If you're a Canadian business investing in cloud solutions and services, chances are that one of the longest standing Google Apps Partners around, Sheepdog, will have a hand in the migration.
Spun out of an existing web development company to focus purely on cloud solutions six years ago, the cloud integrator and reseller has aided the likes of communications technology company Mitel, regional aviation company Porter Airlines, and shoe designer Aldo Group with their Google Apps deployments. Perhaps you've heard of the Toronto Film Festival? Yes, it's another Sheepdog customer.
Sheepdog was one of the original early worldwide partners for Google, and it holds a Premier Partner designation today. It is focused primarily on North America, with about 40 percent of its accounts falling south of the Canada-United States border. So far, it has helped about 400 companies with their cloud migrations or implementations.
"We got started based on the premise of understanding that some SMB customers really needed a change for how they handled their IT infrastructure," said Mark Long, COO of the Halifax-based company.
There are two primary components to Sheepdog's cloud consulting practice: its core Google Aapps group for helping companies make their first forays into the cloud, and a custom applications team that steps in as businesses invest more deeply in tying together off-premise services and applications with their legacy technology infrastructure. Or with each other.
The latter is meant for companies that are strategically adopting cloud solutions, not merely shifting specific pieces for cost-cutting reasons. One thing Sheepdog might provide, for example, is a single sign-on service that helps make it easier for a company's employees to access different applications, Long said. Or perhaps a backup service that archives Google Docs information to a secondary site.
"Think of these as complementary services that allow companies to go far deeper," he said.
Given Sheepdog's relatively long-term perspective on what motivates or drives businesses to the cloud, I asked Long which solutions are currently driving the most interest within its account base. Here are three top themes:
Unified communications is next: How much do you like using the current generation of hosted conferencing and collaboration solutions, like WebEx or GoToMeeting? Sheepdog is excited about an emerging service from the team that built the Google Voice application, Uberconference. "Clients have shown a lot of interest in this," Long said.
CRM is almost given, watch business intelligence: The next big wave of cloud applications is likely to focus on big data, analytics, and business intelligence solutions that usually require reams of massive onsite infrastructure. In this sense, the cloud solutions won't be replacing existing legacy apps, they will be providing entirely new capabilities for small and midsize businesses that can't afford onsite data warehouses.
Watch mobile device management: Theis becoming clearer. So another area of focus for Sheepdog are services that can help companies cope with the influx of devices that they haven't provisioned.
One final thought that is particularly pertinent to consider, given Sheepdog's long-term perspective on what is driving companies to consider cloud services in the first place: Whereas five years ago, the predominant focus driving cloud assessments was cost, now the most forward-thinking cloud adopters are thinking about the business transformation benefits that this approach provides, Long said.
This is, in large part, tied to the expectations of younger generations of workers who are joining the workforce.
"It's the 'work the way you live' mentality," he said. "Being tethered to one location and using antiquated interfaces is something that people won't put up with for long, given that consumer apps offer a much better experience."
The video below was created by Google and Sheepdog (so consider the source), but it provides more perspective on the relationship between the two companies: