How to Compare Cloud Solutions

How to Compare Cloud Solutions to Get the Most Benefit for Your Business

Figuring out what your cloud computing choices are, and then how to compare them side-by-side is tough – and getting tougher every day! Not only are there new cloud solutions released all the time, but the ones we just got used to have changed. Just searching the web for “cloud solutions” returns millions of results, and much of those not even worth filtering through. Defining the different types of solutions is a chore, then adding the additional qualifier of brand name, vertical specialty, etc. makes finding a cloud solution a whole job in itself.

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There are cloud solutions for virtually every type of business process – file sharing, accounting, inventory management, project management, construction, legal, collaboration, telecommunications, the list goes on. As a potential buyer of cloud services, you can literally purchase a different cloud solution for each individual business process (and have 7-8 vendor invoices each month), or you can consolidate your business processes with a single cloud provider (one invoice, one throat to choke).

What will work best for your company depends on your specific company goals, requirements and preferences. Many companies choose a single provider just to reduce the number of relationships they must manage.

Regardless of what model you choose, disparate or consolidated, you should consider these critical success factors when making decisions about your cloud solutions:

  1. Define your business requirements first. What does your business actually require, versus what is just nice to have? Do you need to have the cloud solution match your business process or can your business process be modified to match the way the cloud provider does things?
  2. Decide if you need or prefer to have several cloud solutions (one for each business process) or a consolidated cloud solution for the entire business. Some cloud solutions are very specific in what they can and will offer, while others can be customized to meet your specific business needs.
  3. Ask for references. Ideally, get references from people in your same industry and actually talk to those references. Ask them what their experience was like when migrating to the cloud, what has the service quality been since going live, and if there been any issues or downtime.
  4. This is probably the most critical factor: Have a trusted IT advisor represent your company. More often than not, small companies ask their office manager or CFO to work with the cloud provider to set up services. This is akin to a Texan being dropped into Germany without knowing the language, the land or the culture. You need someone that can “speak geek” on your behalf.

Here’s a real-world example of a business that didn’t consider all four of these critical success factors when they first moved to the cloud. We’ll call this small business “SMB Inc.”:

SMB Inc. jumped into the cloud in 2011, relatively early as adoption goes. They chose a smaller provider that passed all the initial tests – their servers were in a high-end data center, they had multiple locations and they offered data backups.

The migration from their old servers in their office to the cloud took longer than anticipated and was very painful, primarily because both the vendor and SMB Inc. were learning as they were deploying.

After successfully transitioning to the cloud, SMB Inc. started having issues with the cloud vendor’s service. Systems would go down, and the vendor wouldn’t respond. It became clear the vendor didn’t understand the business needs of SMB Inc.

After a year in the cloud solutions industry, the vendor replaced their CEO. This resulted in a new direction and focus for the cloud vendor.

This was the last straw for SMB Inc. They decided it was time to change, and learning from past pain, decided to be more intelligent about selecting the new cloud vendor.

SMB Inc. did two things to help minimize the risk the second time around. First, they decided they would use a more formal selection process by writing a Request For Proposal (RFP). Second, they decided they would only submit it to “name brand” vendors. To quote the owner of SMB Inc., they would only consider name brand solutions “because based on the past disaster, my staff would kill me if I went with another smaller provider.”

After months of due diligence, SMB Inc. decided to use one of the name-brand vendors (hint: they have a check-mark in their logo). After SIX MONTHS of trying, the cloud vendor was never able to get SMB Inc. up and running in their cloud.

So for the third time, SMB Inc. was faced with finding another cloud provider. This time they selected a smaller vendor, and with help from a partner IT services company, they were finally able to make the transition successfully.

During this ordeal, SMB Inc. was obviously extremely frustrated, but more importantly, they lost productivity for months.

 

How could this happen? What did SMB Inc. do wrong? With the benefit of hindsight, they actually did many right things –

  • They formalized their needs using the RFP process, which forced them to define their requirements
  • They narrowed their search to cloud providers that seemed to match their requirements
  • They treated the migration as a formal project

But they also lacked some key elements that became critical –

  • SMB Inc. did not have a relationship with anyone inside the cloud vendor that understood, nor was willing to understand, their true business needs beyond the system specifications. So the vendor never truly understood SMB Inc.’s business model or their client’s needs. The vendor was only focused on the techie side of the systems.
  • SMB Inc. also did not have their own technology resources or staff to help define and implement the solution on their behalf. They really needed someone to “own” the project to ensure it was done properly, the first time.

Like with most investments in your business, choosing the right cloud solution requires doing the homework and due diligence up-front. The problem we see the most often is the company lacks a trusted advisor with the IT skills to help them through the process.

If you are small business, you may not have an IT department and may only use a local IT vendor for break/fix work. This may work for the day-to-day, but it does not mean they are qualified to assist you in selecting the best cloud solutions for your business.

This is a key area where we help our clients. At Fluid, we help our clients find the right cloud solutions to meet their business needs, whether it means our own Fluid Cloud or other solutions. We are an extension of our client’s business, ensuring their interests always come first. By doing so, we can help identify the right cloud solutions for the client, then take the client through a disciplined selection process to choose the right service for the business.

Finally, after these decisions are made, we do the one step most often neglected – we hold our client’s hand through the entire onboarding process to ensure the cloud service is implemented correctly, in a timely fashion, and users receive proper training on how to use the services.

You can find thousands of cloud solutions by searching the web, from generic cloud solutions, such as Amazon, to very specific cloud services, such as QuickBooks cloud hosting. But finding an IT partner to help you navigate the process successfully is the key for most small to medium businesses.

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