The best cloud apps and cloud platforms

What if you find a favourite cloud app has become too big and  unwieldy? Fortunately, there are still specialist alternatives available.

From cloud apps to platforms, the likes of Dropbox and Mailchimp have morphed into much more than single-purpose apps.

One of the many benefits of the cloud era has been the ability to find a specialist app for just about any purpose. Need a simple tool for expenses, timesheets, proposals or surveys? You’ll find it online.

However, some of these specialist apps have evolved well beyond their original purpose. Dropbox and Mailchimp, for example, have recently announced big changes that enable them to offer much more than online file storage and email newsletters, respectively.

Welcome to the cloud platform era

To present a document or image in Zoom, simply share the file with an online meeting or when chatting to an individual.It’s not exactly a new trend, but it is gathering momentum. Salesforce.com, for example, has been adding e-commerce, after-sales services and many other tools to its core customer relationship management (CRM) software for several years.

These cloud platforms are also generally designed to be extendable. They typically offer open application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow third-party developers to build custom apps for the platform. For example, Xero now has an ecosystem of more than 1000 add-ins, including integrations with other business apps and direct data feeds from banks.

Some even offer “no code” or “low code” tools – such as Google App Maker for G Suite, Microsoft PowerApps for Office 365 and Salesforce’s Lightning – so you don’t need to be a programmer to build your own apps to run on the platform.

Dropbox: now a collaborative workspace

All activities, including files shared via Slack or Zoom, show up in Dropbox's activity stream in the mobile pp and desktop app.Dropbox has had open APIs and a growing list of features for some time, but its recent announcement is a big shift. Dropbox still allows users to synchronise files between computers and the cloud, but it’s now also a powerful collaborative workspace.

From within the Dropbox desktop app, you can store files, cloud content and bookmarks to any website or web app. You can create, organise and share Microsoft Office files and Google Docs, Sheets and Slides content. You can also search across all these files and content.

Dropbox offers many integrations with third-party apps, but has just made two important additions: Slack and Zoom, so you can collaborate more easily on content with colleagues via these popular apps. For example, you can send files directly from Dropbox to Slack channels or individuals, or start Slack chats about content from within Dropbox.

Similarly, you can launch Zoom video conferences and present files to conference attendees from within Dropbox.

The new Dropbox also lets you keep tabs on who’s done what with each file, including activities in Slack and Zoom. You can pin files and folders to the main screen, and add folder descriptions as well as to-dos and @mentions.

Mailchimp: now a marketing services platform

Mailchimp’s latest changes are just as dramatic. It has evolved from an email marketing app to a comprehensive marketing services provider.

The new Dropbox app allows you to pin important files and folders for easy access, and it has an activity stream so you can see who's been using what files.Mailchimp previously allowed you to manage a newsletter subscription list. Now, it’s turned that into a full CRM that allows you to track and market to your audience in new ways – and it can integrate with third-party CRMs.

It now includes tags and segments to help you organise your contacts in sophisticated ways, and it even creates customer segments for you. It also has an audience dashboard that allows you to easily identify patterns in customer data.

This includes predictive insights, such as customer lifetime value and likelihood to purchase, allowing you to target your best customers.

The platform now offers social media support, including the ability to publish organic posts on Facebook and Instagram. It has marketing automation features, such as emailing users who abandon a shopping cart on your site and retargeting social media ads to those who have visited your site.

Other options

You can send a file with a message from Dropbox to a Slack channel or individual.What if you don’t want these extra features? What if you find a favourite cloud app has become too big and unwieldy? Fortunately, there are still specialist alternatives, such as pCloud for cloud storage and Benchmark Email for email marketing.

The upside of using a more comprehensive cloud platform is that you don’t have to jump between apps, or if you do they have a familiar look and feel. Integration between platform apps is generally better than using apps from different providers.

There are plenty of options. Bitrix24, for example, offers a broad suite of apps. These include email, chat, video conferencing, document management, task and project management, time tracking, email marketing, customer support, contact centre, intranet and website building, CRM, human resources and other business apps.

Read next: 8 tech tools to boost your productivity


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September 2019
September 2019

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