THE REAL RISK OF THE CLOUD

It’s nothing new, technology is always changing, but it’s changing faster right now than I can recall. We hear it everywhere, and it’s exhausting – Yep, the Cloud. But the cloud is truly enabling businesses to do more than before – so in my opinion, it deserves the time it is getting.

As we all know, consumers continue to take advantage of simple apps that provide cloud services for data availability – These capabilities have been walking into businesses on personal smartphones and tablets for quite some time now. Our work force is continuing to shift control to a new generation, but those fresh faces are not the only employees who want data available anytime, anywhere. Generations of workers previously happy with pen and paper are also getting increasingly comfortable with mobile tech, instant availability and the like. The new reality is that the consumer wants and needs are increasingly driving business technology requirements, and not just for those of us in the B2C space.

As business technology leaders and decision makers, we’re under attack; a constant barrage of employees who have better technology at home than they do at the office. Perception is reality, and the reality is the majority of us have not done enough to accept what has been right in front of us. So our employees are bringing their own weapons to the battle. Many of us have dealt with the file sharing internet activity; I would bet that most of us are probably actively blocking it right now, or have some policy around its use within our offices – sound familiar? But what should they use to offer the same conveniences then? This is just one example. The reality is that the typical IT department acts like a General who freezes as soon as his forces are engaged by the enemy – in this case, the cloud – leaving them to flounder amidst their confusion. We as the leaders are that General – We are the bottleneck to progress.

Analogies aside, here is the reality: If we don’t provide our employees with some of the same capabilities in our workplaces that they have in consumer land, we may be facing some real employee retention challenges, among others. So we need to stop fighting against them and begin to guide them – You know the saying, and I just can’t see us beating them. The good news is that cloud services really do enable your business to take advantage of great functionality with way less technical up-start effort. Maybe our employees are smarter than we thought? Cloud-based solutions have moved from a curiosity to truly viable business solutions. Businesses that run completely on the cloud are getting more and more common, and the flexibility it grants them is fantastic. We are moving all of our clients in that direction if they let us.

But cloud acceptance is uncomfortable and complicated; there is a lot to consider in a large and complex technology environment. Not to mention moving from a capital driven spend model to an “X” as a Service, an op-ex driven model is enough to make our CFO heads spin. Securing data when we don’t know where it is sounds complicated. But as uncomfortable, complicated and challenging as it might be, we have to do a better job of working alongside our non-technical counterparts and fight the good fight. Going back to our analogy, there are two things that I believe are critical in any war scenario: 1) Belief in a common goal, and 2) Highly effective strategy. Let’s talk about those two things.

Our challenge begins with getting everyone onboard. In our experience, yesterday’s technology professionals are still having a very hard time transitioning to the cloud mindset. I’m referring to IT managers, Systems Admins and even some outsourced providers – Team members who have a hard time accepting cloud technology as a viable option for a secure computing environment. There are many reasons, some legitimate: Fear of losing their job to outsourcing, fear of the unknown as it relates to security or availability, or the rapid change and adaptation that comes with progressive cloud services. Not to mention being forced to learn something new, as well as constant demand for ongoing learning. Cloud moves fast; it takes a dedication to ongoing learning and persistent iteration. Being comfortable is nice, and cloud threatens comfort. As technology leaders, the question for us becomes: Can my existing technology team possibly buy into and execute an effective cloud strategy?

There are no simple answers to your challenges if you cannot answer the above question with a resounding YES. What I would urge you to do is at least ask the question, press your team, and begin to think about the implications of having a team that might struggle to move in this new direction. In the long term getting your team onboard with your decisions is critical, but we need to get started now. I would suggest beginning with some basic applications of cloud services, solve a few simple problems to start. Here are a few suggestions: If you haven’t already, begin looking at migrating your e-mail to Microsoft Office 365. If you are already on Office 365, work with a Microsoft partner to begin leveraging Sharepoint for simple file sharing as a start, you can expand to workflow integration, business intelligence and reporting as needed from there. It’s all about beginning to build a base, so small successful experiences with the cloud will kick-start further interest within your team and expand the use to new areas.

As I’ve demonstrated above, your initial cloud strategy can be fairly simple. The approach we have recently begun to take is that of a minimal investment – simple start, maximum return. Leveraging Microsoft Office 365 and Azure or Amazon AWS, we work with our clients to determine the greatest impact we can make within a single initial cloud project, then leverage the cloud to implement the solution. Jump-starting our clients in the cloud has in some cases taken less than $150.00/mo to solve a highly visible problem, or to avoid significant capital expense due to current on-premise limitations. In almost every scenario we have taken this route the appetite for cloud has grown quickly. Once you have a connection to the cloud, you should evaluate each required solution to determine if you can or should leverage the cloud to solve that particular problem. For each opportunity, the thought process should not be “Should I put this in the cloud?”, but rather “Why would I not put this in the cloud, and what are the additional costs and risks if I don’t?”.

Leverage the above suggestions to get started, but of course, we recommend building a comprehensive long-term technology strategy around the cloud. An effective strategy can be rather complex, but here is the high-level approach we take:

  • Select a cloud provider
  • Initiate base network connectivity to your cloud – Azure Site to Site VPN is currently $27.00/mo o You now have unlimited resources at your disposal
  • Catalog systems and applications available to you as of today
  • Perform business interviews to identify business workflow, needs, and opportunities for improvement
  • Work bottom up – Some of the most helpful feedback comes from those who use the tools every day
  • Use the above information to validate potential opportunities up the chain
  • Determine the breadth of each particular opportunity identified
  • Build priorities based upon the above
  • Identify the underlying technology linked to the above priorities
  • Develop short and long-term strategies to provide a road-map
  • Evaluate each opportunity for cloud viability – Leverage the cloud everywhere possible
  • Work with internal and external resources to begin execution

None of this is really rocket science, but the opportunity we have in front of us could significantly impact the success or failure of our respective businesses. The consumer of today is coming to expect always on, available from anywhere technology, and there is no reason we can’t deliver it for them. Not just B2C, but also B2B industries – particularly as it relates to employee perception, efficiency, and morale.

With cloud solutions, our sales force can now easily have all of their pricing in the palm of their hands, a phone number that follows them everywhere, and access to their hot sheets and sales presentations from their tablet. Purchasing can validate and approve orders while eating a burger at the local greasy spoon – we can support employee productivity and availability in ways we couldn’t dream of in the land of VPNs, locked down laptops and restrictions on what mobile devices are allowed to connect to Wifi.

There is one thing I know for sure, fighting against cloud adoption is increasingly futile.

So you might be asking: “What is the real risk of the cloud?” – The real risk is not getting onboard now. Use this article to justify getting started – to light a fire if you need to – Let’s throw out our fears, stop cowering and start innovating.