How online tools are changing the way we work

How online tools are changing the way we work

We live in an era where technological advancement is rapidly changing how we do just about everything. This includes changing the way we work.

In the workplace, businesses and organisations have been shifting to working online. And we’re not only talking about the usual file-sharing and online data storage. You can access a whole workspace by logging in through whatever device is available to you: desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

About two decades ago, this development only seemed possible in sci-fi movies. Back then, we bought software on removable storage disks like CDs, which we had to manually install on our computers.

Later on, we were able to download software online and let our computers do all the installing for us. 

The advent of “the cloud” – servers that can be accessed over the internet – allowed us to move away from storing files on our desktop computers, instead saving them to online storage sites like Dropbox and Google Drive. This development meant we could save hard disk space on our computers and more conveniently share our files with others.

From there, it was an easy transition to using our devices as terminals to access online applications.

This has significantly changed the way we work, opening up a more convenient, collaborative, and educational approach to many organisational activities.

What is SaaS?

There are three main service models of cloud computing:

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): hardware and software tools available over the internet for users that want to build their own applications;
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): storage, networking and virtualisation infrastructure in which users can build their own applications; and
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): business application software that’s available via a third-party over the internet.

For most of us, who are not building our own applications, SaaS is the model we are most familiar with. With SaaS, logging into a web-based application allows us to use all the features and functions of the software online, with nothing actually installed on our own computer. SaaS is normally delivered as a subscription-based online service. Users pay a fixed amount periodically (e.g. monthly or annually) to use the software.

Some examples of SaaS, which many of us use daily, include:

  • Google Workspace
  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Dropbox
  • Office 365
  • Slack
  • Zoom

Who uses SaaS and what do they use it for?

The cloud, especially SaaS, is used by almost everyone on the internet, whether they’re aware of it or not. 

Since it’s easy to access, we use online software for many things we were doing manually or on locally installed software not that long ago. Everything from managing your work calendar to managing entire business process workflows can be done online.

There are now SaaS tools for practically every business/organisation function and department, including:

  • Accounting
  • Document creation and management
  • Customer/client relationship management 
  • Marketing and sales
  • HR management
  • Finance

Team-based activities have been made more efficient as well, as SaaS allows easy collaboration wherever team members are located. Using Google Workspace, Office 365, Dropbox and other online tools makes information and documentation available for anyone who needs it at any time. SaaS tools also improve the efficiency and productiveness of meetings. This includes online tools for scheduling, conducting and following up on meetings. 

Five ways SaaS changes the way we work

Using SaaS opens up a world of possibilities for organisations.

But the cloud doesn’t just offer us a different space to do things the way we have always done them. The world of online applications is also changing how we think about doing things and encouraging us to try new ways of doing them.

There are five ways SaaS does this.

1. Real-time remote collaboration with colleagues, clients and stakeholders using a shared visual workspace

Gone are the days where colleagues in different locations struggle to communicate their ideas to each other. 

Team members who can’t be physically present in a meeting can still find ways to participate thanks to a range of SaaS tools.

While teleconferencing did a lot to improve things in the early days, it was still a struggle to engage the person on the end of the phone line in everything happening in the meeting.

As we moved to the cloud, we began using applications like Zoom that allow video calls and screen sharing. So, it became much easier for everyone in the meeting to literally be on the same page in a shared visual workspace – including those who aren’t present in the meeting room.

This allowed everyone to participate in editing shared documents in real-time. So, there’s no need for team members to edit in isolation, wait on each other’s contributions, and then rely on one person to consolidate various versions of the document based on different (and possibly contradicting) suggestions.

Collaborative document review and revision also allows team members to discuss their ideas in real time. This ensures everyone has a shared understanding of the revisions being proposed.

In this way, it becomes more than just a collaborative process – it is also an educative process.

2. Creation and sharing of resources that hang off a common framework

SaaS allows different industries, sectors and organisations to tap into the same pool of resources.

This creates a shared marketplace where everyone can be exposed to the many ways the software can be used.

Since users come from different fields, they bring different perspectives and are addressing different problems. This impacts on how they use the same application. For instance, a person with a humanities background and another with a science background can both use Adobe Creative Cloud to accomplish completely different tasks.

Many SaaS applications include user forums that allow clients to share their ideas, their challenges and their solutions. In this space, you can see what others say, learn from them, and figure out new ways to use the application (and vice-versa). 

Apart from sharing ideas, SaaS also allows users to share materials, for example templates, worked examples, models and other resources that they create for their own use case and make public in the application’s workspace.

3. Shared monitoring and management of workflows and follow-up tasks  

In the workplace, keeping track of the team’s progress in their tasks can be a disorganised process.

