When it comes to cloud services and software-as-a-service (SaaS), we’re all familiar with the usual cloud providers. But for small businesses and larger enterprises, there’s a huge world of opportunity and available resources beyond those best-known cloud storage services and cloud computing services: Google, Dropbox, Salesforce, Amazon, and Microsoft.
In this guide to services for business, we’re looking at 22 incredibly valuable services that solve real-world business problems. A few you may have heard about before. Many may be new to you. All are capable of providing nearly instant benefit — without you having to make any infrastructure investment whatsoever.
With that, let’s get started with our first cloud-based service..
simply because the next approval in the chain never happened?
Often, these bottlenecks aren’t because a higher-up didn’t actually want the project to go through, but simply never got around to signing off. The approval email might have gotten lost or, if you’re still on paper approvals, buried in a huge inbox mound.
Approval Donkey (which has our nomination for best cloud-based service name ever) automates this process. It can integrate with hundreds of other applications using Zapier (see below) and provides a centralized interface. You can set up certain approval workflow patterns, which move the approval along a pre-defined chain. You can also track the status of any approval and see if there are any bottlenecks.
If you’re dealing with accounting and finance approval flows, stakeholder approval flows, or operations and administration approval flows, give Approval Donkey a try. There’s a free version that allows for up to three workflows, and a Plus program at $13 a month
Imagine if your favorite to-do manager and Slack got together and had kids. That’s Asana. Asana is a project management app that organizes projects across teams. It manages sets of tasks across people and groups and allows for connected conversations, reporting, and tracking.
What makes Asana stand out is that all of the project-related work is transparent to the team members, visible, and easily accessible. If you’ve been managing projects through a pile of spreadsheets or emailing attachments to everyone, Asana will be like a breath of fresh air. All your project’s documents can also be embedded with the project, for everyone to work on and collaborate together.
Asana has a free version for up to 15 members, but it has limited features. If you want to expand beyond 15 people to large teams, SSO, custom fields, specialty dashboards, and the rest of the project management kitchen sink, Asana runs $9.99 a month. There’s also an enterprise version if you need to go really big.
Airtable is an interesting product. It’s billed as part spreadsheet and part database, but it’s really a flexible information manager that can look a bit like Trello, a bit like Google Docs, and a bit like a structured Evernote
Airtable allows you to store information, structure it, share it among collaborators, and work on it in a variety of forms. The key is that Airtable comes with a wide range of templates, so you can structure your data to look like an inventory, a Kanban chart, a calendar, a catalog, or whatever fits your project.
If Asana helps you manage the stages of your project and the inter-team communication, Airtable helps you manage the stuff that your project is made up of. There’s a free version that lets you manage up to 1,200 elements and store up to 2GB of data, along with two weeks of revision tracking. Move up to $10 per month and you get more data, more items, and six months of revision tracking, along with support
Backblaze is trying to straddle two aspects of the cloud storage market: End-user backups and object-based cloud storage.
In the end-user backup market, they’re competing with the likes of Carbonite and CrashPlan by providing a very simple-to-setup backup mechanism for end-user machines. Let’s be clear: This isn’t cloud sync like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. You’re not mirroring portions of your cloud storage on your local machine. Instead, Backblaze offers a set-it-and-forget-it backup system that keeps copies of your local data (including some system files) in the cloud.
For end-users, BackBlaze is $5 per machine every month. You can backup any drive inside the machine, as well as any drive connected via a USB connection. This won’t back up your personal NAS boxes, but it’s still pretty generous.
Backblaze also competes against object-based cloud storage like that offered by Amazon S3 and Azure. Backblaze’s service is called B2. Like other object-based cloud storage providers, you’re going to pay both a monthly cloud storage fee, plus a download fee for any data you want back. Backblaze’s differentiation is that it’s generally less expensive than the big guys, yet still offers a rich API and some nice integrations, including into the Synology NAS boxes we reviewed previously.
There’s one other thing to like about Backblaze: Its data center approach. It regularly reports on hard drive reliability and even the challenges of running a data center. In a world where most cloud storage providers are opaque, Backblaze’s transparency is a breath of fresh air.