Recent surveys are reporting that as many as 75% of companies are using some version of cloud. But it's the end business — not IT — that's driving cloud adoption. Business leaders must consider cloud as a solution that will quickly bring tangible results to the end business, and they need to know how to choose and manage an IT-intensive resource successfully. But without the background in technology and vendor management that corporate IT has, this can prove challenging. Here are 10 best practices that will help.
1: Know what you want before you shop
It's amazing how many business leaders think they know what they want going into a cloud solution evaluation, but then quickly get sidetracked by sales staff who talk them into new sets of objectives that divert them from what they originally wanted to accomplish. The best approach is to define and document your business requirements before you meet with a cloud vendor.
2: Arrange for a cloud trial
Many cloud solutions can bring value to your organization, but it is just as important that they are easy to use by your staff and adaptable to your work processes. To ensure compatibility in these areas, ask the cloud provider for a trial evaluation period before you sign up.
3: Establish cloud metrics that tie back to the business
If your goal is for a cloud solution to enable you to onboard new suppliers into your supply chain faster than by using traditional methods, and you see that a cloud-based solution is cutting the process by 80%, you can easily document the business benefit and extrapolate what that contributes to operational efficiency. All cloud services should be linked to measurable business values and then regularly assessed.
4: See if the cloud can deliver specialized expertise your business lacks internally
Many businesses have difficulty optimizing their back office operations. This contributes to waste and erodes profit margins. There are cloud solutions that specialize in this area — as there are cloud solutions that deliver analytics for healthcare and disease control or optimized routings for the shipment of goods. These cloud providers also have industry experts on their staffs. If you select a cloud provider that offers not only service but also expertise you lack internally, you can increase the value of that cloud service to your business.
5: Check out the cloud provider's culture
Cloud service providers should have business and cultural values that blend closely with those of your own organization. When work values and ethics are similar, collaboration between your company and the cloud provider is greatly enhanced and more work gets done.
6: Understand your costs
Many times a cloud service starts out looking cheaper than traditional in-house applications, especially when you do an upfront cost analysis that looks at how much you will initially be saving in new hardware investments. But over time, cloud costs tend to rise and the cost differential between what you would have paid if you had stayed in-house and what you're paying for a cloud service disappears. That's why those businesses that get the most out of cloud for the long haul are those that capitalize on other critical returns on investment to the business — such as the cloud's ability to improve the business's competitive position, contribute to revenue growth, or deliver IT or business capability that doesn't exist internally.
7: Make sure IT is covered — and get help if needed
There are plenty of stories about business areas going around IT and entering into their own cloud relationships. But the most successful ventures with cloud providers are those where IT and the end business work together. Security, governance, reliability, vendor management and the ability to integrate the cloud with business systems are all areas corporate IT excels in. Business decision makers who circumvent IT in their cloud decision-making introduce risk by going it alone.
8: Don't think of cloud as a commodity service
Too many businesses seek out cloud as a commodity service that they think will save them expense in running their operations or in administrative functions like desktop computing. What is equally important with cloud, especially if you are dealing with SaaS (software as a service) providers, is finding someone who can answer strategic or operational questions that your business can't.
9: Look for mobile capability
Business is going mobile, so you want a cloud service that links into mobile devices, too. Along with mobile apps and access, a cloud provider should have strong security and data sharing standards that take into account the additional security concerns that accompany mobile device usage. Your IT department can help you to ensure that the cloud provider's security and data protection measures are adequate.
10: Ask your cloud provider about its future plans
If you're going to make a cloud provider a long-term business partner, you'll want to know what the cloud provider's plans are for expanding its products and services. When the provider's plans blend well with your own, there's a better chance that the relationship you forge will be a long and productive one.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.