Cloud victors pave the way

The first wave of Cloud pioneers are writing home with stories of success and calls for more people to migrate, David Braue writes.

It’s hard to swing the proverbial cat these days without hitting a half-dozen consultants urging you to move your business into the Cloud. Yet as vendors reposition themselves around Cloud-delivery models and holdouts gradually warm to the promise of the Cloud, early adopters are reporting back from the front – and many are quite happy with what they’ve accomplished.

Auscript, a 90-year-old firm that provides court transcription services across Australia and recently branched into the US, is among the recent Cloud converts that are finding that the model not only reduces operating costs – but is helping the company to dramatically transform the way it operates.

In the past, Auscript’s 350 employees – full-time, part-time and home-working staffers spread over around 30 locations – would get their recordings from a centralised network of audio recordings taken from around 250 client courtrooms as well as clients such as the Victoria and NSW Police. Those audio recordings have traditionally been stored in a Sydney data centre in a secure, proprietary four-channel format; however, managing that facility had become increasingly difficult as growing business pushed demands on storage space out to around 40GB per day.

Auscript has been managing its client base for some time using the Salesforce.com Cloud-hosted customer relationship management (CRM) environment, and had extended Salesforce.com to support its various workflow processes, such as checking, editing, compiling and distributing transcriptions.

This investment gave the company the confidence to exploring ways the Cloud-hosted Google Docs services could further improve collaboration between its widely dispersed employees. Having a single source of the truth would not only facilitate access, versioning and collaboration on transcriptions, but also allow the creation of standard reference documents – such as style guides or glossaries listing spellings of esoteric industry-specific words – that can be accessed by any employee.

“It’s important for us to be able to keep in touch with the different staff in different states, in a real-time scenario,” says Chris Christoff, general manager for information systems with Auscript. “The old way was a very decentralised model in which all of the offices were almost discrete organisations, doing their own thing. Moving to Google Docs provided a way of storing some of our production artifacts and content, and facilitating communications so content is available to everyone. Google and Salesforce.com have natural handshaking, and we can use Google Talk to see if someone remote is online.”

Most recently, Auscript has been embracing Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and Simple Storage Service (S3) storage-on-demand Cloud offerings to offload the burden of storing and processing the massive audio files it creates. Cloud storage allows Auscript to not only keep its large files securely and inexpensively available online, but has supported new services such as an audio-streaming capability that lets clients get nearly instant access to audio recordings of court proceedings.

“Being able to manipulate audio data in real time in the Cloud is attractive,” Christoff explains. “Otherwise you end up with a huge data centre and a lot of computing power that’s not being used for much of the day.

Use of Cloud services for such applications is more than just about storage, however: with a declining base of skilled transcriptionists and growing market demand, Christoff says shifting processes to the Cloud has become a matter for survival – and one that has won broad support from employees as a result.

“The benefits staff can see to their own productivity, on which they’re remunerated, are obvious,” he explains. “We were quite surprised, given that some of our workforce is a bit older – but when it came down to being able to collaborate, they inherently saw the benefits, so were supportive of the change from the start. And we can scale the Cloud infrastructure on a minute by minute basis as the business grows.”

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