The PEMBAway: Our Heads Really Are In The Cloud

Pemba Serves has left the building

This one goes out to all the single ladies! Er, sorry: Make that all of the sales reps and other #OIBIZ folk out there who want to know more about the PEMBAway. In advance of our OIA Outdoor University program later this summer, we’ve started this series of posts describing what we do and how we do it, and – well – this is the next one.

We’ve often been accused of having our heads in the clouds, and – turns out – that this couldn’t be more true. Wait, that’s not what I mean. Back-up, rewind: Our heads are in the CLOUD, not CLOUDS.

(Having our heads in the clouds – also prolly true – but that’s a whole ‘nuther thing; we’ll talk about that later…)

For some time now we’ve been actively pushing as many of our systems as we can up into the Interwebz, the sphere, what’s collectively known as “the Cloud.” This is to say that most of the software and systems we run with at Pemba don’t exist on any one computer. In fact, they exist on any and all computers, at least any and all that have internet access.

Why do we do this? What’s the advantage? For one thing, this frees us from hardware. Take our computers away (please, I’m begging you – some of them are getting old) and we would be back up and running as soon as we plugged new ones in. Go ahead: Steal my laptop. There’s nothing of value on it that can’t be replaced the next time I sign in to any computer. Everything important exists on the web, and I have instant access to all of it.

By working from the Cloud, we can work from any computer, anywhere, as effectively as if we were sitting at our own desks. Any computer becomes our computer: Duck into Kinko’s, sit at a colleague or customer’s desk, hit the business center at the hotel, log in and – PRESTO! – it’s set up exactly like the one back at PEMBAbase. We have all of our contacts, calendars, communication systems, documents, dashboards, histories – everything – right there, right in front of us, the most current version, ready to go.

But there’s more: Working from the Cloud makes us more collaborative and effective, because we’re able to use software that reduces e-mail, eliminates redundancy, and gives us all real-time access to what’s going on at Pemba.

Best of all, much of this comes with a really great price-tag: It’s either free or cheap.

Sound good so far? Well, here’s how it works:

For most things, there’s Google. We use so much from Google, it’s difficult to know where to start. So, let’s take Gmail first, which is quite possibly the best possible e-mail solution, ever. Why? That deserves its own post to do it justice, quite honestly. For now, take my word for it: Gmail ROCKS. Combine Gmail with Google Chat, and you’ve got a one-two punch for both external and internal communications that’s hard to beat.

We’re big fans of Google Apps, which includes Gmail and Google Chat but also Google Docs and Google Calendar, as well as other products. The advantages? Too many to list. Take Google Docs: Multiple people can access and edit the same document at the same time. I admit that this sounds impractical – more like a stupid geek trick than anything else – until you think about how many times you’ve e-mailed documents back and forth between multiple parties so that they can be edited and vetted, only to find that someone has a different operating system, or an out-of-date version of the software. Google Docs helps us to skip all of this, as well as to get rid of this dreaded question:

“Which version of the [contract/order/financial docs] do you have? Please tell me you’re working with the most current one…”

For scheduling, Google Calendar is the standard. It syncs with everything, everywhere, for everybody; works via e-mail; gives visibility and availability to those who want it and need it (colleagues, family, friends), and – if you’re like me and always late for everything – it even sends gentle reminders via e-mail, text, and/or computer alert that you need to be somewhere else, soon. (More than this, it also gives me my agenda every morning so I have it in my head in advance.) Lately, we’ve started using scheduling software called Tungle, which integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar. Why? With Tungle you can – once and for all – stop sending e-mails back and forth that go something like:

“Sorry, can’t do 3pm, how about 4pm? And which Tuesday are we talking about? For that matter, how’s Wednesday look for you if we can’t do Tuesday? Also – Is that Central or Mountain time?”

And on, and on, and on…

A lot of what drives us to work in the Cloud is – ironically – what we discussed in an earlier post: The idea that we can reduce our e-mail volume. (E-mail is the great time-suck of our time after all, in my mind rivaling TV as the #1 waster of human hours…) Basically, we stop pushing things in and out of our own computers and put them out where they can be seen, edited, and stored where other people can get to them. This opens up possibilities for true collaboration, and this – in turn – saves time. Lots and lots of time.

So, with Google, we reduce our e-mail volume in significant ways:

  1. Gmail manages e-mail better, period.
  2. Internally, we frequently use Google Chat rather than e-mail to get quick questions answered.
  3. We don’t use e-mail as a carrier for managing versions of documents between two or more people.
  4. We don’t use e-mail for finalizing scheduling details.

But what about the other stuff? Communications, scheduling, creating documents, all these things are important but not nearly the whole banana.

For managing most of the rest we mostly use collaboration software from 37Signals. In their suite of tools, we use Highrise for managing contacts, Basecamp for managing projects, and Backpack for managing ideas. In Highrise, we can see up-to-the-moment information for anybody we ever contact, we can assign tasks and follow-up, and comment on ongoing issues involving real people. Basecamp helps us to work on large projects as a group, laid out cleanly with benchmarks and goals clearly defined. Backpack gives us a place where we can foster ideas or solve problems; it’s a meeting space that doesn’t require us actually to meet. But this is true for each of these tools: With them, we can meet about important stuff, get things done in real time, and all in ways that don’t require us to sit down together and hash everything out.

