In a recent post, my comrade Chris Chesley identified 5 things SMBs should consider before going virtual for their IT systems. So, taking a cue from him, here are the follow-up “5 Things for SMBs to Consider Before Going Cloud."
- Does what I have work for me today? Let’s face it, SMBs don’t invest in technology just to go home and boast to the neighbors. There has to be real value to altering what is working today. Look at how your users consume technology in performing their tasks. Is it effective? Efficient? Does it enable or interfere? Is there some missing capability that would improve communications or workflow? Only the SMB can answer these questions. As consultants, we can guide and advise, but at the end of the day the SMB must believe in the value of change before they will adopt it.
- What risks will I incur? Cloud services are not new technology, but they do pose potential risks that may not be in the SMB’s current environment. In some ways, the risks are similar to those faced every day when an SMB makes any commitment to a new model for conducting business. Would you buy that new forklift or security system from some guy you met on the street? So, consider it that way. Look at the providers and evaluate their business model, financial health, customer focus, service commitments, etc. Just like you would before signing a multi-year telecom agreement or investing in a new application, consider the long term. Moving key services to outside providers is not a short term solution. Work with organizations that have earned your trust or that have proven themselves in the market.
- How will this affect my users? SMBs tend to be more loyal to those employees who have helped them build the business. So from a purely human perspective, consider if moving to cloud services will provide direct benefits to them. Will they be able to complete tasks faster with less thrash? Can they have more flexibility to work from home? Fewer headaches working from the road? Will this improve their life/work balance? I don’t want to get too crazy here; you still have to make decisions that are correct for the business. However, if you provide a more adaptable infrastructure to your users, it may help with employee retention, and even recruiting new talent.
- Will this move benefit my customers? If moving some or all of your systems to cloud services will improve your ability to service your customers, then it becomes pretty much a no-brainer. In the past, this consideration may have had limited application within certain vertical markets (retail for example), but I would wager that over the last five years the number of your clients that can benefit from external services has grown tremendously. Financial services, marketing, professional services, and manufacturing all can now enable their clients in much the same way that Amazon and eBay have. Federation, or the ability to share access to common data and services between segmented entities, is a key capability in many cloud offerings.
- How do I want to pay for technology? This may be the most important consideration of them all. The four above can be achieved in both traditional IT and cloud methodologies, although the ease of delivery and management may be different. Does the financial model of the business map to capital expense and asset ownership? Or would the business benefit from a more operational expense model? Where will the funding come from, and does it allow for a one-time, up-front investment or can the cost be consumed over time? Do you have to show depreciation against that investment?
Will answering these five questions remove all doubt about which direction you should follow?
No. But it may enable you to identify if the move to cloud services is even a fit at all.