With a name like Nimbus, how could you not embrace the cloud? Nimbus Partners, a UK-based software developer, has jumped headlong into cloud computing, running 95% of its operations on Salesforce.com cloud services and adding cloud offerings to its own suite of business process management (BPM) software.
Nimbus began its cloud journey in late 2008 when it launched a self-service portal through Salesforce.com's Service Cloud to augment its customer support offerings. The portal was designed to offload common requests and technical issues from existing high-touch, high-cost channels such as phone support in order to ease administration and lower support costs.
"When we looked at the types of cases we were receiving from our customers, there were some very common questions," said Lucy Mills, business excellence manager for the Hampshire-based developer. "We had an online help guide, but not all customers were used to going with that. Some wanted more handholding."
Solutions are shared with the community, but individual cases are kept private.
Lucy Mills, business excellence manager, Nimbus,
The portal provided the right combination of handholding and self-help. Users can log into the portal, create their own cases, and receive responses from Nimbus technicians. The virtual setup enables technicians to share case information internally and set rules about which information can be exposed to specific customers.
Nimbus's base of globally dispersed clients can easily access up-to-date information about their installations, including information on licenses and installs. Cases are updated automatically whenever a technician or customer submits a question, an answer or other information related to a case.
"Solutions are shared with the community, but individual cases are kept private," says Mills. "We get more visibility into our cases and more control internally."
Mills said the cloud-based solution was easy to deploy; Nimbus had 300 users on the system in the first week. The price was right: the Service Cloud was included with the company's existing Salescorce.com CRM license. And the returns were immediate. One-third of the company's cases are resolved through the self-service channel, resulting in an average monthly savings of about $8,000 in overhead costs.
Custom business applications
Nimbus's cloud efforts did not end with the portal. Using the Force.com platform, the company developed 15 custom business applications that provide a broad range of operations functionality, from employee record-keeping to technology asset management. Development of the applications took six months, much faster and for far less cost than traditional software development, Mills said.
Mills estimates that 95% of the company's operations now run in the cloud. "Our entire end-to-end processes are integrated into Salesforce," she said.
As more of its business operations move to the cloud, Nimbus has had to take a more measured approach to application development.
"Our initial mentality was, 'Look what we can build'," said Mills. "But now that 95% of the business is running on the cloud, one small change can impact 10 different areas. So we need to use business process to understand the impact of adding or changing something."
"If you start doing application development without understanding processes and where you want to take it, you end up with no controls, no management capabilities, and it's difficult to train people," she added.
Companies need to think about changes in business process, not just implementing software.
Richard Parker, Nimbus co-founder and executive vice president of sales and implementation,
Nimbus has leveraged the knowledge from its internal rollout of cloud services for its commercial strategy as well. The company, which had $14 million in sales in 2009, offers a hosted version of its Nimbus Control BPM suite, and says its customers include the UK Department of Health (HSCIC), Eisai Inc., Nestlé, Northern Trust, UBS Wealth Management and Visteon UK Ltd.
"Our experience has allowed us to take these concepts out to the marketplace with our own customers," said Richard Parker, a Nimbus co-founder and the company's executive vice president of sales and implementation. While the cloud offers new levels of flexibility for customers to quickly deploy Nimbus software, Parker noted that the basic principles of software as a business enabler remain intact.
"Companies need to think about changes in business process, not just implementing software," he said. "It's about leading people through specific things they need to do around a service or product line, not in the context of, 'What screen do I use next?' but 'What do I have to do to make something happen in the business?'"
"We're effectively training people on their end-to-end process," Parker added. "It just happens to be on Salesforce."
Rob O'Regan is a freelance writer. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected].