When Cornerstone established our cloud-based alarm software platform in early 2001, we definitely felt like pioneers. The dominant business model then was locally-installed and maintained software. Over the last 20 years, there has been a sea change. Small businesses now embrace the many advantages of accessing services, tools, and even their precious customer data using the cloud.
That said, we do still encounter cloud phobia. “I don’t trust the cloud”, one dealer told us at a recent trade show. While we respect that desire to keep everything local and presumably have ‘more control’, the current Covid 19 crisis underscores the value of cloud-based alarm software.
Anywhere, Any Time Access
Dealers that have brick and mortar offices may have been forced to set up staffers to work from home. A big deal? Nope: internet access with a computer or mobile device gets them to their customer database in less than a minute. There, they access all their accounts, reports, cash receipts details, and everything else they need. Re-routing phones can be a bigger issue. But the customer management process didn’t change working at home versus in the office.
For dealers without a cloud-based alarm software package, getting to their office network can certainly be done using tools like Log Me In. But those connections are often slow, clunky, and can limit the number of concurrent users.
Cloud Risks – Real & Imagined
What are the real risks of moving account information into a cloud system? Some perceived risks are addressed below. I’ll review each of these briefly.
Loss Of Control
Most small business owners are control freaks to some extent. But what does real control look like, when it comes to software? I think it boils down to a few things. First, you have control when you’re responsible for entering and managing your customer data. Second, you have control when you have instant access to that data, so you can act on the information immediately to take an action or resolve an issue. Finally, control means you can execute routine tasks (e.g. billing, collection letters, sending messages/emails to subscribers) on a schedule that works for your business.
Cloud-based alarm software is still software, managed and controlled by the business. Owners and staff manage their data, have immediate access to it, and generally can execute tasks and processes exactly when they want to. The ‘control’ issue is therefore more perception than reality. In fact, many of our dealers have commented that they love the instant access they have by way of Cornerstone’s cloud system. Now THAT is control!
Hurricanes, storms and ‘acts of God’ can absolutely disrupt internet access. Having done this for 20 years plus, Cornerstone has seen many outages during that time – not in our system, but in our dealer’s local environment. This is a real concern, and any business needs to have a ‘Plan B’ in place to quickly recover. For example:
- Having an alternate provider or service is critical. Our dealers can access our cloud system using cell phones if needed, or with iPads / Android devices that connect to cell towers.
- Likewise, being ready to go to an alternate location (e.g. wifi hotspot or to a home office) can quickly re-establish access.
- Keeping a local copy of key data will enable a company to continue supporting subscribers even in a disaster. Cornerstone’s system allows for administrative users to export key data and reports every evening if desired. That gives them a fresh local copy of things like customer records and pending service appointments.
Loss Of Data Or Cloud Provider
Good, well-established cloud companies should be able to offer a long track record of ‘availability’ of their system, with nearly zero downtime. In addition, they should have redundant systems. So if the worst happens they can bring up their ‘standby’ cloud system in very short order. Reputable cloud-based alarm software providers should permit easy export of key data (as outlined in the prior paragraph), so data can’t be “lost”. As dealers shop for providers, it’s fair to ask about a company’s financial strength and contingency plans. If a company has not been in business long, or is unwilling to provide some basic financial disclosures, best to avoid them. I would not want to entrust my key customer account data with a company that was new on the scene, or that had lots of debt.
One of the big advantages of having a cloud-based alarm software is that it’s maintenance free. There’s no need to pay for upgrades to the latest version, then needing to install those updates on a local computer or network. Cornerstone releases 2 – 4 updates every month, and our dealers get the benefits of these updates…without lifting a finger.
A Community Of Users
We consider our user base to be a community – our community. Cornerstone collaborates with our dealers every day, and we welcome suggestions they offer to make our online platform better. If a customer has a good idea, we can often implement that improvement within a few days or a few weeks. Hundreds of other users can then benefit from that improvement instantly….just by logging in at the start of the day.
While there are risks to signing up for cloud based alarm software, the key is to make sure your cloud provider has the strength and platform features to minimize those risks. For more information, check out our blog on the 7 Tips for Choosing a Cloud Provider.