The excess of office productivity tools and cloud services can be counter-productive

Gone are the days when you could rely on a nice bundle of Microsoft Office tools to be adequate.

Perhaps with a Nokia acquisition, Zen device and user design focus this might change but, in the meantime, SMEs are left with a Darwinian evolution of some great and some annoying productivity tools across the landscape of accounting, expenses, time, communication, messaging, projects, data stores, Wikis and a never ending series of passwords, monthly fees and confusion to get past the basic functions.

This may be because the Microsoft suite doesn’t do this, or that it is buried in the help section or moved as part of an upgrade, but all too often it seems easiest to change an entire company process than find it.

So here is my take as a SME on the various tools out there:


We used to love Sage. It made us feel like a real business with numbers in complex charts of accounts and allowed us to look normal to investors.

Though a tad expensive, the real cost was only our bookkeepers understanding of how to use it.

Today, we still have it somewhere but use Xero (an online accounting thing which pulls bank feeds and simplifies everything and is pretty much real time) to give decent views on imminent cash flow of P&L. 

It’s lovely, and even looks like it can do budget reporting alongside project tracking – and also links to a latest tool we’ve found called Receipt Bank, that seems to work well in optically scanning receipts and invoices and posting through to Xero whilst at the sometime offering paperless archive.

Related: Top 5 accounting software providers for UK small businesses


I’ve never liked the free emails, or Gmail – not Least because of the implied NSA deal that every email is mined for ads (or maybe its ideas) and because I’m an ideas creator with a dozen patents cited by Apple/Samsung/Microsoft types.

Believe it or not, I like to actually file the patent before it’s read by the competition. I perhaps question here what the Asian economic boom is actually based on…

We used to invest in local servers, Microsoft Exchange, but the new Microsoft 365 online service is simply great as means any worry about a BT line failing or a server crashing is displaced – and I can access from any device.

Issues there though are a 25Gb limit per user – as I am a bit of a Luddite and like a real-time complete timeline in date for any correspondence over last say 10 years. Microsoft 365 struggles with such power use but is sort of a functional complement over my brain waiting for some MAP2 protein dendritic action. All in all, it is a no-brainer (literally) and a reliable backup.


This is where things get messy. We’ve done fixed line, Onebox, Voipfone this and that, Skype, Microsoft Messaging, SMS, HipChat, shouting at people across the office, email and SMS.

Surprisingly there’s no clear winner as many do not properly work cross platform. However, the best current view is Voip for office phones and services. 

I’d also like to see Skype reborn as a better integrated service. I thought this was the genius behind eBay’s’ original purchase – that it would give out voice for free then wrap with a SME seller office suite of logistics and accounting. Maybe Microsoft can do something with it?


It stuns me that the original FileManager and network drives are so difficult that Dropbox/iCloud appeared and stole the groove from earlier things which just did this.

Similarly, early PDA Palm, iPAQ devices never synced properly, even iTunes was per machine before iCloud – as anyone who lost both a PDA with laptop will testify.

Dropbox seems to be the great product of the ones we use, though I still miss Groove which did all this ten years ago. 


There are some nice complex things here but currently we use an assortment of niche and singular service plays, such as Harvest for time tracking. We also use Basecamp – which is great for looking at multiple projects, actions, small number of files and discussion, with a functional though annoying calendar.

There are countless other tools, loading Excel to add a couple of numbers, or Paint to screen grab and paste something. The major challenge is there are too many tools, and multiple social networks – with Facebook and LinkedIn extending with extra competing widgets – before you even look at apps on smartphones.

It’s likely time for a Darwinian cull or a return to the good old days when basically Word and Excel were simple and sufficient. Though the consultancy and IT industry wouldn’t exist without complexity.

See also: 6 business tools help improve your bottom line

Simon Daniel

Simon Daniel

Simon Daniel is the inventor of the USB battery and folding keyboard. He was also CEO of Moixa, the renewable energy group.

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