Why choosing the cloud isn’t just a technical decision

Man lying under a cloud on tablet

The recent shift in the IT industry to almost everything being about “cloud” can be quite confusing for some business decision makers.

Because of this it is quite common for the research and decision making to be delegated out to the IT manager. In larger organisations the IT manager is usual someone who looks at the strategic implications of technology and how it can be implemented in the business. However at the small business level the IT manager is usually someone who falls into one of three categories:

  • An employee with a primary role that is technology-savvy and now bears the responsibility of IT management for the business
  • An external IT company or consultant
  • A technical person employed to administer the business IT systems (aka systems administrator)

The challenge with all of the above scenarios is that unless the person is also the owner of the company (or at least senior management) – they are not necessarily aligned with the strategic goals of the business.

In my day job as owner of Paradyne I speak with small businesses every day about their IT challenges and discuss how cloud solutions can help. Unfortunately sometimes these discussions are either hijacked or simply delegated to the IT person for the organisation which quite often becomes a dead end. This can happen for numerous reasons however the issue behind them all is that the conversation is no longer about the business requirements – it is now a technical discussion.

Having spent the majority of my career working with both IT people and small businesses I can quite confidently say that most of technical people I’ve come across in the SMB sector are not strategic in mind and as such can’t look past the actual technicalities of any solution.

They can identify compatibility challenges or limitations that need to be addressed, and are a great resource to get things done. Rarely however are they the person who can look at a technology and envision how it can improve save costs, streamline operations and improve profitability.

To give you a practical example let’s have a look at a solution such as Microsoft Office 365 and the decision making process from both technical and business management viewpoints.

Technical

  • What are the minimum requirements we need our software to meet?
  • Will I have the same level of control over the systems that I do currently?
  • Is this something I can implement and manage myself or will we have to pay for a specialist company to do it for us?
  • If moving to the cloud means I have less systems to manage, how will I fill in the gap in my time and justify my ongoing employment?

Business

  • Let’s compare the predictable costs of the Office 365 service against all my current costs to install, maintain and support the same systems for my own company (factoring required 3rd party solutions and support organisations, as well as upgrade lifecycle). How much will I be saving and where can I invest those savings into the growth of my business?
  • How can I use SharePoint Online to simply and at the same time improve the administrative aspects of my business?
  • How much additional time could my sales team spend on the road because they can now access business information from anywhere?
  • How much could I save on office space and business costs by allowing staff to work from home and conference with other staff using Lync Online?
  •  How else can I use cloud systems like Office 365 to improve my competitive advantage?

As you can see there is a stark contrast between the questions asked by technical and business management people.

This is not to say that there aren’t IT people out there who don’t have strategic business visions, however in the SMB sector it is usually an operational view that is more about keeping the lights on rather than improving organisational efficiency and profitability.

In SMB the technical part of the evaluation and decision making process is simply there to ensure that the chosen solution will meet all systems requirements and can be achieved without impacting the business.

Making the choice to take up cloud services needs to be driven by business requirements and goals because at the end of the day cloud is as strategic a decision as any other that the business might make.

  • Gabi

    Loryan,

    Great article.

    You make some excellent points, I agree pretty much on everything you are saying apart from the following;

    “Rarely however are they the person who can look at a technology and envision how it can improve save costs, streamline operations and improve profitability.”

    Even though the SMB manager/technical genius might be filling in multiple IT jobs within that role, I assure you that most do think about the above but simply don’t always have the capacity to take it on board or their choices are over turned by the board of
    directors.

    There are many scenarios where products such as Office365 can save time/effort/money and stress however it simply cannot be deployed due to various reasons.

    Let me provide you an example, I was in conversation with the IT manager of a law firm in the UK, he had proposed virtualising their servers (for DR speed) and moving from exchange 2007 to Office 365.

    The virtualisation project went through ok, even though the board really struggled understanding why it was required and the cost, this was all clearly outlined, when it came to Office 365, it was a no from the board.

    The reasoning for the board declining the proposal was twofold;

    1) The business insurance required for the business to know where the information was kept and for it to reside in the UK. As you know, with Office365, it could be anywhere unless you went for their dedicated solutions but they are well beyond any SMB budget.

    2) Trust. A lot of businesses/companies do not trust MS/Online solution companies due to previous media coverage, such as the problems with BPOS at the start/Google Apps.

    Even though the IT manager had proposed the costs/savings and was trying to reduce his “maintenance time”, to be more efficient, it was still declined by the board.

    In many scenarios, even though the IT manager is well educated on the topic and or, knows the people required, their decisions can be easily overturned for multiple reasons as seen above.

    It’s a hard time for people to move to the cloud, specially if it’s an unknown to the business.

    A little knowledge of something can be very dangerous and we are finding this out more and more.

    Thanks again for this article, great site too.

    G.

    • http://www.thecloudmouth.com Loryan Strant

      Thanks for your feedback Gabi – great points!
      You’re right – there still needs to be a lot more education around cloud as many business can get confused as every vendor is putting the word into their product portfolios now.