April 23, 2015

Smartsheet Interviews Brian Manning on the Paperless Office

There are no phones in the office of Centric Digital in New York City. There are no notebooks, pens, or Post-It notes. In fact, the desks are only loaded with laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other emerging digital devices.“We’ve been told by prospects who visit our office or meet with us that we look like we’re from the future, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Brian Manning, president and chief digital officer (CDO) of Centric Digital, a digital transformation agency.When Manning started Centric Digital in 2009, he decided the company would only use cloud-based apps, like Google Apps for Work. They have never had a server; all their work has been 100% digital since day one.“The way we’re trying to work is another level of productivity,” said Manning.

Saving Time and Improving Efficiency

He gives this example: four people go into the same meeting with a pen and paper. They’re all taking notes, replicating the same work. Then, they have to type up those notes and email them to each other. Finally, they have to combine all those notes into one master set. You suddenly created three or four hours of work for a single, one-hour meeting.Instead, at Centric Digital, Manning and his colleagues all type notes collaboratively in Box Notes or a Google Doc, in real time. A one hour meeting stays a one hour meeting, no extra work.For Manning, it’s clear that working in the cloud has saved time and improved efficiency, but that’s easier said than done. How did he actually do it? How did he successfully create a cloud-based office, where all employees actually use the apps?

Top Tips for Moving to the Cloud

Manning will be the first to say that moving away from the “old way of working” and to this new, app-based environment can be a challenge for some people.

Centric Digital

Centric Digital's paperless office

“All of these apps are like learning a new technology,” said Manning. “We all know how to use Powerpoint and Word, and sometimes, it’s easier to do that rather than forcing yourself to work with a new app the way it’s supposed to be used.”To ensure successful adoption of new apps across his organization, Manning has introduced concepts like an “app ecosystem” or a “cloud champion.” To make sure these apps stick, he’s always finding and comparing new apps to make sure his employees receive the best experience possible.Here are more of Manning’s top tips for companies wanting to move to the cloud (or companies who want to start in the cloud from day one!):

  • Assign Each App an App Owner: “Every app is owned by someone. Our VP of People owns the BambooHR app, and walks employees through relevant information about that app. Someone from our sales team owns our CRM app, and will sit down with new employees and explain how to use it."
  • Have an App Ecosystem Champion: “You definitely have to have a champion that is not going to back down. Because each day, someone is going to say, ‘This is too hard, we have to do it this way.’ Everyone wants the easy way out, and you need someone who is championing the cloud and showing people how to use the apps. This person can also make sure everyone is set up on the right apps, that we have the right number of licenses, we’ve deleted the wrong users, and that we have the right amount of total users.”
  • Continuously Compare Apps: “Lightweight cloud-based tools are fairly new. Every month, it seems like there is another race and you don’t know which app is going to be in the lead. You have to constantly compare apps to make sure you’ve chosen the best ones for your team.”
  • Aim for Consolidation: “As you compare apps and start using new ones, you always hope for consolidation. Either that, or the apps you do add will have new features. You always want to be thinking about your app ecosystem. How can you consolidate it? How can you maintain the best experience for the people using it?”
  • Provide Feedback to App Developers: “Constantly provide feedback to the product development teams of the apps you use. They will take your comments very seriously. The app developers are listening right now -- get involved and tell them how the app could be better for you and your business. You never know, they may do it exactly as you suggested sooner than you think.”
  • Leverage APIs to Connect Apps: “We’ve tied together many of our apps to make our own Cloud ERP. Most apps have fairly easy to use APIs and our developers are able to use downtime from client projects to help synchronize similar data points across different apps. This is a huge step to automating our business which sets us up to scale to the next level.”

The Real Business Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

A cloud-based working environment can sound efficient and easy, but like all things in business, you have to be able to identify its ROI. In some cases, it can be as simple as comparing price tags -- many cloud-based apps today are dramatically cheaper than programs hosted locally on a server. Other measures of ROI, some more anecdotal than others, include increased productivity, time saved, or the decreased number of emails or meetings.The ROI for Centric Digital has been easy to identify. Manning says in some cases, he and his team are able to get things done more quickly. And, being able to provide complete real-time, up-to-date status reports for clients has been crucial, allowing Centric Digital to save hours each month by reducing the amount of emails required to convey the same information.“You can eliminate the problems where clients want to know what is going on, where something is, and the status of something,” said Manning. “You can eliminate it because you can give clients a real-time status report that they can check at any time. It’s not like a static update report that gets sent out every Wednesday. No, ours is always up to date and always available in the cloud. “

Centric Digital uses Smartsheet, a cloud-based project management app, to create a real-time status report for clients.

Embracing the Cloud

The cloud is not just another technology trend -- nearly one-third of all workloads run on the cloud today, according to Morgan Stanley. And that number will just keep increasing.And, with a success story like Centric Digital’s, it’s not hard to understand why more and more businesses will adopt the cloud. With reduced costs, increased productivity, and real-time communication, the digital work environment is changing how we work for the better.“True, 100% cloud is about real-time collaboration and real-time data,” said Manning. “Everybody is looking at the same exact version of something. There is no room for error.”To learn more about how Centric Digital's digital transformation and its business benefits, watch this video:

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