With eight of us going in a million different directions, we can’t underscore enough how important this is.

This isn’t to say we don’t meet face-to-face, because we do. This is of course with the caveat that – lately – “face-to-face” frequently involves Skype. With Pete, Bryan, and David all working remotely full-time and Janice working remotely part-time, we use Skype to talk together, to share documents together, and – yep – for office hijinks, too. (We sometimes have as much fun in our virtual office as we do at PEMBAbase.) We’re also using Skype for quick clinics to our customers, and are set-up to do sales from Skype as well.

Between Google and 37Signals, about 97% of a rep’s standard needs are covered. The only “must add” is a document storage site – a place where static documents such as pricelists, order forms, and so-forth can live so that others can access them. While we use our Mac-based MobileMe service called iDisk there are others out there.

For some of the “extra” stuff that’s part of the PEMBAway (our blog, newsletters, forms and surveys) we use WordPress, MailChimp, and FormStack. These all integrate seamlessly with each other, and with Google and 37Signals, too. For example, do you want to schedule an appointment with us? We have a webpage for that, that shows our availability via Tungle; pick a time and it drops into our individual Google Calendars, and sends a confirmation to everybody via Gmail, which is then easily logged into Highrise and/or – as needed – Backpack. All of this happens more or less automatically.

(For that matter, there are some really fun things we do with FormSpring, MailChimp, and Highrise together that we’ll be showing during our Outdoor University seminar; be sure you tune in.)

You might’ve noticed: We have a big commitment to Social Media, through our Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr feeds. Each of these also integrate with all of our other tools. For instance: Got a Twitter feed? It shows up in your Highrise profile so we can see it in real time while we’re talking with you. (You might not want to Tweet “Why do sales reps always contact me when I have more important things to do?” just FYI.) Otherwise, our strategy on Social Media deserves (and will have) its own post, or two. Stay tuned.

And, lastly: There’s an app for that. Every web-based tool I’ve mentioned above also has a corresponding iPhone app. I talk to people all the time who say,”Oh, I don’t have an iPhone, but I can get on the web so it’s really kinda like the same thing.” (Um, NO, it’s not – just sayin’.) Web-based interfaces work really poorly on phones, so they don’t get used. Just because you CAN log into your CRM from your phone doesn’t mean that you DO. On the other hand, the Highrise application for iPhone is great, and I use it every day. In fact, because the apps for each of our main tools are so good, for most trips these days I leave my laptop at home. I use my iPhone, instead.

Where stand-alone software was designed to be computer-driven replacements for everyday items – the Daytimer, the Rolodex, the typewriter, the checkbook – with online software computer technology reaches its full potential. By this I mean that new tools for doing everyday things are being developed that are nothing like their real world counterparts, and – in fact – are much better. They all integrate together in ways in which the Daytimer, the Rolodex, the typewriter, and the checkbook never could.

The truly disruptive tools that are impacting the way that work is done all exist only in the Cloud.

This is where we keep our heads.

Now you know why, so we hope you join us.

Be sure to tune into our Outdoor University Seminar on August 18, and we’ll show you more details of how we use these tools.

4 responses to “The PEMBAway: Our Heads Really Are In The Cloud

  1. Nice post, Brad. We’ve been using an almost identical set up here at Ambler for 3 years and can’t imagine business without it. Getting rid of servers and IT costs is a big bonus worth mentioning as well.

    One other app that I find indispensable for sharing & syncing files among several computers in the cloud is Dropbox (and yes, there’s an iphone app for that as well).

  2. Hi –

    Great article!

    Planning on going paperless in 6 months… my foundation is gmail & google docs. We already use highrise and have used basecamp.

    The one question I have for you all is when you do have to print from a project like basecamp – how do you do it?

    How do you get your information out in the times where you need it?

    Basecamp just does not print well…. none of the online project management tools do and that is the only thing I can not get my head around and is holding me back from going all in.

    Thanks for your help!

  3. avatar Brad Werntz

    As if on cue (something in the air, maybe?) this week there’s been a bunch of articles on Cloud computing. This one on Gigaom has a lot to offer the subject, also.

    We do use DropBox at Pemba, but – at this point – more for back-ups than anything else. Much of what it does is reiterated for us with our iDisk.
    We don’t need to print anything from Basecamp, or haven’t. We have had a circumstance where we wanted to export some content from it because it wasn’t an ideal location for our project, and that didn’t work out too well. Most of what we use Basecamp for is not only Cloud-based, but also paperless.
    In addition to what I listed here in this article, several of us also use:
    Evernote: David calls this his “spare brain,” and I use it similarly.
    Toodledo: A great GTD task-manager.
    TweetDeck: Awesome all-in-one social media platform and filtering system.
    Google Voice: All of my voicemails forward to my Google Voice box, where they are transcribed into text. These are then sent to me via e-mail and SMS, so I can filter them without having to listen to them.
    Thanks for the comments!
  4. Here’s a nice write-up from Inc about Google Apps, also.