The cloud helps streamline this process through online software that incorporates project management tools like workflow trackers, action plans, task checklists, notifications, etc. 

This makes it much easier to assign tasks and track their completion. Such features are helpful to both managers and their team members, as it allows everyone to better manage their time and keep themselves aware of the overall progress of their team’s projects.

Finding mutually convenient times to hold meetings also takes significantly less time and effort through online calendars that allow you to see everyone else’s schedule and organise your own.

4. Continuity through access from any location

While accessibility from any location is one of the most obvious benefits of SaaS (and of the cloud in general), we can’t underestimate the value of this feature and how much it impacts the way we work.

SaaS allows you to work from anywhere, as long as you have a device and a working internet connection. And since all you have to do is login to access the software, you don’t need to worry about installing it on every device you use. Online password managers mean you don’t even need to remember your password!

With all the information stored online, we’ve achieved a “quantum jump” in job sharing. Not that long ago, job sharing meant two people using the same computer, or constantly transfering files from one computer to another through removable storage devices like USB keys.

Now, most SaaS applications will automatically save your work in an online server that you and your workmates can access anytime, anywhere, on any device.

This makes job-sharing much more practical and feasible and also benefits those who work remotely or constantly move from one office site to another.

5. Easy deployment of sophisticated tools that don’t rely on particular hardware or operating systems

Whatever you can dream of doing, a clever programmer can create and deploy the right tool to make it happen.

Using SaaS gives you access to a range of software solutions that perfectly fit your needs, without needing to worry about compatibility issues across different applications and operating systems. 

Since the application runs in the cloud, it doesn’t matter what kind of computer you are using, provided it’s reasonably up-to-date and can run modern internet browsers. Any time the application developers decide to upgrade their software or add new features, you don’t have to do anything to be able to access the new version.

And many SaaS providers are happy to develop application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow their software to “talk” directly to other applications. 

This means you don’t have to take all your software solutions from the one provider even if they don’t really meet your needs. 

Instead, you can choose an application from one provider for one type of activity and an application from a different provider for another type of activity. If you need the different applications to share data, you can talk to the providers about developing an API to make this possible. The chances are, if you want to do it, other users may too. So it’s worth the software provider’s time to work with you as far as possible.

The cloud has opened up new possibilities for a range of activities  

Just as it’s possible to build APIs to link applications created by different software developers, it’s also possible to link together features and functionality in a single software product. Instead of one application to do one thing and a separate application to do another thing, the two pieces of functionality can be joined in a single application. From the user’s perspective, the join between the two functions is seamless and invisible.

This has allowed entrepreneurs to develop online applications for a range of activities that previously did not have bespoke software solutions.

A good case in point is quality improvement (QI). 

Until now, QI processes have largely followed a similar pattern. A problem or issue occurs (usually detected by collecting data for some kind of performance indicator) and a QI project is devised and implemented to address the issue. Apart from the data collection for the indicator, the whole process might not involve any kind of software solution. And the approach overall has been a reactive one, waiting for problems to occur before taking action.

New cloud-based approaches to QI

About eight years ago, my colleagues and I set out to develop a software solution that could change the approach to QI to be more proactive and preventative. 

We created an online tool that allows teams to firstly assess their routine work practices against a best practice framework, then use the results of that assessment to develop a QI action plan and to select appropriate indicators to monitor. The user can collect their indicator data in the tool and use the data internally to monitor progress, at the same time submitting subsets of the data to external agencies.

This tool is called BPCLEtool and it is now used in 230 health and human service organisations throughout Victoria and interstate.

It’s worth noting that we developed the prototype for BPCLEtool in Excel, with each function developed as a separate tool and users manually moving between tools. Moving to an online version allowed the whole process, with all its disparate activities, to be seamlessly joined together.

Following the success of BPCLEtool, we developed another tool called MEERQAT that allows a similar approach to QI, process improvement and program evaluation to be used in any context. 

MEERQAT includes resources to allow healthcare and aged care organisations to assess their routine practices against national safety and quality standards. Resources for quality standards in other sectors are also in the pipeline.

The future of working in a SaaS world 

With the technology of the cloud and SaaS made widely available to every internet user, endless possibilities open up for all industries to change how we work.

We no longer have to depend on how things were done in the past. The cloud isn’t just a new space to do things we’ve always done before. It encourages us to find new ways and approaches to get better outcomes in the most organised and effective ways possible.

The cloud allows us to think outside the box and turn these ideas into reality.

If you want to learn more about how online tools like MEERQAT are transforming the way we work, contact us or watch our conference presentation.

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