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Bringing the cloud down to earth: Tangible uses for the cloud

by Daniel Dern
 
Advice like "move your IT to the cloud" and "leverage cloud computing" is common in the new world of work.

Advocates often toss around buzzwords like “virtualization,” “user-facing,” “collaboration,” “scalability,” “reliability” and the like.

These are all correct, and may apply to your IT situation. But it isn’t always clear why moving your IT to the cloud is worth doing.

Here’s a look at some of the benefits that the cloud can provide, particularly relating to stuff here in the physical world.

​Although computer technology has dramatically reduced many uses of paper, much of the work we do still involves paper — even if it’s supporting something in the digital world.

Every cloud has a paper lining (and vice versa)

Despite being more than 5,000 years old, paper is still a major part of working today. Although computer technology has dramatically reduced many classic uses of paper, much of the work we do still involves paper — even if it’s supporting something in the digital world.

Something may start as a handwritten document or sketch, or a filled-out form, and then be scanned to be sent, saved, or both. Documents, spreadsheets and images that begin digitally may be printed out.

Cloud-based services for document scanning/sharing, and printing turn out to be one good place to begin trying and using cloud services. Particularly for “mobile printing” — print-related tasks by mobile employees and/or from mobile devices.
 

Mobile printing needs to be convenient and secure

Although there are some niche tasks where mobile employees may be carrying portable printers with them — sales and medical, for example — few mobile employees carry their own printer around with them so they can print out documents, spreadsheets, images and the like.

But they do have recurring print needs — sales proposals just before or after a customer meeting, work order receipts, presentations, meeting handouts and more.

This can often include high-quality color mockups, and it’s a rare employee who is toting around a printer that can do this, particularly for larger-format output.

True, the world is full of printers. Most of your company’s offices and other facilities will have desktop, workgroup and perhaps even larger, high-volume multi-function printers (MFPs) for print, copy and scanning.

Similarly, there are likely to be printers or MFPs nearby, or en route to an employee’s destination. There are printers in most hotel and convention center lobbies or business rooms and in nearby print/copy shops.

But that doesn’t automatically mean a given employee’s mobile device can print to a given printer.

Print requests come from a range of sources, including email, Web browsing, mobile apps and Windows drivers.

Provisioning each employee’s mobile devices to handle the various eventualities can be time-consuming for IT, and still doesn’t guarantee that employees will have the printing app, drivers, and accounts for the printer at hand.

Similarly, there are many cloud-based file service apps that allow file access, sharing and sending, such as DropBox, Google Drive, and DocumentMall. But again, that’s a lot of choices to for IT to have to provision each employee and mobile device with.

And mobile printing isn’t just about printing. Employees may need to scan documents, and/or do OCR (Optical Character Recognition) of scanned documents. They may need to fax these documents, or collaborate with coworkers by delivering and sharing these documents with other employees, customers and suppliers.

And like all the other data in your enterprise, these documents need to be managed and handled appropriately. This means strong security measures are necessary: restricting access to authorized users through print IDs, and preventing unauthorized users from accessing documents via encryption. (Remember that today’s printers are basically computers, including hard drive or flash storage where the files that were printed often are saved, or not erased securely.) Similarly, some documents’ activities require audit trails — who accessed them, who directed them to which printers, and who retrieved the output.
 

Beyond mobile printing

Mobile printing is only part of mobile employees’ basic cloud needs. They also need:
 
  • Support for BYOD, BYOAD (Bring Your Own Authorized Device, a.k.a. CYOD, Choose Your Own Device) notebooks and mobile devices.
  • Individual data backup from their devices to ensure that no data is lost if their mobile device is damaged, destroyed, lost or stolen.
  • Cross-platform collaboration so they can work together, share documents, conference together and more from any location, using any device.

Cloud printing services simplify IT provisioning

The right cloud-based printing solutions that include mobile printing solutions can provide access to printing and other cloud file services.
 

Cloud printing services simplify IT provisioning

Cloud services are becoming popular with IT because they avoid the need to purchase, house and manage new hardware; can be pay-for-what-you-use; may offer accounting, security and tracking; and are easier for out-of-office employees to access. Not to mention that the right cloud-based printing solutions that include mobile printing solutions can provide access to printing and other cloud file services.
 
Daniel Dern
Daniel P. Dern is an independent Boston-based technology, business and marketing writer whose articles have appeared in sites and publications that include the Boston Globe/BetaBoston.com, ComputerWorld, IEEE Spectrum, ITWorld.com, and TechTarget.