Cloud processing is ideal for a startup like Localist, says CIO Ken Holley, as it allows ICT capacity to be tailored to volume of business -- which was zero when the NZPost digital subsidiary opened.
Localist, so far only promoted in Auckland, is perceived by many as a business directory, a direct competitor to Yellow Pages; but the company also provides an online news service, and supports a community of users, Holley says. It retains an editor and contributors, who file news of all types and reviews of Auckland businesses. Local companies can use the site to promote themselves.
"We didn't have one customer at Day One, not one call into the call centre, we didn't know what our volumes were going to be; so the pay-as-you-go [cloud IT] model -- particularly using [Australian company] IPscape for our contact centre -- suits us down to the ground," Holley says.
IPscape is a contact-centre VoIP solution and is one of the cornerstones of Localist's processing. Another key application is Salesforce.com, one of the best known commercial cloud-based applications suites. "IPscape sits within salesforce.com," Holley says, "so you don't have one solution for CRM [customer relationship management] and one for answering your phones. All our customer interactions are in the same place."
The staffing of the contact centre can be expanded and reduced according to need; all an operator needs is an internet-connected PC.
Localist managers can get real-time figures on the performance of the contact centre staff and salespeople. They can even access this data from a mobile phone.
Holley is impressed with the understanding the IPscape developers showed of Localist's business. "They get it; they're a young technically savvy organisation with experience. They've got the scars from working in call-centres; they know what works and what doesn't."
NZ developer Fronde, already a supplier to NZ Post, introduced Localist to Salesforce.com. There was some questioning of the choice in NZ Post; it doesn't use Salesforce and has its own computing services subsidiary, Datacom.
"Our CEO asked me what to say when Post's CEO challenges him. I told him; [development and running of IT] costs less and we can deliver it on time," Holley says.
Localist also uses Gmail and other Google applications for regular office tasks, such as producing documents.
"To make cloud applications really work, you've got to have great connections," Holley says. "We haven't got all the ideas ourselves; we have a fantastic partner community; it keeps my team lean. A lot of what I put together stems from very strong partnerships and allowing our partners to lead us.
"There's a [partner] called Digital Arena; they've been crucial to the print side of the business," he says. "Print is an art in itself. We've developed a solution called AdMonkey, which brings together Salesforce, a web solution built on Ruby on Rails, and [Adobe] InDesign.
"So our sales team have laptops; they can go out to the customer, make the sale and click over to another web window to design the ad.
"We've always thought: you can do other things online through self-service as standard; why can't we do that for the print world; why can't you design your ad yourself?
"We don't only upload images and text, but make sure that as presented by the website it's print-ready," Holley says. "We can assure them that's what the ad's going to look like in the book and they can pay for it then and there."
This avoids the big workload that often hits directory publishers when most advertisers commit as late as possible before publication date. "We're changing the paradigm for customers used to dealing with directories."
Holley was one of two New Zealand users involved in a keynote address at Salesforce's major Cloudforce conference in Sydney earlier this year; the other was Brian Northern, IT and services manager at civil engineering firm Fulton Hogan.