From a restaurant owner who keeps tabs on employee theft to a new venture that dodged $20,000 in startup costs, here are real-world examples of how small businesses are storing, accessing, and exchanging computerized information in the cloud.
1. Watching Transactions for Theft – Restaurants and bars with multiple locations are sending their POS (point of sales) information to the cloud where it is not only stored, but also analyzed by an application that employs artificial intelligence to search for unusual patterns that could indicate theft. The product is called Aloha Restaurant Guard. It’s installed in 65,000 restaurants nationwide, said Jessica Lundberg, senior marketing manager of Radiant Systems, the manufacturer of the Aloha suite of products, and because Restaurant Guard is cloud-based, it stores enormous amounts of historical data, analyzing it using algorithms created to spot scams.
For instance, if a server has 10 or 15 voids in one day, that might indicate a scam. Or if a particular bartender is frequently getting 70 percent tips, that might indicate that he or she is pouring free drinks and being rewarded for it. Each server has a unique login, so a pattern of unusual transactions easily fingers a thief. Additionally, if a certain type of scam is caught running in Chicago, said Lundberg, an algorithm will begin to search for it, and can spot it as soon as it appears in Los Angeles, Miami, or Detroit.
One Restaurant Guard customer is Jeffrey Bank, CEO of the Alicart Restaurant Group, which owns Virgil’s Real BBQ and Carmine’s, operating in New York, Atlantic City, the Bahamas, and Washington, DC. Through an Aloha POS system, installed in 1999, Alicart managers, servers, and bartenders print out customer checks and process credit cards. Bank added a more sophisticated application, Aloha Enterprise, when it rolled out a few years later. Enterprise polls Alicart’s data every 15 minutes and stores it in the cloud.
Aloha’s Restaurant Guard came along early in 2010 and Bank signed on to keep tabs on employees’ transactions. “The old-school product would have been cameras you could put above your bar,” he said in a phone interview. “But no one’s watching 12 to 14 hours of video,” and the bartender knows it, so “that’s not the best deterrent. Restaurant Guard is doing the same thing. It’s going through hundreds of thousands of transactions and looking for anomalies you would never see on your own.”
Alerts come to Bank on a store-by-store basis. He gets a report laying out the peculiar behavior and can decide whether to talk to the employee and find out if there’s another explanation or a mistake—or if retraining or termination is the appropriate remedy.
“You might have someone pulling a fast one and ringing up a check for a dollar, and then putting in a $90 tip, and they’re actually taking a cash advance on their own credit card. Now that’s not stealing from you, but they’re doing something that’s improper,” said Bank. “It’s something you might not be able to recognize on your own.”
The fact that all his data is stored in the cloud means high reliability, said Bank. The folks at Aloha have “99 percent time up.” More than that, “I don’t really need to know. I don’t need to pull the curtain back.”
2. Two Partners, One Customer List – “We launched our collection of eyewear just over a year ago and originally tried to maintain our customer list inside of an Excel spreadsheet—which worked for the first few dozen people we met. But it very quickly became a nightmare to manage,” commented Anthony Codispoti, co-founder of Activist Eyewear,1 a Brooklyn, NY, company that designs and manufactures eyeglasses in limited editions for discerning customers.
He works from Columbus, OH, and his co-founder, Mark Craig, works from Brooklyn, so when they found themselves emailing the spreadsheet containing CRM (customer relationship management) details back and forth continually, they realized there had to be a better way. They found an SaaS (software as a service) provider called Batchbook2 that maintains a database of their sales leads and tracks both partners’ communications history with the clients, storing it all remotely, where either partner can access it anytime.
“The really nice feature for us is that it automatically tracks our email conversations and attaches them to relevant customer files,” wrote Codispoti in an email message. “So when I go to call on a client, I cannot only see notes that I’ve previously entered about them, but I can scan email communications we’ve had so that I’m up to date on the latest. And I can access everything when I’m traveling. It’s a gift from above—it really is.”
3. Starting a Business with Little Capital – For Michael Kaiser-Nyman, CEO and founder of Impact Dialing,3 an automated dialing application for political campaigns and polls, among other uses, cloud computing solved what could have been a huge problem for his company: How to launch it on a shoestring. He wrote in an email that, “we would have faced at minimum $20,000 of physical infrastructure costs. Thanks to the cloud, we spun up with a couple hundred dollars. And we don’t have to worry about capacity planning: We just spin up more resources when we need them.”
The company, inaugurated in September 2010, has two products, both of them built on cloud technologies. Not only that, the company’s email, CRM, and tools for productivity, development and collaboration are all cloud-based. “We actually have no physical assets,” he wrote.
Impact Dialing never really considered investing in infrastructure. From conception, the intention was to use remote servers and purchase computing on demand, i.e. cloud computing. “In less than five weeks of writing our first line of code we launched Impact Dialing and started selling it to political campaigns,” Kaiser-Nyman wrote in a blog post4 that later won him funding. “We released new features and bug fixes on an almost daily basis. A couple times, someone was interested in using our product but really needed a feature we didn’t have, so we built the feature and released it within a day or two. And by the time the November  elections were finished, we were already profitable!”
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