In 2009, we started our transition to cloud services both for our business, as a Google Premier Enterprise Partner, but also for our own internal applications. As we started this change we were very aware that the transition to the cloud was a journey and not an event. Like many of our customers we wanted to benefit immediately from cloud email and collaboration applications with Google Apps for Business but some of our existing on-premise applications would not be replaced for some years to come.
In 2012 the maturity of Googles cloud ecosystem has truly come of age, at Easter we entered the "Post-PC" era as our sales team handed back their Windows PCs and are all using the Google Samsung Chromebook (the perfect travelling companion) as their primary device. We are now able to securely access all our corporate applications, not only Cloud based Email, document and collaboration but also our legacy (Windows dependent) CRM, financial applications through with the help of Ericom AccessNow (a pure HTML5 remote access client for Windows Terminal Services) from the device of choice. The team are delighted with the Chromebook as a lightweight, instant-on device and a battery that lasts through the working day.
Transitioning from on-premise to cloud accessible application services
Founded in 2003, our IT infrastructure at Ancoris was typical of many British small and medium companies. We used Microsoft Exchange for email and Microsoft Dynamics CRM for our sales, marketing and support system and Sage Line 50 for our finance team; all run on our own servers on-premise. Our vision was to be able to move to an IT environment where all our applications would be accessible simply and securely through a browser whether in the office or remote to support a business model with lots of remote workers on client sites.
Integrating Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Dynamics CRM email
Our first project in 2009 was to replace our messaging infrastructure moving from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail, with a core requirement to keep the integration of email with our CRM system. We had chosen Microsoft Dynamics CRM years previously and had heavily customised this to our business. If we were a new start-up we would probably have chosen to move to a cloud based CRM system but we took the business decision that this wasnt an initial priority.
Migrating from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail was a straightforward process for our team of Google Certified Deployment Specialists and we were able to ensure that all our customer email conversations via Gmail were also tracked or logged in our CRM system by configuring the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Email Router together with Google Apps application specific passwords. Fortunately Microsoft has removed any hard dependency on Exchange since version 3.0 of Dynamics CRM and now requires standard SMTP/POP3 interfaces to your mail server.
Integrating Google Docs and Microsoft Dynamics CRM
We have also extended our CRM accounts to have a link to a Google Docs collection for each client, by a simple CRM customisation and a tweak to our business process. We now have all our customer information accessible from one place, using the Google cloud to store all customer docs, many of which are shared with our clients but all organised through our Microsoft CRM system.
Enabling the remote worker with Chromebooks and Ericom AccessNow
The final piece of the puzzle was to be able to dispense with expensive, heavy and slow to boot Windows laptops with more modern devices, the Chromebook and Apples iPad which are the devices of choice for our remote users.
Ericoms release of AccessNow has finally enabled our vision to be complete. With a simple deployment achieved in a day, our Windows Terminal Server hosting our CRM, Sage and Quotewerks quotation system is now Internet enabled. These Windows applications can be accessed with Ericoms pure HTML5 client on both the Chromebook and the iPad. The screenshot shows my Chromebook remotely accessing both Google Apps and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Our own IT transition mirrors that of the many customers which we have helped over the last 18 months as a Google Premier Enterprise Partner and now as a member of the Google Chromebook Reseller pilot program. Our sales, support and consulting teams have the entire customer history and all information linked through one place, something that was not possible previously. Our applications are now accessible for our remote users on the device of their choice, whether a 100% web device such as the Chromebook, on a tablet or traditional PC. We are able to retain legacy on premise IT applications which still have business value, but we can integrate them with Google Apps for Business and then sweat these assets until the time comes to replace them with new pure-cloud applications. The cloud has truly come of age.