me two or three years ago, I probably would have said yes it is. But I am beginning to wonder about that. I’ve seen 10 different watches on the two funding sites in the past 12 months. Each of them has unique and interesting features that weren’t available on or with watches in the past.

Back of course to my concept – can innovation be spread too thin, and my initial answer is no it cannot be. But there are other considerations.

Second thing to consider is the what of innovation. What you are innovating can limit the market. There are saturated markets to consider. I would figure after nearly 20 years of cellular phones that the case market would be pretty saturated. That in fact would be wrong, there are a growing number of cases on both funding sites. In fact it is a pretty consistent category month over month. I’ve seen a number of different USB charging solutions pop up recently as well. I would have assumed that USB charging was an area where innovation had been well, beyond saturated. However, in the end I have found net new charging solutions that were frankly quite impressive.

Back to the concept one more time, can what you are innovating in the end be in a saturated market? I would go with No again here, as the two examples show innovation can exceed even in a saturated market if your idea is good. But there are other considerations.

The third and last thing to consider is the market (Total Addressable Market (TAM)) for the product. There have been a number of projects on Kickstarter that have exceeded their funding goals by a significant amount. There are a number of projects that have run afoul of both legal rules (patent and other issues including name infringement) and financial issues (funding acquired but just not allowing for significant change in the manufacturing process). You can search for data on TAM and how to calculate it fairly quickly on the internet.

In the end, innovation is a pretty deep pool. In fact I am happy to say that I would have been wrong in the past believing that the amount of innovation could be limited. It seems to be an ever expanding pool with lots of interesting new products popping up all the time.  I would however love to hear from the readers of this piece – what do you think?

By Scott Andersen

Scott works as a software architect and has been involved in IT projects over the past 17 years. Before that, Scott was a public school teacher in Bloomington Indiana.

Cloud Accounting – The Back Office Promise

Cloud Accounting – The Back Office Promise

Cloud Accounting – The Back Office Promise

financialforce-accounting

The promise of platform as a service is very simple: Bring your code, and cloud vendor will handle everything else for you. Users build their applications with the vendor’s tools, APIs and supported programming languages. Platform as a service model of cloud computing increases programmers’ productivity, reduces development costs, and enables quick release of software. One of the leading platform as a service offers is the Salesforce Platform where development is performed using salesforce.com’s web interface and a proprietary development language called Apex. The biggest benefit of the Salesforce Platform is time savings for developers, because they can easily use existing common objects, forms and workflows. Many developers use the Salesforce Platform to offer their own software as a service applications.

The end-users can explore the aforementioned applications on the Salesforce AppExchange. It is a cloud computing marketplace launched in 2005 by Salesforce. You can develop and market your applications built on the Salesforce Platform or access thousands of free and paid applications built by others. Now there are many types of applications that integrate well with Salesforce CRM, among them are back office applications. FinancialForce.com offers back office applications such as accounting, billing, and professional services automation (PSA). Their applications are native on the Salesforce Platform, with a unified user interface and single sign-on. FinancialForce.com applications are rated very highly by users on the Salesforce AppExchange.

FinancialForce Accounting is cloud accounting application that is embedded with Salesforce CRM and allows organizations to align sales, services and finance on a single cloud platform. It has a very simple design, but can support the needs of the smallest virtual organizations to the most complex multinational corporations. FinancialForce Billing’s main aim is to leverage information stored in Salesforce CRM to automatically generate invoices. The invoice entries can be exported to your ERP system of choice. FinancialForce Professional Services Automation (PSA) enables organizations to manage people, customers, projects and financials in one integrated application. It also has benefits of native integration with Salesforce CRM and the scalability and flexibility of cloud platform.

FinancialForce.com applications break down the walls between the front and back office to help teams better service customers at every touch point while effectively managing a company’s finance and productivity. A connected front and back office in the cloud can be the key to superior customer service, more repeat sales and faster cash collections. All the data are stored on one system and only one record exists for all accounts.  There are no departmental silos—everyone from sales to accounting know the real-tie status of each customer.

You can find out more about their solutions at the next Dreamforce where FinancialForce.com will lead the Back Office theme. It is the company’s vision and promise to unlock back office information and put it in the hands of customer facing employees to strengthen customer relationships.

By Darko Androcec

Post Sponsored By FinancialForce.com

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