As organizations of all sizes increasingly look to the cloud to keep their costs low and their productivity high, some online platforms remain prohibitively expensive, which keeps them out of reach for many small businesses. The team at InfoStreet intends to change that with SkyDesktop, a cloud-based workspace and suite of applications aimed squarely at the small businesses.
"Small businesses don't have access to a lot of these business applications, and we're making them readily available and very affordable," says Siamak Farah, founder and CEO of InfoStreet.
Farah knows that smaller organizations often have few IT resources, making the integration of multiple cloud systems difficult. SkyDesktop aims to make that issue moot. "[Businesses] just sign up for a free account, sign up for three or four applications, and then it just works," Farah explains. Each application lives within your fully integrated online workspace, providing a quick, no-fuss alternative to the traditional desktop.
Desktop Consistency in the Cloud
Moving applications to the cloud brings a host of benefits and SkyDesktop takes full advantage of them. For example, it's rare for employees to work on only one device these days. Most use a desktop or laptop for a portion of their work and then use a smartphone to take up the slack. An increasing number of business owners and managers rely on a tablet when they're on the move. Add in those workers that rotate between different stations or store locations, and any sort of consistency becomes a pipe dream. That's where the SkyDesktop platform shines.
Figure 1: The SkyDesktop replicates the desktop experience in the cloud, and you can customize it for your needs.
"You have a place in the cloud that looks like your laptop or your desktop, regardless of where and how you access it—with Windows or a Mac or a tablet or something else," Farah explains. Because SkyDesktop works in any browser and provides a consistent experience across devices, employees can use the same suite of applications with the same login requirements, no matter their hardware preference.
Small businesses can even breathe new life into older computer equipment, which may not have the horsepower to drive today's compute-intensive, server-driven applications, but are perfectly serviceable when accessing the SkyDesktop Web portal.
Applications and the SkyAppMarket
SkyDesktop offers a growing selection of applications through the SkyAppMarket. Small businesses can choose from categories that include email and calendaring, file sharing, and website creation, to name just a few. Rather than expecting you to slog through a litany of ho-hum offerings, the company has carefully curated the SkyAppMarket's catalog.
"It creates an aggregation point for people," Farah says. "Based on the applications they've used from us, they gain some trust. They know that we wouldn't offer an application in the SkyAppMarket that's not worthy and that hasn't passed through our quality control." Each category offers a handful of options, so people have a selection to choose from without digging through pages of less-than-ideal solutions.
Figure 2: Choose from a curated selection of affordable business applications that you'll find in the SkyAppMarket.
One Sign-on for Fast, Easy Access
One issue that hinders efficiency for many small business employees is the sheer number of applications and systems they work with on a regular basis. It's not uncommon that each application requires its own login credentials, leaving workers to spend time tracking (and sometimes losing) a list of passwords.
"The problem, for example, is an employee needs a login and password for her accounting software on the Web, she'll need another login and password for her file sharing application, and yet another for her project management application," Farah. SkyDesktop fixes all of that, giving employees one place to sign in to their cloud workspace and just one set of credentials to remember.
The single sign-on and a consolidated dashboard make things more efficient for small business owners and managers, too. "Without SkyDesktop, if I lose an employee—whether it's amicable or not—I have to login to 14 different places where we have these applications, and I have to disable those accounts," Farah says of traditional standalone applications.
Through the SkyDesktop aggregated dashboard, the platform looks at all the applications the employee had and, without requiring the business owner to go through each one individually, it disables the account across the entire suite of applications.
Putting other tasks on hold to deactivate terminated employees' accounts is necessary not only to reduce the risk of a data breach but also to avoid unwanted fees. Some providers charge $30, $50 or more per user per month, a cost that small businesses eagerly avoid when possible." SkyDesktop centralizes everything," Farah says, adding that SkyDesktop's approach also makes billing, support and other administrative tasks far easier. "You receive one bill, one point of contact for support, and one for user management."
Priced for Small Business
The SkyDesktop platform is free to use. Application costs vary from free to around $10 per user per month, with the average being roughly $3. Even if an application isn't free, almost all of them offer a free trial.
"We've also introduced something new called the retrial," Farah says. "If you try an application now and you don't buy it, and then in 6 months you want to try it again, you can go for another free trial."
That's a departure from many other cloud providers, who hesitate to make similar arrangements. But it's an important option for small businesses, which may have a very different set of needs 6 months down the road than they do today. Application bundles are also available, some of which include 10 applications for only $25.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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