The benefits of cloud access in a financial scenario are obvious, but what happens if you're working on the road? The answer is to ensure you can use the app even when disconnected, and that's an approach which has been firmly embraced by account software provider MYOB.
MYOB held an official launch today for AccountRight Live, the new cloud-based version of its widely-used accounting software. Following a pilot which began in July, the package will go on sale from November 8. Existing customers with the fully-supported desktop versions of the software will get free access; new customers can sign up from $23 a month.
What I found notable about the launch event was how much emphasis was placed on blending the cloud elements of the service (driven by Windows Azure) with the desktop. "The ability to work offline is absolutely critical," CEO Tim Reed noted.
Small business customers who have been in the habit of safeguarding their data apparently won't lost that mindset easily, even though the benefits of having data shared instantly with (for example) your accountant are obvious. So while the suite can work entirely online, you can also 'check out' individual files to work on them when disconnected, and then check them back in. The package also automatically backs up data to your local drive every 20 minutes.
This is a wise approach, but one that's often ignored or mangled by other cloud providers, even the largest. Google, for instance, has taken a messy approach to this, rolling out Gears and then killing it before gradually restoring offline options for some apps and enabling Google Drive synchronisation. Much better to build it in right from the start. . A related tactic is that the app is delivered through its own interface, rather than as a browser-based solution. "You've seen with tablets and phones that people want apps, they don't want websites," Gianpaolo Carraro, Microsoft director for developer and platform evangelism, noted during a panel discussion at the launch. "Combining the local power of the device but making it connected to the cloud infra in the back is a superior model."
As ever, there are few absolutes; browser-based apps aren't about to disappear, and improving mobile networks make cloud apps accessible 'live' in more and more locations. But it doesn't hurt to ensure that you can keep working when the network drops out