Doesn’t it seem like everyone is jumping into the cloud these days a little too fast? We all know cloud solutions are innovative, efficient and remarkable for many businesses, but a proper evaluation is critical before you dive in. Before you know it, you might find yourself either confined by your new lovely cloud choice or having to pay more and more for additional space where as if you had done your homework, you would have realized that option B was actually the better choice out of the gates. So here are few things to think about before you dive into your cloud solution.
Company Size Matters
The average company does not grow beyond 10 employees. Very few grow beyond 100. Large scale companies are in such a different world than the majority of us and that makes them the exceptions for many business aspects. This includes technology innovations like the Cloud solution phenomenon.
If you work for a larger company, you likely have a full team of technology resources – A CIO who really knows the business in and out and can forecast and align the solutions with the goals of the company [in a perfect world]. But the average leader is working hard to keep up with technology with limited resources. He may have an IT guy or a long-standing relationship that has them by the collar or maybe has never given them a good enough reason to reconsider.
In comes the Cloud with all its simplicity and promises. And quite frankly it is amazing, but in many ways it is nothing “new”. It is another technology tool and it has been in existence for some time, just not with a sexy brand.
We see companies who are over and under leveraging this solution and it is causing them pain and stress. It is also costing them. Small businesses often have this ‘get by’ mentality about what seem like unimportant habits of the business. But if we can learn anything from large companies, it’s that repeated activities can be made more efficient and provide opportunities for productivity and cost savings. It may seem minuscule at first, but overtime it makes a difference. It is putting value to this time that separates a strategic small business owner from the ‘get by’ owner.
These little inefficiencies become the paper cuts on our hands, affecting our work and accumulating a tremendous impact. In fact, couldn’t you argue a small business needs to save time even more than a larger one?
TCO & ROI
Clear understanding of cost puts you in the driver seat [with a clean windshield]. We see many folks who have turned away from solutions, because they feel that they cost more than they currently spend, but **this doesn’t make sense?? they are unaware of the true cost. Why is that? Because they are not tracking it accurately.
Technology leadership is something that most companies typically do not have. They mistake having somebody who knows how to install a mouse with somebody who actually understands how to align technology solutions with the business.
When a small business owner looks up their IT spend, it often stops with a QuickBooks search for “IT support”. Most of us are ignorant of the soft costs, management and opportunity costs associated. Large companies have to take the time to be responsible and understand what those costs are.
As per greater understanding, large companies also have an advantage because they have very detailed articulate budgets not only of what they spent on PCs and repairs last year but they understand their total cost of ownership. Most small businesses do not have this. In fact, most are in adamant denial of what the real costs are.
An IT guy focusing on his day to day operations and keeping the company online, cannot and should not be expected to provide strategic IT consulting. Much like any other facet of the business, it is essential you fulfill both skillsets in your business, even if it means someone’s role expands a bit to play to their strengths. For instance, your operations manager may know more about IT strategy than your IT guy.
The Cloud is a tool to help your business be efficient and continue to prosper. The best way to make it work for you is to do exactly that. Look at your business model and your needs and then consider the following before choosing how you will best optimize the Cloud for your business applications.
Is it a standalone or integrated system?
Does the application have a link to your financial system, your CRM, or other software? These links and ties you have between servers and applications inside can be very difficult to duplicate and maintain on the outside. If you have a simple standalone application you may find that on the outside it is a better candidate. If it is something that has connections you need to do some due diligence and research and verify that everything does work together in a cloud configuration.
A little warning: If you do find something that does support all these connections on the cloud you have to be mindful that when one of the components upgrades it can break the whole thing. I have seen numerous situations where one vendor upgrades their components but it leaves the other vendors behind. Connections break and you [who are stuck trying to use the applications to get your work done] are the one who pays for it, because it’s not working right and you have to deal with it. You lose time calling their support. There is your pain. If there are lots of connections or even one major connection from one system to another, make sure that same connection is as reliable if not more reliable than the outside/cloud vendor.
Is it customized or standardized from a box?
Did you have a programmer who wrote this for you? Did you get a programmer to customize special reports or create automation / macros to make it more efficient for you? Customization generally doesn’t work for a well on a cloud-based application, because you may not be able to tweak the code so much without some very expensive customization. If you’re using it out of the box with no tweaks or modifications, then it is a great candidate. If you have customized applications to better meet your business needs, you have to slow down and evaluate carefully.
For example, take custom financial and operational reports – If they go right to the cloud version they lose those reports and that can be quite painful. There are SaaS’ that allow you to pay to modify and customize, but consider the cost. If they upgrade their software will the customized reports work as they were written for you today? Is there a cost to update your custom report or is it included once you have paid for it? Even if it is included you have to be wary,because we see cases where it is broken and the cloud company says they are going fix it, they may take a long time fix it. The company may not able to function for a few months until It gets fixed. Don’t let this scare you into a paralysis when choosing a Cloud solution – but beware of the impact the wrong decision can have on your business.
Is the application a bandwidth pig?
How data intensive is the application you are considering using a cloud solution for? If you have an application in house and the data you push or pull is graphic intensive; first consider that data intensive means it has big files that require big interactions. In turn, the speed with which you interact with those big data tables affects how well you can use the program. Most applications that have big data need to be local or they need to be at least a very high-speed bandwidth between the point so you can do what you need to quickly.
The common issue that arises is a local application goes over gigabit speeds. Many miss the point that with the internet talking about megabytes for speed, not gigabytes. You need to understand that ten megabytes is basically 1% of a gigabyte. So what was running well at a thousand megabytes(a gigabyte) slowed down to running 10 megabytes is not acceptable and unfortunately companies generally don’t learn this until it’s too late. They think they are saving by avoiding purchasing a server and related components, but they pay big migration fees and move everything over only to find they are stuck in a bad performance situation.
In summation small-mid sized companies do not have the luxury of having a big strategic group under their full-time employment. Because of this they tend either wing it or find a local IT guy and put the proverbial eggs in their basket. This often results in undesirable results and too much uncertainty on how to fix it.
We highly suggest that you take educate yourself in top level IT strategy and begin to understand the value in expertise, especially in new trending topics like the Cloud. By reviewing these basics of stand-alone or interfaced or bandwidth or customized they give you good idea what can and can’t be easily moved. It is not just about signing up for a cloud app and running with it. It is about evaluating your business and understanding how to best align technology like the cloud to enable your business to thrive.