When I was a youngster people often told me that I had my head in the clouds. Today, I willingly admit and I'm proud to have much more than just my head in the clouds. I try to put as much as my life's information into the clouds as possible. Cloud computing for me started out as a curious fascination with emerging technology but today it has come full circle and has evolved to affect the way I view information, organize my life, manage my business and collaborate with others.

File Cabinet in the Skies
Cloud computing is a serious game changer whether used for personal reasons or business pursuits, it will certainly streamline and change the way you perform common daily tasks. I'm still working on reducing the clutter and amount of paper that crosses my desk but one thing that has empowered me to do so is cloud computing. One powerful solution I use is Evernote, while this cloud based software is something different for everyone, for me it is my filing cabinet, idea board and general data repository. When I get mail (the paper stuff), it is opened, scanned using a high speed document scanner and directly imported into a desktop version of Evernote. From there, the file is then synced with the Evernote servers (the cloud) and is immediately accessible on my laptop, iPad, phone, work computers and any other device that has internet access. Before, if I wanted to find an old bill or a certain document, I'd spend hours pouring through the file cabinet in search of an elusive document that isn't where it belongs. Now, with my digital documents, all the text is recognized by my scanning software and all I have to do is type EIN and suddenly that elusive letter the IRS sent 5 years ago with my employer identification number, magically appears on screen.

With all these documents in the digital realm, the paper is nothing more than the remnant of a dead tree. After being scanned, the paper copy is then immediately shredded since I now have the document in multiple places. If the Evernote servers disappear into a black hole, no-worries I have a local copy of that document. If my house burns down while the Evernote servers simulatneously disappear into a black whole, no-worries, I use Carbonite to create a remote backup of my entire computer system. If Evernote, Carbonite and my House all vanish simulatneously, then I have a problem.

Evernote not only holds digital versions of paper document I receive such as receipts, bills, mail, and hand-written notes but it also clips web pages for me which is extremely useful for doing research, saving ideas and bookmarking information for later access. If I'm at the bookstore and see a book I'd like to buy at a later point, I snap a photo with my phone using the Evernote software and the photo is then sent to Evernote's servers where it undergoes advanced OCR (optical character recognition) so that words appearing in the photo, such as the book title, are indexed. When I later search for any words that may be contained in the image, that very photo will pop up.

This same software has also helped me streamline my business. I have tons of legal documents, scripts, ad copy and other information that I often need to access from varying locations. Evernote coupled with other cloud based software permits me to have access to almost any document at any time. This is especially useful during times that I need to collaborate with another individual on a project or pass along some information. Since documents are immediately scanned and existing digital documents are all maintained in the cloud, I can quickly and easily share that information with others.

Documents Redefined
Google Docs is another extremely valuable cloud resource. Not only is it free (there are also paid enterprise versions which are well worth the money) but it changes the way one views a document. At first, typing up a document that wasn't formated for an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper with 1" margins really bothered me. It bothered me because I was used to documents in Word that were formated for the way they would ultimately appear when printed. As with anything, after enough time of creating cloud based documents, I experienced a paradigm shift. The whole idea with cloud computing, digital information and this technology age is to reduce inefficient paper documents. Now instead of viewing a document as a digital version of an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, I view the paper as just one method (the least efficient one) of sharing the information contained on the document. This very article I am typing in Google Docs, when I'm done will be shared with Ben for editing and collaboration purposes after that, I'll copy it to this server where you are viewing it now and these words will spend the remainder of their lives never intended for a sheet of paper (unless, of course, you print this article out).

Google Docs and other cloud based document solutions will save any business immense amounts of time. Most business endeavors are rarely handled by one single person, being able to collaborate on documents is just another game changer for the cloud computing enthusiast. Not only can I keep track of edited versions but I can be working simultaneously on documents, spreadsheets and presentations with coworkers and clients. Instead of having a spreadsheet that gets passed back and forth with multiple copies existing in multiple locations, keeping one shared copy in the cloud will save time, money and headaches.

Mass Information
One area to benefit most from cloud based computing is project management. There are many excellent cloud or server based project management suites such as BaseCamp or Central Desktop that take many cloud based components and roll them into one. The more people involved on a project, the greater the chances of miscommunication. Having all communication, documents, task lists, time sheets, milestones, and goals in one central location provides the entire project team with the information to better succeed.

World Wide Disks
In addition to centralized project management, keeping important files that are needed by multiple individuals in a central location is yet another convinience that a cloud computing user enjoys. Software such as Drop Box allows individuals to have access to files on any most any device they use. I can place photos from a recent product shoot into my drop-box account and then show them to the client using my iPad which is pulling the files from my cloud based disk drive. Core company documents, such as logos, photos, spreadsheets and databases can all be stored on the cloud where they can be centrally managed and more tightly controlled. Now, when a salesperson is putting together a proposal and needs the company logo, you can be certain he is grabbing the most recent version approved by marketing because it is coming from the central cloud based disk drive.

I work in multiple locations from a variety of devices such as my phone, laptop, Macs and PCs and instead of toting around numerous CDs, thumb-drives or other physical disks I simply use my drop-box account to keep important files all synced on all my devices and immediately accessible no matter where I am. Ditching physical disks is not only faster and easier but it is also much more secure. I've lost very important files due to hard drive failures but when data exists on multiple devices and is synced using a cloud based software system, you no longer need to worry about loosing data.

Cloudy Forecast
Regardless of where you may be in the evolution toward cloud based computing, one thing is clear, our future is certainly cloudy and now is the time to embrace this emerging trend. Often times the only thing separating the industry leader from the industry followers is a seemingly insignificant difference in efficiency. The next time you find your self searching for an elusive document, pay attention to the minutes of work or relaxation you are wasting away. When you multiply those few minutes here and there you'll soon see you are loosing entire days or even weeks each year to archaic business operations and organizational techniques.

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