Editor’s note: For this week’s guest blog post, we head to Plymouth, England to hear from Jon Stacey, a partner at Riley Chartered Accountants, an eighteen strong firm of Chartered Accountants. Riley offers accounting, tax and business development services to clients throughout the UK.

Riley have been enthusiastic adopters of cloud computing for a couple of years now. As a UK firm of Chartered Accountants based in Plymouth, England we have been technology driven since the business started in 1981. Our ability to communicate as a team and with our customers is paramount and the recording and storing of what we do in the most efficient and accessible format is critical.

Our office systems were previously almost totally reliant on Lotus Notes, which we’d started using in 1998. However, over the years we started to see deficiencies that began to hinder business -- challenging technical management issues, the clunkiness of the user-interface even after major updates, and access issues. These problems were especially noticeable because the quality of the personal email systems we had all started to use at home had surpassed that of the system we were using at work.

Finally, changes in our key team forced us to look properly at other solutions and we settled on migrating our e-mail, calendars and instant messaging to Google in August 2009. The migration was handled painlessly by Glo-Networks and we moved the majority of our communication IT to web-browser access without a hitch.

That first step was a revelation. Not only was our information now accessible from anywhere in the world, from any computer or device with an Internet connection, the move massively freed up resources of people (and cash) and removed the restrictions on our thinking about IT. We still have certain legacy databases on Lotus Notes but have started to wind these down as more content is now cloud based. We found that Google Apps allowed us to store all of our templates for letters, spreadsheets and many of our management tools too.

Google Docs has become our go-to source for new files, collaboration and systems development. This morning I spent half an hour collaborating on an internal project with two of my partners - one of them was in another office, another at home while I was at my desk talking to them both on the phone. The speed of decision making is enhanced by the ability to see what others are doing as they amend and delete cells within a spreadsheet or words in a proposal letter. And then there’s Chat with video chat - something which we didn’t take much notice of while we were assessing Apps, but which is becoming more and more useful as we build our team.

Using Google Sites, we have developed a dashboard for the Riley team and easy-to-create websites within minutes. The simple interface, clean design and ability to pick up on templates designed by both the Google team and other businesses mean that someone, somewhere has often done some of the hard work for you.

More recently, we’ve started to use Google Apps Marketplace to drive the development and integration of our CRM requirements, mail and contacts. This is an on-going process and we are currently evaluating a number of solutions for this need - something which all the providers have made extremely easy.

We have also been able to dispense with the office-based back-up solution which was the bane of many of our lives. There have also been no problems with software updates – I’m sure that they exist but they happen painlessly when we don’t notice or incrementally as the developers finish a feature. We don’t have to buy an upgrade path or worry about compatibility – it just happens.

Posted by Ashley Chandler, The Google Enterprise Team