Accurate, timely information is power. That’s the calling card of the cloud.
So, last year, Bemus Landscape moved its IT operations from traditional software to cloud-based applications in the Google “sky,” and learned some valuable lessons from the move.
Before: Four years ago, Bemus Landscape moved from its traditional “server room” and full-time IT manager who maintained the technology to a data center (that hosted its software). That was the answer rather than replacing aging, costly servers.
“So, we contracted with a third-party hosting company, took our software and housed it in their data center,” says General Manager Jon Parry.
Bemus Landscape paid “rent” for its space at the data center, along with data management fees. This hybrid-cloud solution worked for three years at a cost of about $5,000 per month. That’s not including software licensing fees and other IT expenses. A full-time IT employee stayed on board to handle other tasks.
Decision: Like most businesses, Bemus Landscape was running on Excel spreadsheets that got cumbersome when multiple versions were e-mailed among colleagues. The tipping point, really, was in 2014 when the firm implemented its landscape industry enterprise resource planning system, Aspire. “That formed the backbone of our operations,” Parry says.
The rest of the company’s software felt dated in comparison.
So, Bemus Landscape decided to move to the Google cloud.
“Most businesses use the cloud to some extent,” Parry says. “I don’t know if everyone jumped in like we did.”
Investment: The hardware investment was minor compared to the cost of replacing Windows-based equipment or purchase servers. Employees are equipped with Google Chrome devices.
“They’re basically Internet connections in a box,” Parry says of the Chromebook laptops and Chromebox desktops. A typical laptop retails for about $200. “If someone spills coffee on it, you get a new one.”
Bemus spent less than $10,000 on computers, laptops and conference room monitors for video conferencing.
Cloud software is paid for through subscription fees per application. But the cost is less than before. “Our accounting system now costs us about $700 per year for the cloud-based product where before it was costing us that much every month,” Parry says.
“With subscription fees, you literally put your credit card number in and you’re up and running in five minutes, it’s that convenient,” he adds.
Acquiring new apps is also easy and inexpensive compared to purchasing software products and licensing agreements. “We use 10 to 15 cloud-based apps, including a productivity app called Asana,” Parry says.
Transition: The tough part about moving to the cloud was getting beyond the Windows mental block. “We have grown up in the Microsoft environment, and it takes some adjusting – it’s hard to break those chains,” Parry says.
Parry was surprised how ingrained everyone was in this world. “But the process of using these cloud-based products is fairly simple,” he says. Changing over requires advanced planning, communication and training.
“Quite honestly, we probably did not do as much training as we should have,” Parry says.
“We had to do some ‘refresh’ training after implementation – but nonetheless, it’s sink or swim, and we’re swimming.”
For the ERP system, that vendor implemented the system and provided training. Bemus Landscape contracted with a consultant to implement the Google cloud-based system. A lot of the learning is a matter of using it in the field, Parry says.
After: Today, there are no servers at Bemus Landscape. And the company does not use an external data center. Google is the cloud where all of the firm’s information lives.
This gives the team access to all files at all times on all devices. The transition took about nine months.
“Once you are in the cloud, there are apps you can ‘bolt on’ very easily,” Parry says of expanding the system over time.
The company employs a part-time IT manager that assists with technology needs.
Parry says, “Now it’s starting to come together, and it’s neat to watch our people adopt it and have so much information available when they need it.”