When Google bought Upstartle in 2006, bringing their Writely product to users ultimately as Google Docs and introduced Google Spreadsheets the same year, the cloud was still very much an abstraction for most businesses, let alone consumers. The two productivity applications were useful because they could be accessed via any computer with an Internet connection and allowed previously unavailable levels of Web-based collaboration on shared documents and spreadsheets.
However, the world at that time was still very much focused on print and their fidelity on the printed page was badly limited by Web technologies at the time. Word and Excel had set the bar quite high in terms of what users expected from a word processor and spreadsheet application, as well, slowing adoption of the rather sparse Web apps from Google.
Fast forward to 2013 and the picture is a very different one. Google Apps is now a robust, fully integrated suite of productivity applications including presentation and database software, along with word processing, spreadsheets, and even a drawing application, all delivered through a Web browser. Microsoft’s Office 365 is fully integrated with desktop Office applications and offers a very high-fidelity Web-based productivity experience and Zoho’s suite of applications ranges from collaborative document software to CRM. Having an office suite on your desktop is no longer necessary and, in many ways, is inferior to cloud-based productivity applications.
In part, cloud-based productivity is improved simply because the underlying technologies have improved. Mobile and anywhere/anytime access to the bread and butter work in which most businesses engage is quite compelling and even being able to sit down in a hotel business center and do real work on a document or presentation is a very tough value prop with which to argue.
The real value, however, comes from the collaboration capabilities built into these applications. The world has caught up with Google’s 2006 vision and the ability to work together in real time with teams, partners, clients, and colleagues anywhere in the world means more than any specific interface.
In Google Apps, for example, users can simultaneously access and edit documents, spreadsheets, drawings, etc., all from a Web browser, regardless of their physical location. Gone are the days of emailing documents to teams and spending countless hours reconciling revisions and different versions of document. Now we just pop a browser and start working on a document, often using comments, chat, and simultaneous editing to work both faster and smarter.
Building a budget while all of the stakeholders are simultaneously editing the same spreadsheet shaves days and weeks off of a process which could barely have been called collaborative three short years ago. Business trips around the world to get everyone in the same room for a presentation and meeting are irrelevant when presentations (including a back channel of chat and commenting) can happen in real time over the Internet.
Times have changed, folks. Our need to collaborate on a global scale and bring products and ideas to market in weeks instead of months or years means that we need every available tool to enhance our abilities to work with teams and partners worldwide. There are few tools superior to the new breed of cloud productivity suite to make that happen, faster, cheaper, and more effectively than ever before.