Cloud computing is here to stay. It has quickly earned a reputation as a powerful business enabler, based on benefits such as scalability, availability, on-demand access, rapid deployment, and low cost. IT-savvy users in development and test functions have adopted the cloud model to accelerate application lifecycles. And with recent innovations in self-service access, users in consulting, training, and sales demo areas are also becoming the direct consumers of cloud services.
As these mainstream users adopt cloud services, many companies find "infrastructure-oriented" cloud services to be intimidating and difficult to use, since they were designed for IT pros. To be of value to functional users, a business cloud solution must be simple and self-service oriented, much like iTunes. This is especially important because many companies do not have sufficient IT resources to help set up, code, and customize cloud services.
A business cloud solution should be usable — not just codeable —from day one. Here are some steps you can take to determine whether a cloud solution is usable for your business.
1: Verify that the cloud directly addresses your business problem
What business problem are you trying to solve with the cloud? Having this type of focus can help you avoid the technology trap. If you're evaluating a cloud solution for multiple functional users, including support, training, or business analysts, be sure that the cloud solution addresses their needs. A cloud that offers pure infrastructure will make it hard for functional users to accomplish business tasks without a UI framework to guide the workflow. If you are moving to the cloud to enable better collaboration across the team, ensure the cloud service provider offers a granular user access model that enables teams to assign rights to users based on their roles.
2: Focus on usability
Today's enterprise business users need a simple self-service cloud solution that enables them to implement new ideas and collaborate with customers. Usability includes requirements such as configurability, self-service access, collaboration, visibility, and control. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can the cloud be easily configured for different use-cases?
- Does it deliver team management capabilities to enforce policies and role-based access?
- Can your employees collaborate with prospects, customers, and partners and work on parallel streams without being constrained?
- Does the cloud provide detailed usage reports and control mechanisms?
These are key requirements to enable business agility no matter the size of your organization or the technical maturity of your team. These capabilities will be applauded by your business users, as they don't have time to build new IT skill sets and sit through hours of cloud training.
3: Determine whether the cloud runs existing applications without any rewrites
Most users are already familiar with the business and technical applications they use today, whether it's email, training, or sales demo applications. Clouds that power these applications without any changes will deliver immediate value across your organization. Over the years, we have learned firsthand that business users won't wait for IT to build or rewrite applications for use in the cloud. Time is money, and neither the business user nor the IT department has any to waste. As a result, the ability to run existing applications without any changes is a key factor in determining whether a cloud is easy to use.
4: Assess whether the cloud aligns cloud operating costs with business value
Cloud services do not require an upfront capital investment, but a usage-based pricing model can lead to sticker shock. To ensure that your cloud costs are in alignment with business value, see whether the cloud provider offers a service that measures the value you receive on a per-user basis. You can also ask whether the cloud provider offers distinct pricing for users at different levels. This can help you avoid paying the same fee for light and heavy users within your organization. Find out whether the cloud allows you to apply quotas to individuals and business units to cap usage at soft or hard budget limits. You will also want to ask whether you can automatically suspend resources when they are not in use to avoid the overuse of the cloud and resulting costs.
5: Pay special attention to responsive support
Successfully adopting new technologies, such as cloud computing, often requires a responsive support organization that can attend to your needs. Find out whether you can call a cloud provider directly or whether you must work through an online form or email inquiry to communicate about a cloud service. Also ensure that the support team will respond to your inquiries within a few hours versus a day or more.
By following these steps to determine the cloud solution that's right for your users, your organization will be well equipped to drive business agility, reduce costs, and accelerate your key business activities.
Sundar Raghavan is chief product and marketing officer at Skytap, a provider of cloud automation solutions. He is an industry veteran with an 18-year career in product and marketing roles at Google, Ariba, Arbor Software (now part of Oracle), and Microstrategy.