Moving business to the Cloud — with Airtable, Google Sheets, and Zapier
This is a story of two businesses, who embraced cloud based systems for their daily operations. Its purpose is to help you see that using more functional technology doesn’t have to cost the earth, and need not take forever.
Don Grant recently started a new business producing and selling some very tasty nut and seed crackers under the Penati brand.
He knows he needs to move with the times if he’s to stay in business in a competitive market, and was becoming curious about the Google world of business apps (G Suite), but needed help.
I set up the account for him and then ran a one day training for him and his Penati team.
That was all they needed to gain the confidence to embrace this highly collaborative, comprehensive and inexpensive suite of cloud based business software. It suits the Penati team, most of whom work part time as needed, and from various locations.
Then I assumed a coaching role with Don, offering some personal development to boost his skills with technology. He is hungry for the freedom that can come from being able to work from wherever he chooses.
As time went on he sensed I could help him refine the sales processing in Tasman Bay Herbs, a business he started in 1996 which sells fresh herbs to supermarkets.
One day I got an urgent txt message. Don’s Tasman Bay Herbs office administrator of 11 years, had just given notice and he needed to know if I could fast track the development of a more efficient sales processing system, to replace the 20 year old spreadsheet system they were using.
I designed an Airtable database for receiving the sales orders information, which could share data with a Google Sheet for managing the difference between the order volume and available supply from the greenhouses. Airtable was used to export invoice data that was in turn imported into their in house accounting system.
One month later, with pressure looming (I was about to go on holiday for five weeks, and a new office administrator was about to have her first day on the job) we bit the bullet and switched to the new system. It was a bumpy first week, followed by a second week of tweaking the system to meet the nuanced needs of a low value, high volume, time constrained business selling a live product.
Three weeks after we’d thrown the switch I had just landed in London, and received the only support message I would get for the next five weeks.
Meanwhile, Sam in the office was collecting good data and was processing orders in less time, and using only 25% of the paper the old system used, but the best was yet to come.
Building on a flexible base
On returning from holiday I was able to support the transition from their in-house accounting system to Xero, an online accounting service, which made the process of sending invoice data from Airtable even quicker.
Now that the data was accumulating in the Airtable database, we could start building some meaningful reports, to gain insights into how the operation was performing. Some of the reports were easy to build in Airtable itself, and others required setting up a Zapier API to send raw data from Airtable to a Google Sheet.
I remember asking Don what were some of the most important things he needed to know. He leapt up to the whiteboard and drew a chart. Then with pivot tables and Google’s SQL Search Query function, I was able to present the information in the way he’d visualised it. This metrics dashboard in a Google Sheet, now updates automatically as new sales records are entered in Airtable each day.
Cloud based applications can allow users to work across geographical distance, and they often focus in, to serve a particular business need and do it well.
They are built with APIs so can share data with other applications, thus avoiding having to enter the same data in different applications.
These cloud applications are delivered as a service, via the web and for a monthly or annual fee. Their customer base is large, so they can deliver the software at an affordable cost.
Being on the web, means that accessing and updating the data can often be done via different devices — laptops, tablets and phones.
Possibly one of the biggest advantages of cloud based applications, is that they are being constantly developed in response to the needs of their users, but you don’t have to wonder if you are working with the most up to date version, since they are being updated in the background, with new features suddenly appearing, often to the delight of the users.
Applications are now evolving rapidly, building on the new technology that other applications develop. Each is standing on the shoulders of the ones before, putting software development on an exponential curve of improvement.
To not be part of this wave, is to risk being left behind as competitors gain efficiency advantages and find ways to better serve their customers needs.
When your business is on a solid digital foundation, that provides timely and relevant data to support better decision making, it can more easily scale.
I help digitise business processes, to get the work done better, faster, cheaper.