Cloudy with a Chance of ROI
Intermedix EMSystems has made itself at home in the cloud.
The Milwaukee company first developed an Internet-based hospital diversion solution in 1998 and now delivers more than 10 interoperable communications products for emergency medical responders as cloud services. The company also meets its own IT infrastructure needs with services from multiple remote data centers.
The flexibility and resiliency of cloud computing are central to Intermedix EMSystems’ business, says Chief Technology Officer Bob Hedgcock. “We get bandwidth flexibility from CDW, our data center host, and our customers get to focus on what they do best as emergency responders,” says Hedgcock.
Intermedix EMSystems customers range in size from metropolitan area emergency response organizations to entire states. The cloud helps meet that changing demand, he says. “Our solutions scale up very easily because they are delivered from the cloud. If a hurricane hits, our customers can quickly add an unlimited number of users, focus on the emergency response and not worry about the IT aspects of the job at hand.”
With cloud computing, companies can contract for IT resources delivered by service providers over the Internet. The benefits of cloud computing are clear, say IT decision-makers who use the technology in their small to midsize businesses. Topping the list? Cost savings, reduced IT management hassles, increased business continuity and enhanced mobility.
A year and a half ago, Steute Meditech in Ridgefield, Conn., moved to new quarters. After estimating the cost of buying the IT hardware his company needed at almost $40,000 (not including maintenance and upgrades), Managing Director Peter Engstrom moved Steute USA’s IT functions to the cloud.
Steute contracted with a provider that delivers a full complement of Microsoft productivity and collaboration tools via Citrix Cloud Solutions. It cost a fraction of what the company had paid for the services of a technician just to fix problems in its old infrastructure, Engstrom says.
“In the past, we spent between $25,000 and $30,000 a year on an IT specialist and often had to wait hours for him to come,” he says. “We’re spending much less than that on all our IT services, and we get direct tech support right away. Besides the other advantages, the low cost has been like a birthday present.”
Absolute savings are always welcome, but SMBs should also compare the IT services available in the cloud with those that small companies can’t generally afford to purchase outright, suggests David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com, an online marketplace for voice-over talent based in London, Ontario. Soon after he and his wife started the company, Ciccarelli decided that he wanted to run the entire business from the cloud.
“I think the initial price for cloud computing is a barrier for some small businesses,” he says. “Salesforce.com is not cheap, but guaranteed, it’s saving us money, and it gave us world-class infrastructure from the beginning. Now our applications grow with our business.”
Looking for Relief
The scalability that Ciccarelli describes is one of the ways cloud computing eases IT infrastructure management, a powerful draw for companies with few or no IT employees.
Now, with 25,000 professional voice talents and thousands of contacts to manage, Voices.com uses cloud services for its financial, employee management and public relations apps, along with client and customer management apps. With the IT infrastructure in the cloud, the 12-person Voices.com IT staff can focus on using technology tools to build the business, rather than managing the tools themselves, he says.
At Steute, cloud provides access to an IT environment that would be difficult for the company to sustain, Engstrom says. In addition to Microsoft Office applications, Steute uses a Sage MAS 200 enterprise resource planning system delivered from the cloud.
“The closest we have to an IT guy is our chief financial officer,” Engstrom says. “He’s very good with computers, but he has other things to do. The simplicity of cloud computing is tremendous. We never have to do an upgrade or worry about backups because they’re done for us.”
At Intermedix EMSystems, the cloud lets the company offer emergency medical responders freedom from the complications and costs of managing critical communications systems, Hedgcock says.
The emergency responders that use Intermedix EMSystems’ services often work in and around disasters, but they want their IT and communications infrastructures well out of the “hot zone,” says Hedgcock, noting that his company uses separate remote data centers for production and business continuity.
Though it caused no damage to Voices.com, a strong earthquake in Ontario this summer reminded Ciccarelli that his business’s cloud use ensures a resilient IT infrastructure. “The goal for business continuity has always been that I should be able to operate the business from a smartphone, no matter if there’s an earthquake or if our building is struck by lightning,” he says.
Fortunately, major catastrophes are rare. But the need to access computing resources on the road is not, given an increasingly mobile workforce, Ciccarelli points out. In the cloud, apps and information can be made available anywhere there’s an Internet connection.
“Time to respond is critical in our business — in any business,” he says. “We needed technology accessible over the
Internet. The anytime, anywhere aspect was critical to us.”
The same is true for Intermedix EMSystems. “Any ambulance with a wireless router and almost any kind of hardware” can use the company’s cloud apps, Hedgcock says. “People use BlackBerrys, iPhones or ruggedized Motorola units. Whatever gets them to the Internet will allow them to communicate.”
For Steute, cloud computing ensures that Engstrom has the same access to resources and support wherever he works, whether on his notebook in a European airport or sitting at his desk in Connecticut. “If I had to make the decision to move into the cloud again tomorrow, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Cloud computing benefits have been widely discussed. Even so, the IT team often must focus on three management concerns:
- Security: Critical applications and data moving over the public Internet sounds scary, but users from SMBs point out that service providers maintain levels of security expertise and technology beyond the reach of most small companies.
- Loss of control: Although some users embrace the cloud, others are more cautious. The remedies include well-crafted service-level agreements, frequent reporting from the provider and a good relationship with the provider’s support desk.
- Price: Initial costs can obscure the long-term savings realized from offloading management and maintenance, but ultimately the cloud will save you money.