Given all of that attention – and the fear of being left behind by your competitors – it’s probably not surprising that you are thinking about going up to the Cloud. But as you’ve probably discovered, the path is not that established, not least because Cloud providers are intentionally obscure so as not to show their weaknesses. It’s hard to even find help.
I think I can help. Since my company is in the business of helping other companies use the Cloud efficiently, especially in managing and analyzing Big Data, I’ve been down this path with clients many times. I’ve learned the most common mistakes they made, and seen best and worst case examples of firms making their way successfully into the Cloud.
Obviously, I can’t cover everything in the span of a single blog; but I can suggest some basic steps for you to follow to both dodge disaster and to at least get a basic sense that this is a business strategy you want to follow.
I’ll keep it simple: my stairway to the Cloud has just ten steps.
1. Do you need the Cloud? This may sound like your mother talking, but just because everybody is doing it doesn’t mean that you need to too. A mistake could cost you dearly in money, time and opportunity. So ask yourself: What is the Cloud for? What does it do well? The answer is that the Cloud does standard things really well. It is not very good at custom projects. So the first step is to figure out the things you do that are core to your business – they are likely to be unique to you and won’t lend themselves to the Cloud. All the other stuff, especially knowledge work, that you do that everybody else does as well, is what the Cloud is made for. Determine first which of your work is which, and the ratio between the two, and that will give you a clue as to whether you really need to invest in Cloud computing. In other words, if you are a lot like your competitors, then you might gain a competitive advantage from the Cloud; if you are highly differentiated, you probably won’t.
2. How much of your business is collaborative? The Cloud, because if lends itself to fast, widespread accessibility, is a natural for projects that require collaboration by numerous and geographically diverse participants. Thus, if you have virtual work teams scattered around the globe, the Cloud is probably for you. Same with initiatives requiring numerous participants across many corporate departments. On the other hand, if the work is isolated or requires a small number of players, the Cloud may not improve productivity at all.
3. How much of your business is mobile? Social and mobile applications are intrinsically Cloud activities – and thus the more your employees are based at home or on the road, doing knowledge work in networked teams, the more likely you are enjoy gains from the Cloud. If, on the other hand, you’re business is the equivalent of a lot of workers pounding nails in a giant factory, or many cubicle dwellers under one roof, the Cloud isn’t going to do you much good.
If, at this point, you’ve concluded that the Cloud is still for you, then let’s go on to the next set of questions. If not, count yourself lucky that you didn’t waste thousands of dollars on what would have proven to be a white elephant.
4. What business processes are you doing? You are now committed to the Cloud. So at this point, ask yourself: What specific knowledge work and business processes define your operations? Before you start spending money designing custom applications for your new Cloud operation, take a look around. Chances are that somebody has already designed apps to put those processes in the Cloud – so why re-invent the wheel? Better yet, you can use the Cloud itself to help you find those existing solutions. The key is to carefully articulate your processes, then just use the standard search engines – Google, Bing, etc. – to find what’s available out there. Surf a couple pages of results to get the lay of the land – functionality, price, providers and so forth. Pick the best and then start making more precise comparisons.
5. There is no really good and trusted source of providers. In the course of your search, don’t expect to find that one golden list that will tell you the best products and where to buy them. The industry is just too new; and it is still lacking in objective market watchers. So the trick is to minimize your risk. And you do that by doing the most careful search possible, read reviews, ask current users. . . and then tackle your Cloud project in pieces. In other words, pick some small, and fairly risk-free, application and try it out. That’ll give you a clue to the rest of that provider’s catalog.
6. Don’t sweat security. Corporate IT folks try to scare their employers (and in the process protect their jobs) by pointing out security risks with Cloud computing. But the fact is that 98 percent of the reputable Cloud services out there offer security that is 10X better than what you’ve got now. Clouds feature security staffs, external auditing, vulnerability assessments, and all sorts of other security programs – none of which is happening right now in your business.
7. Think piecemeal, be agile. By definition, the Cloud is agile. You don’t have to buy a complete portfolio of solutions in one big purchase. Rather, reduce your risk: buy everything in bite-sized pieces. Nothing too big. Just give yourself a win, test it in application – and if it works, move on. Space your purchases, allowing time for your organization to adapt to this new app. Keep at it, month after month, and before you know it you will not only have a Cloud-based business – but you’ll also have a deep understanding of how to use it.
8. Forget the big shows. There are a growing number of Cloud computing conferences and shows, most famously Dreamforce, sponsored by Salesforce. Stay away from them – at least for now. They are nothing but rock shows for the cognoscenti – and you aren’t going to be one of them for a while. For newbies like you, they are the equivalent of carney sideshows: a lot of hustlers using razzle dazzle to hook in rookies. Stay away until you know what you are doing.
Okay, you’ve now rented some Cloud space and purchased and tested some business applications. You are almost there. The last to steps are making sure that your business is taking full advantage of this new opportunity.
9. Make sure your people actually use it. Even the most powerful Cloud applications are worthless if they aren’t actually implemented. So, once you’ve begun to purchase Cloud applications, don’t just walk away assume that your company will enjoy the results. Instead, audit your people on a regular basis. If they are not using that application, turn it off. Your goal should be improved productivity, not collecting cool programs. Finally,
10. Get better and better. To use the old cliché, Cloud computing is not a destination, but a journey. Keep fine-tuning your processes, auditing their use, and always be on the look-out for better solutions.
Good luck! And I’ll see you up in the Clouds.