You’ve read countless case studies of how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have turned to cloud computing to raise productivity, improve customer service and stay ahead of the competition. But is your company ready to jump onto the bandwagon? Here’s what you need to know before moving to the cloud:
1. Define your needs
While cloud computing may seem like hype, it has leveled the playing field for SMBs that would not have been able to afford sophisticated business applications. According to a Dell-sponsored study, 87 percent of SMBs surveyed said cloud applications have given them a competitive advantage, while 85 percent agreed that cloud applications have improved employee productivity. However, to realize the full benefits of the cloud, it is important to define what you want to achieve. Are you hoping to improve customer service by allowing your sales team to respond to customer requests quickly? Or, do you want improve collaboration among employees? Articulating those needs clearly will go a long way in choosing the right cloud service provider.
2. Choose the right service provider
Choosing a cloud service provider can be a daunting task. There are several criteria that you can use to evaluate a service provider, including performance, support and security. The Asia Cloud Computing Association has published a useful evaluation matrix that will help you prioritize your requirements. For example, if you have customers that demand strict data security, a potential cloud provider would have to score higher for that criterion over others. A company with limited IT resources may demand the highest level of support, while an engineering firm may place performance as its highest priority.
3. Back up and secure your data
Most cloud service providers will assure you that your data is safe. Bigger cloud players like Salesforce.com will enforce strict data protection policies to protect your data, but when an employee downloads or copies that data, security could go out the window. Consider employing cloud-based data loss protection (DLP) technology that takes digital fingerprints of data in the cloud. So, if someone tries to download, copy and paste, or e-mail confidential data, DLP technology will recognize the fingerprinted data as sensitive, and takes action to prevent misuse. Finally, backing up your data is a no-brainer. Most cloud services will allow you to export a copy of your data which you can restore if things go awry, or when you switch service providers.
4. Data integration services
Do you need to integrate existing data that you are housing on your in-house IT systems with your cloud service? This is especially important if you’re not ready to move all your data to the cloud. Your customer profile data, for example, may be tied closely to a legacy system which may be difficult to decouple. While integration is usually done through APIs, consider tapping on integration services provided by systems integrators to speed up the process.
5. Plan your deployment
According to Dell’s study, early cloud adopters agree that adequate planning and preparation would have made their implementation efforts easier and more successful. It is thus important for SMBs to develop a clear implementation plan, which should involve a deployment roadmap, as well as identifying key business and IT transformations with measurable benefits. Upfront planning would help you avoid issues like long deployment cycles, limited integration with other applications and lack of proper training.