Cloud computing has been quickly adopted by businesses of all sizes, keen to take advantage of flexibility, elasticity, simplicity and cost savings. Yet, for many small and mid-sized businesses, a range of factors could mean shifting technology components to the cloud may not deliver all the expected benefits.
Cloud proponents point to reduced IT complexity and an ability to scale resources as key reasons cloud platforms make sense. They argue that, rather than investing capital in infrastructure that must then be managed in-house, a business is better off making use of hosted resources provided and maintained by an external party.
These arguments certainly stack up for large companies. Many have opted to shift some of their IT resources to a cloud provider while keeping sensitive applications and data in-house. Having access to in-house IT teams means the task of managing such a hybrid infrastructure is readily achievable.
For SMEs the picture is somewhat different. Lacking the same in-house technical skills, many can struggle to link cloud-based resources to in-house applications and data. As a result, many are tempted to go ‘all in’ on the cloud and shift their entire infrastructure to a hosted platform.
Unfortunately, many find the subsequent experience to be somewhat disappointing and the business benefits they expected to achieve from making the move simply don’t materialise. Some of the reasons disappointment occurs include:
- Costs: Cloud is often positioned as a less expensive alternative to in-house IT. While this can initially appear to be the case, when all costs are included it can often actually be more expensive.
- Shared platform: Most cloud platforms used by SMEs will be shared between multiple clients. This makes it more difficult (if not impossible) to customise applications and add features/configurations that might be needed by the business.
- No more technology: Many SME companies think that, once they migrate to the cloud, they will no longer have to worry about technology. They don’t realise they still need technicians and IT companies to support their networking, cabling and desktops.
- Point of contact: Most SMEs are likely to have a reliable technical person they can turn to when IT problems arise. If instead they are dealing with a large cloud provider, finding someone who can help solve issues could be much more difficult, potentially leading to downtime and business disruption.
- No local support: Many small companies fall prey to US-based cloud providers that don’t have any local presence in Australia. Getting support in a timely manner becomes a nightmare and the business often has to wait for days because of time-zone challenges.
An SME cloud checklist
For these reasons, it is important for an SME to plan carefully before shifting IT resources to a cloud platform or taking advantage of some of the many Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that are now on the market.
It’s vital that the business understands exactly what benefits it will achieve and any issues or challenges that might need to be overcome. The five most important factors every SME should consider are:
- Infrastructure: The performance of any cloud platform will be heavily governed by the state of a business’s local networking infrastructure and internet connectivity. If an existing wired (or wireless) local area network and internet bandwidth cannot cope with the resulting increased data traffic, the result will be a significantly degraded user experience.
- Security: Be sure strong security is in place and protecting systems remaining in-house, data when it is traveling to and from the cloud, and data stored on the cloud platform. Any breaches that occur could cause problems when it comes to compliance.
- Feasibility: Before any contracts are signed or resources migrated, conduct a full feasibility study to determine exactly what is required and how it can best be achieved. Examine the offerings of a range of cloud providers to determine which one will be the best fit for the business.
- User experience: When applications that were running locally are shifted to the cloud, users could potentially notice a change in user experience. Undertake testing with all users before changes are made to ensure they will be comfortable with the new platform.
- Costs: Most importantly, check the full costs of the planned cloud adoption. This should include everything from initial monthly user fees to increased bandwidth charges and any ‘optional components’ that might be required.
By carefully examining each of these factors, an SME can be confident any adoption of cloud-based capacity or technology will deliver the business benefits that are anticipated. There is no doubt the cloud has much to offer business, however embracing it with eyes wide open is the best approach to take.
About the author
Sreeni Raghavan is the founder and CEO of TeleApps, a solution company for enterprise communications and customer experience solutions. This includes technologies like corporate telephony, unified communications, collaboration, corporate networking (wired and wireless), security, telco & WAN services, contact centre and even IT services.