The Cloud and the Business Desktop

Cloud computing is here – no longer is it considered to be temporary or just a fad.  Even though there are many businesses in the country without access to high quality high-speed Internet connectivity, the levels of investment and revenue surrounding cloud and mobile computing solutions and technologies has proven that mobility and managed service matter to those who are connected. What’s interesting is that the popularity of the cloud and the emergence of cloud-based applications and services haven’t really put much of a dent in the need for the desktop, which remains as the business workhorse and – connected or not – represents the foundation for business productivity and getting work done.

Some years ago, business applications began to emerge in SaaS (software-as-a-service) format, meaning a customer could simply subscribe to an application on the web rather than purchasing and installing software.  This option clearly resounded with many business customers and ushered in an era of online application services oriented specifically toward mobile users. Yet the desktop remains as the place where online solutions meet productivity (export any online data to an Excel spreadsheet recently?) and where accounting and finance connect with the rest of the operation.

Believing too much of the marketing-speak around cloud computing, many business users believe that they can only remotely access business software solutions if they are “cloud” and subscription model applications, and that the desktop products they know and have invested in cannot be available to them in a fully managed online model.  In fact, a large number of the business owners I speak with that actually use hosted desktop services somehow believe that the software they are using is something special and different from that which would be installed to their PCs. The fact is that the software is not different, regardless of what they may think. More often than not, the hosted applications are EXACTLY what the customer had previously installed (or would have installed) to their own computers had they not been working with a hosting provider.  Whether they are hosted or not… the desktop products generally function with all the features and capability designed into them because they are hosted on platforms they were designed to run on (like Microsoft Windows, for example).

Customers of the QuickBooks hosting companies often refer to their systems as “QuickBooks cloud, but not the online one”, not really understanding that it is simply the full desktop application that is being hosted for them.

Regardless of how many online application services emerge, and even if (IF) web-based versions of our favorite word processing and spreadsheet software become as useful as the installed kind, there will still be a need for the desktop if for no other reason than to make it easier to use and work with a variety of solutions at the same time.  Perhaps this is why remote desktop computing and hosted application services are becoming increasingly popular approaches to cloud and managed computing services.  The user benefits from having the feature-rich applications they need and a single place to access them and make them work together (the desktop value proposition), yet is able to have remote and mobile access, comprehensive system management and maintenance, data protection, helpdesk support and affordable monthly payments (the cloud value proposition).  In many ways, application hosting models represent the best of both worlds for the business.

JJoanie Mann Bunny Feet

Make Sense?

Consider how beneficial it would be to businesses who want the advantage of remote desktop and mobile access to applications to be able to run their QuickBooks (feature-rich desktop QuickBooks) and/or other business applications in an anytime, anywhere sort of environment. Businesses can obtain hosting services for QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise – allowing organizations to have their QuickBooks financial applications managed, protected, secured, and made available to users all the time and from any location. Some hosting services may also support integrations and extensions for QuickBooks – for both desktop and Web-based applications and services. When the host can provide authorized subscription licensing for Microsoft Office, a business can have a complete, outsourced IT solution and pay only monthly service fees to get it. No installation or system management to worry about: the QuickBooks financials, the productivity, the operational systems and plugged-in applications can all be hosted in the cloud.

Avoid the Aftertaste| QuickBooks Desktop Hosting Comes in Many Flavors

Avoid the Aftertaste| QuickBooks Desktop Hosting Comes in Many Flavors

There is a lot of activity and interest around the hosting of desktop applications in the cloud, and it is no wonder that a great deal of the effort centers on the use of Intuit QuickBooks desktop editions.  QuickBooks is among the most popular software products used by small businesses, so it makes sense that service providers and hosting companies are taking advantage of that market share to reach prospective hosting customers.  After all, a hosting platform may be kind of neat, but it is not all that valuable unless there are applications and data living on it.

For the average small business, the applications of choice include Microsoft Office and QuickBooks.  Yes, there is an online edition of the QuickBooks product (called QuickBooks Online, of course).  However, the market share Intuit earned for QuickBooks wasn’t accomplished with an online application, it was done with the desktop applications which still own market share today.  Hosting service providers recognize this truth, and are taking steps to bring those QuickBooks desktop solutions into the cloud.  Now we have the ability to get QuickBooks Desktop editions online – which is not the name of a service but a description of what it offers – available from a variety of authorized hosting providers (and from many unauthorized ones).

I’ve said before that there is a fine art to hosting QuickBooks desktop for lots of users.  There are a great many different considerations and possible use cases, and not all providers will be able to meet every requirement.  There are also lots of different technology models and methodologies which may be applied to the hosting model, and each has some benefit or barrier depending on the specific need of the client.  Hosting companies may throw around terms like “cloud server” or “published application” or “remote desktop”, but at the end of the day, the systems are still Windows computers running QuickBooks software.  How those systems are wrapped up, how you connect to them, and how you operate with them often becomes the real difference in the service experience.

The specific technology a hosting provider applies to the service does not necessarily describe exactly how the service works.  Just because a provider may use Citrix doesn’t mean they have more capability to provide quality service than a provider using other technologies, or a host using VMWare is not necessarily creating better cloud servers than a host using Hyper-V or Parallels or some other virtualization strategy.  The technology may impact how the infrastructure is operated and can impress upon the customer experience, but the real differences in delivery often come down to the provider’s understanding of the software product, the customer need, and their ability to meet the need directly.

Does the experience of connecting to and using the service work for the users, and are people able to get their jobs done quickly using the service without a lot of support or frustration?  (**Please note that hosting services aren’t a solution for bad software and poor working processes.  If the software or processes aren’t workable now, they’re likely not going to become magically more workable if hosted).  Does the hosting service address issues like making the right data available to only the users who need it, and giving access to applications only when a user is permitted to use them?  What about “external” users like contractors or client businesses… does the host offer a way for them to also participate in the solution?

It’s important to consider all of the aspects of how the service will be used, and by whom and under what circumstances, to ensure that the delivery offered is the solution needed. The point of all this is to encourage users to concern themselves a little less with exactly what technology the host is using to deliver QuickBooks applications, and to evaluate the actual solution.  It won’t typically matter to an end-user what specific technology is being used to provide them with service as long as the service works well for them.

While some people do adopt a fondness for a particular “flavor” of technology or approach, the reality is that a quality user experience coupled with a useful and reliable system means much more to the business.  And knowing that there are future options for growing, expanding or simply changing the service is essential.  It’s not so much the flavor of technology users should be concerned with when shopping for QuickBooks hosting services, it’s avoiding that icky aftertaste that comes with selecting a QuickBooks hosting approach that just doesn’t meet the business need.

Make sense?