Evaluating a Move to the Cloud, Part 1: Proving Out the Whys…

As we move through the second half of 2011, it is safe to say that “Software as a Service” (SaaS) will play a permanent role in your small businesses technology strategy moving forward.

The standing question for you as a business owner:  What is the best way to utilize “the cloud’s” benefits while avoiding the pitfalls?

The answer, as with most “big” questions:  It depends.

Contrary to what the cloud vendors may pitch, there is no “homerun”, no guaranteed specific roadmap, no “one size fits all” approach to using the cloud.

Our goal in this series of articles is to help you to ask the important questions so that you can implement a strategy that will best work for your company.


Question #1: Why Am I Considering a Move to the Cloud?

Interestingly enough, the most important question is one that so often gets shorted:
What are my reasons for looking to make a move to the cloud?
What is the business “problem” I am looking to solve with a cloud solution or service?

Possible answers:
Reducing cost?
Increased reliability?
Better remote access?

Your list may include other needs, yet how clear is your understanding of how the cloud will impact your day-to-day operation?  And at what cost – both hard and “soft” (user efficiency for example).

The three items I listed (lower cost, improved reliability and remote access) on the surface look to be non-dependent, however, how true is that?  Let’s consider some factors…

Assuming that moving an application (CRM is a popular one right now) to the cloud appears to reduce cost, what measure of “reliability” can you realistically expect given the level of expense you can justify?

The Training and Reliability Connection

End user support and training comes to mind.

Is a system “reliable” if it is not being used correctly? Or at all?

It is critical that you factor the cost of an effective training program at the outset for your cloud solution rollout such that your users can perform from the gate.  Don’t expect them to watch so-called training videos on their own or to be “training” one another.  (Can you spell “productivity suck”?)

Hopefully you have a person on staff with the right skillset and temperament, who can become your in-house training and support resource.  Investing in “training the trainer” is an effective method in maximizing results and return on training dollars spent.

At the outset of their assignment, task that individual with creating an outline of the key functional areas required for each of your user types (sales, marketing, administrative, etc.) to be able to complete their primary job responsibilities when using the cloud based system.  This outline will act as a roadmap detailing what it is the in-house trainer will need to learn when receiving their training.

As much as you may not want to hear it, training is not a place to cut corners.  Doing so will “repay” your organization with the dividends of low moral, lessened customer service, more mistakes, and weak system adoption.  Not exactly the description of success.  This is one area where it makes sense to bring in a third party who can impart the level of process and functional expertise required to make things come together – and who has the skill to train your trainer.


What Impacts Will Your Current Internet Service Have on Your Cloud Adoption?

Since you will become absolutely dependent on the internet to provide you access to your cloud application, is your current service up to the task?

In other words, is it sufficiently fast and is it adequately reliable?

Many small businesses discover that when they were using the internet primarily for web access and email, a “basic” internet package was sufficient to keep things moving along.  However, upon layering cloud-based application traffic on top of that (remember – cloud apps are moving not only data but “drawing” the user interface too), suddenly they find their entire web experience grinds to a crawl: not only are web searches and pages much slower to load, but the cloud application(s) is rendered literally unusable due to significant time lag.

So, as another key step in evaluating the larger impacts of moving to a cloud solution, look at your current internet service level to see what bandwidth – if any – is guaranteed in your existing contract. Ask your employees how responsive it is for their purposes, especially at times of peak usage, to see if you have  “headroom” for the imminent increase in demand and check with the cloud vendor to see if they have any published guidelines as to what they recommend for optimum performance.

Again, as with user training, resist the potential to cut corners.  If your are in doubt about the ability of your internet to handle more traffic, explore your upgrade options – and the cost.  This is why you are making your evaluation BEFORE you commit to a cloud application:  before signing a contract, you can look at other options.


The “Why” Recipe…

So, regarding the “Why” of moving to a cloud application, the overall recipe for your analysis is to be completely clear on what you believe are the benefits for doing so.

Then make the time to uncover as many potential counters to your Why reason(s) as possible.  In other words, do your best to kick the legs out from under the table.

When you come to the end of the process, and should you still have a table, good for you!  You now know that you have a very high chance of achieving your desired results.  (That feels a lot better than relying on gut doesn’t it?)


Parting Thoughts on Part 1:

A few other rocks to overturn in your quest:

  • Look into your server utilization and actual support costs.  Could your current server hardware  support additional on-premise applications?  (One of the reasons that “virtualization” has become so popular is that most servers are underutilized.  Think of having a Ferrari and being able to only drive back and forth to the office – nowhere else – and at no more than 55mph…)
    How much is your firm actually spending on support for the server(s)?  Might be less than you think.
  • If you have remote offices/locations/traveling reps – what level of internet access do they currently have, and is it enough to handle additional cloud application traffic?
  • Does the cloud offering include the ability for offline use (i.e. – no internet access)?
    If so, is there an additional cost?

    • Alternatively, if the remote or traveling users are never intended to be offline, what is the cost of supporting “always on” wireless?


Know your goals and assume nothing.

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