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abode's beginning, part 1. Making a home in the cloud.

5 July 2015 . Kevin Fitzsimons

Help desk world tour.

We've opted for Google for Work to provide our word processing, spreadsheet, document server and company email needs.  Over the last week or so I've needed help desk support three or four times.  I've been genuinely delighted how good the support is. Really chilled, smart and knowledgeable staff who appear to have all the time in the world to devote to resolving your problem.  And it's been a fabulous world tour adventure. So far I've talked to Google staff in Bulgaria, El Salvador and Guatemala (and they are happy to tell you where they are; none of this charade imposed on some Australian banks/telephone company helpdesks where they are supposed to pretend they are in the same town as you). I joked with Yackeline from Guatemala that I'm creating a Google Helpdesk map to document my interactions.  No longer just a weak joke:

Corporate email transfer to a cloud provider.

This is an example of where you're probably going to need helpdesk assistance.  I had set up our corporate web domains with Crazy Domains. As well as the basis for our web site, it also provides our email addresses.  Anyway, when I was working through the Google Works set up, I read  that one has to change various DNS and MX record settings on the Crazy Domains site so that Google's Gmail servers could handle our mail instead.  I thought I'd give it a try (how hard could it be for someone who uses Unblock Us DNSes to access Netflix and Vudu?). In short, I was completely bamboozled by where to find the relevant settings on Crazy Domains' web site (even with some specific written instructions from Google's heldesk website).  Anyway, in short, Irina from Google in Sofia, Bulgaria took my call, got me to share my screen using Google Hangouts and walked me through the steps. Sorted.

 

Google Work vs Microsoft Office 365.

Whilst many enjoy a good sneer at Microsoft for being behind the times, bloated, lost its way etc, I've never taken that attitude.  As someone who has been using the full range of Microsoft Office tools over 20 years, I know it is a company that makes incredibly good software.  Bill Gates is also a really impressive human being.

 

I was more than prepared to use Microsoft Office 365 as the foundation of our cloud technology.  Indeed, we had been collaborating over the underrated OneNote for several weeks before the business was born.

 

But I was also deeply integrated into Google's world, as an existing user of Drive, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, AdWords and, of course, Search.

 

A review of the options indicated they would both do the job. My instinct was to stick with Microsoft as their Office suite is superior to Google's and would be more familiar to users (and less likely to cause issues when sharing documents outside the firm). In the end I was swayed to select Google by the fact that Dessie had a very good friend and business owner who was using Google for Work and raved about it.

 

Sorry Bill. But hey, never say never.

Technology is a curious subject for a first blog by an immigration legal firm. It's the inaugural topic for a few reasons. First, I'm a marketeer who knows very little about immigration law. And with the directors busy setting up the business I needed a subject matter to pilot the blog that doesn't require me to interview them.  It is said write what you know. Well, I know very little about cloud technology either. But over recent weeks I've come to know - accumulated in fits and starts -  enough to get us this far in terms of the technological logistics of a cloud-first legal business. Second, I'm really quite keen to document our experiences (to tell the grandchildren?). And third, I'm hoping this article will go viral after it is shared by those who want to follow our pioneering steps such that abode migration lawyers is propelled from today's lowly 129th rank on a search of 'immigration law Melbourne' to top of page one in no time and I can mark search engine optimisation as completed forever.

 

Insight one: the cloud is the least worst IT option for a new firm.

I set up a law firm because I wanted to immerse myself in computers, peripherals, software, networking, databases and help desks. Said no one, ever.  The IT side is a necessary but arduous component of the journey.  It can also be really expensive - at a time when cashflow is tight - if you have to commit to buying lots of hardware and software, maintenance and helpdesk support,  broadband plans and so on.  Furthermore,  buy all that collective hardware for the team and you need a place to put it. You're now renting a office that you and your colleagues are tied to in order to share the shiny new computers, printers and software licenses.

 

When we put together the business plan for abode migration lawyers it was obvious that this wouldn't work for us.  The directors didn't want to be traipsing into an office everyday. They had just escaped that environment.  Each one wanted to work from home as much as possible. And there was no inclination nor time to be the one to put all this infrastructure in place. Finally, the costs were a real put-off.

 

So going with the cloud was, by elimination, the chosen way. Not that the decision was all about the method with the least negatives.  We were excited about the potential for a cloud-based solution to (a) allow us to set up the firm comparatively swiftly (b) actually provide customers a better and more-value-for-money service (c) do so whilst improving our work-life balance.

 

So far, we can report that (a) has come true.  Time will tell if (b) and (c) eventuate, but we're quietly confident they will.

 

Insight two: cloud technology isn't that hard. (Thank you technology companies).

Whisper it quietly, but our experience so far is that setting up a business using cloud technology doesn't require a degree in computer science.  It's not a walk in the park, but it's eminently doable for the prospective entrepreneur who has a modicum of geek DNA in their genes.   Even after the first tentative interactions with a range of IT providers, it soon became apparent that not only do they know what they are doing, they've become highly skilled at receiving, inducting and guiding the wide-eyed wannabe user to get them up and running.

 

This support is vital.  Your business is perched on top of the internet. And not just the crazed endless bazaar that is its shop front. But also the mysterious backroom operations - the world of DNSes, FTPing,  redirects and MX records. Whilst search engines are invaluable for solving many issues, having a person who can rescue you each time things become hairy is wonderful. See the sidebar for an example of this involving Google.

 

Insight three: cloud tools play nice together.

Another revelation is the extent to which the various products we will use will talk to each other, allowing us to share information. For instance, we've chosen Xero as our accounting software.  This can share pertinent accounts and billing information with our practice management tool Actionstep. Which in turn can pull from and save to Google Drive, where our files are kept. And to be honest, I suspect we've only touched the surface of what we'll be able to share.

 

Incidentally, to complete the list of cloud programs we're using , we're plugged into  Legend, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s online database of migration and citizenship legislation, policy documents and PDF fillable forms, and to ImmiAccount, the Department’s online lodgement, organisation account administration, and visa entitlement verification online (VEVO) system; and we're in discussions with Cloudlock regarding an extra layer of document protection security. I'm using Adobe Creative Cloud software for design, in particular Muse, its web site design tool; and Vistaprint for production. Website hosting is by Crazy Domains and FileZilla to ftp.

 

The road ahead.

It's early days and I'm sure there will be challenges, frustrations and tears to come. But so far it has been a pleasant surprise.  One discipline we are trying to enforce early is to embrace the technology fully from the start. To  jump in and live and breathe it. It's the only way for it to become familiar. We're mostly achieving that.  Though we've yet to migrate all our documents from home PCs to Google Drive and we're occasionally still using MS Word to write  a letter and MS Outlook to compose an email. But I'm resolved to reach a red letter day soon when everything is created, viewed and shared in a web browser.

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