Top Ten Tips on Finding Value in the Cloud
The days of investing £tens-of-thousands in overpriced IT infrastructure are long gone, and not before time. Instead, cloud technology is fast becoming the new normal. Now, when firms are starting up or when hardware’s nearing redundancy, it’s the cloud they’re turning to.
SMEs, more than most, have lots to gain from the cloud because it levels the playing field. Suddenly, they can use the same enterprise-type systems at easily affordable cost thereby liberating them from the constraints and limitations of traditional small business IT systems.
So, it’s time to get on board. But due diligence is advised. Do your homework before you sign. If you’re unsure where to start, worry not, our top ten tips will help you out.
- 1. Recognise that not all cloud services are equal
Bear in mind three primary factors – reliability, integration and control. IT failures are extremely damaging, both in terms of lost productivity (as your employees are forced to down tools) and reputation (as your clients lose faith in you). A minimum 99.8% uptime guarantee is just the ticket.
Your cloud computing and on-premise resources need to synchronise which is why integration’s so important. Make sure the integration approach is right for you. Your core systems should talk to one another, not operate independently, to allow you to perform to maximum ability.
Finally, controlling your new cloud services is the responsibility of your provider, leaving your team free to focus on business-related, not operational, issues. Let your provider do their job properly while you get on with yours.
- 2. Don’t be solely influenced by price
Of course, we all love a bargain but, where IT’s concerned, it’s a bad idea to make your purchase decision based on cost alone. Find out exactly what you’ll get for your money and how costs may alter as your requirements change.
While you don’t want to pay over the odds and be hit by surprise bills or escalating costs later on, you also don’t want to compromise on quality in order to save a few pounds. High value, reasonable cost is much preferable to low value, low cost. Enough said.
- 3. Check levels of support on offer
As an SME, with limited headcount, you may not employ IT experts in-house but you’ll definitely need support to optimise your use of cloud technology. After all, things can, and do, go wrong, often at the most inconvenient and busy times.
Ask about standard support hours, typical response times, out-of-hours assistance and forms of support available (phone, email, website FAQs, downloadable guides etc). You’ll come to rely on it, so make sure it’s up to scratch.
- 4. Research your provider’s security measures
Security is the single biggest concern of companies moving into the cloud. Or at least it should be. The headlines are full of high-profile security breach news (think Panama Papers!) and you don’t want to become the next lead story.
If your provider’s security isn’t airtight then neither is yours. As well as identifying accreditation badges, ask probing questions relating to encryption, firewalls, anti-spam, anti-virus, data centre location, access controls, physical protection, backup frequency and regularity of server maintenance. Tackle the technie stuff. It’ll be worth it.
- 5. Find a provider with experience in your market
Generalists will know a little about most industries. Specialists will know your sector inside-out. Choose the latter. They’ll be well versed in your challenges and goals, have a deep understanding of the software that powers your industry and recommend the best-fit solutions for your unique business needs. Their technologies will be purpose built for companies just like yours.
Check out their typical clients and uncover their reputation. Highly thought-of companies with in-depth knowledge make the world of difference. Your success could depend upon it.
- 6. Audit your current IT systems
The old adage ‘don’t run before you can walk’ applies here. Take cloud migration one step at a time. Look at your existing infrastructure and consider if certain applications should move to the cloud initially, with the rest following on in due course. This’ll give your employees breathing space to get used to changes bit-by-bit and allow you to evaluate exactly what your aspirations are.
If your systems have got the green light and your staff are raring to go, why hold back? Plough ahead and you could be up-and-running in a matter of days. Hours, even.
- 7. Plan for the future
Briefly touched upon in tip #2, it’s inevitable that your organisation will undergo some kind of transformation throughout the years. You may expand, contract, extend your product / service range, delve into other verticals etc. Ensure that, while your immediate needs are met, your future needs will be too. For your long-term strategy to succeed, your cloud provider has to be flexible enough to respond and adapt alongside you.
A key part of this is to investigate a possible exit route. If things don’t work out, you may resolve to switch suppliers or bring your IT back in-house. Can you migrate your data and are you locked into a lengthy contract? Enquire before you commit.
- 8. Look for an easy transition
If your current software can run on the cloud immediately, all the better. A cloud that hosts your main systems will deliver instant value firm-wide. The more involved the transition, the more disruptive it will be for you and your staff. Not to mention the time it’ll waste along the way. No SME has time to give away.
Also, will your provider guide you through by giving data conversion, migration, training and other consultancy support? While you may readily admit any migration will make demands upon you, you don’t want to be completely engulfed by it because you’ve still got your day job to do.
- 9. Focus on the RTO & RPO elements
What’s the response plan should disaster strike? Analyse recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) statistics. RTO is the duration from outage to restoration for business continuity purposes. RPO is the period of data loss which is an assurance of data protection.
With low metrics in place, you can run on a continuous basis with absolute minimum interruption if the unexpected becomes a reality. Keeping your fingers crossed is no longer sufficient. While the worst may never happen, preparedness is everything.
- 10. Ask around for referrals
Reinforce your purchase decision by seeking out real-life examples of businesses just like yours using cloud services from your potential vendor. Written case studies are a great starting point as these focus on specific scenarios, setting out ‘before’ and ‘after’ positioning. Almost certainly, one of these will ring true to your situation.
What’s even more useful, though, is contacting users and chatting over the phone (or in person, if convenient) to gather completely honest opinions about the provider. Query implementation timescales, business needs addressed, return on investment, benefits delivered, uptime and relationships.
In summary, your cloud service provider will play a key advisory and support role in your business. Make the right choice and you’ll have hassle-free software-as-a-service IT in all its wondrous glory with wide-reaching flexibility, mobility and efficiency benefits for a predictable cost.
The cloud’s not without its risks but, in our opinion, these are far outweighed by the dangers of not using it. Hopefully our tip sheet de-risks the decision-making process. Handled with care, it’ll be the best decision your business will ever make.
So be brave. The cloud awaits…