Throughout this series, I have tried to bring you an understanding of the importance of building a good business infrastructure to support your business operations. As a part of that understanding, we covered everything from the various components required, to the process of transforming your workflows. However, as I travel around helping people to address their specific process issues and business transformations, I realized that in many cases people take this information and try to apply it too literally.

If I could give you a simple way to think about the problem, I guess as my wife has told me many times, it isn’t just about ‘you.’ While many of you may chuckle at that statement, there is a lot to be said for looking at a more holistic approach to transforming your business processes. It’s not just about which software solutions to put in, or whether you should address these process changes at once with a one-size-fits-all solution or in smaller steps with disparate pieces. It is really about how your business processes help support your business growth, operations, AND your customer business relationships, utilizing a forward-thinking technological approach.

Recently, I have had the privilege of working on two different projects with two very different companies that have one thing in common… they are thinking out of the box. Their unique approaches led both of them to select as the core of their infrastructure solution. And, yes, both of them have a print component to their business. So why Salesforce? In one case, that decision was made before I got there. But in the other case, the decision was my recommendation based on finding the most appropriate solution for them. So what were the key drivers in making these decisions?

In both of my client cases, while going into the cloud was not their first determining decision driver, there is no doubt that hosting certain business processes in the cloud has its advantages. Some of the more obvious benefits of cloud computing are the reduction of IT costs, facilitating connectivity across disparate systems and generally improving accessibility for your clients and vendor partners. In an earlier article, we touched on some of this when looking at some cloud-based print management solutions, but these solutions are just beginning to touch on the potential benefits of developing a transformative business and production management infrastructure in the cloud. The other drivers included, building an infrastructure that has certain inherent compatibilities with many of their current or potential business clients. It is one way to ease entry and help take out some of the burden of doing business together. Another driver is getting a foot into the future of business operations and development, and that is definitely in the cloud. In the past, I have raised the topic of the Gartner Hype Cycle, and advising you not to jump into anything that may not have legs. Well, cloud computing is very real and growing—it definitely has legs. It was estimated as a $40.7B industry in 2011, and today it is at about $118B. It is anticipated to reach $241B by 2020. So it has a fairly impressive growth rate, but what does it mean to you?

There are many other potential benefits. Most of you are familiar with the Apple App Store ecosystem. Not only did it generate profits and client ‘stickiness’ for Apple, it also generated profits for any interested development partners. But most importantly, it created an environment where users could find tools to increase efficiency and interact with others. Similarly, has created an ecosystem for business. Its ecosystem currently has licensed to over 100,000 businesses, which translates into millions of users as active participants around the globe. The company has more than 2,200 apps in its app store and over 2.3 million app installs. Very much like the Apple App Store, the app store has apps that help extend and tailor your infrastructure to your more individualized requirements. While it is extensible through apps, it is also extensible through a growing number of new modules which have been, and continue to be, added to Salesforce to support a wider audience. Initially it was developed as a CRM solution, but businesses started to embrace the whole concept of Salesforce as a platform, and not just software. As a result, Salesforce has extended it in that direction.

Recently (2013), Salesforce acquired ExactTarget, which is an email marketing software service. Along with other acquisitions, it is being transformed into a cloud-based marketing platform that will compete with Marketo, Eloqua (Oracle), Adobe Marketing Cloud and other lead generation marketing management solutions. In fact, IBM recently acquired Silverpop, another email marketing solution, in an effort to become a player in this rapidly growing and very competitive field. However, if you look closely at these solutions today, they are all targeting email, web, social and mobile. But not print, even though market research has shown that the best response and return on marketing programs is generated by a mixed media campaign with a print component. In fact, if you look at the 28-page 2014 State of Marketing White Paper from ExactTarget, print isn’t even mentioned once. Of course, we know that there are mixed media solutions that some of you have been using to support your client’s marketing programs, like those from XMPie, PTI, Mindfire, etc. But if your clients are either using or going to start using one of these other cloud-based marketing solutions and start to manage their own marketing programs, how are you going to integrate and become part of the solution?

Interestingly, one of the most important aspects of Salesforce is that it is really not just a cloud-based software solution; it is a development platform. In fact, you can truly address almost any functionality, and integrate almost anything, even beyond what exists in the app store. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should. But it just adds to the flexibility. It would seem to me that in order to take full advantage of the benefits of cloud computing, this type of flexibility is a mandate.

So, while I am not advocating that all of you to go out and license Salesforce, it is painfully obvious that this direction of cloud computing, bringing applications and customers together in the cloud, is not only here to stay, it is the future. Within the industry, those of you who have made the various transitions and survived have had to learn to change as needed, even on demand. Time to start thinking out of the box…again…

In the next article, we will continue to look at a how companies have found that automation can create amazing efficiencies that enhance their customer experiences while reducing cost and cycle time.

Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know! Or if you are a print service provider with a unique, integrated end-to-end workflow and would like to be featured, we’d love to hear from you.

For more detail on some ways to automate and transform your workflows, download an informative whitepaper, "Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow."