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Cloud computing has revolutionized how we use technology in our personal and professional lives. It wasn’t that long ago that software was something you went to the store and purchased. And then there was the lengthy process of installing it on your computer’s hard drive and hoping you had enough storage left over for all the data the application would generate. Not to mention the need to buy a whole new version a year or two later to avoid falling out of date.

Cloud cartoonHow times have changed. Search for something like “project management software” and within minutes you could be using a free trial of the latest and greatest solution. At an individual level, this is truly empowering. All of us are just a Google search away from finding the exact technology we need for any job. At an enterprise level, it’s a bit more complicated.

Compared to the individual consumer, organizations have been somewhat late to the cloud computing party. You’ve probably observed this at your workplace. It’s likely you’re using a mix of cloud-based tools like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, or Salesforce alongside hosted or on-premise solutions like a legacy file server or accounting system. Chances are you find the cloud-based solutions are easier to use and seem to perform better and faster than their hosted predecessors. But when it comes to understanding the full implications and potential benefits of “moving to the cloud” for any-sized enterprise, there’s a lot to unpack.

This article is by no means an exhaustive review of cloud-based enterprise technology. But if you’re thinking of embarking on a digital transformation project and don’t have an IT background, this should give you a solid start (and help you sound knowledgeable while chatting with a member of the IT department).

For a more visual overview of cloud computing, check out this video.

Cloud Computing Defined

Cloud computing is the use of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data as opposed to using a local server or personal computer. Traditionally, businesses would buy and maintain their own IT infrastructure (servers, cables, storage rooms, A/C to cool those storage rooms, etc.). With cloud computing, you pay a cloud service provider (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud) to store and manage your data using their infrastructure. They maintain all the equipment and you pay for what you need, usually as an annual or monthly subscription.

A well-known aspect of cloud computing is cloud-based software, often called software-as-a-service or SaaS. In the SaaS model, the software is accessed and used via a web browser alone, or in combination with apps loaded to your desktop or mobile device, and the data you generate while using the software is primarily stored on servers maintained by the software company, as opposed to your local servers or drives. For a brief history of the evolution of SaaS, here’s a nice article.

Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

There are many benefits of cloud-based computing to consider as you set out to build a more modern and resilient IT infrastructure for your organization.

Remote Access. One of the most important benefits of the cloud is that you can easily access your applications and data from any device. Cloud technology has played a huge role in enabling an increasing remote workforce and this is bound to continue. Almost gone are the days of using a VPN to remote in to the office server (don’t you miss it already?).

Easier Integrations. Cloud-based applications can often integrate more easily with one another, enabling you to build bridges between systems to better support the full lifecycle of business processes. Most cloud applications provide a variety of pre-built or “native” integrations that require little to no coding. There’s also this great thing called APIs (which stands for application programming interface). APIs can unlock the world of data that resides in one system so that other systems can access it via a one- or two-way sync. It’s super cool functionality that makes it possible for even small- to medium-sized organizations to build custom solutions beyond what’s available out of the box.

Scalability. Cloud computing can be a smart decision for growing companies or ones with changing needs. Organizations can easily add (or drop) users or storage space, purchase new add-ons or apps for more functionality, or integrate with other applications as needs change. Your digital solutions can grow with you without the need for major upfront infrastructure investments.

Lower IT Overhead. Cloud applications generally require less IT maintenance and support. There’s no need to maintain servers in-house and downtimes are minimal. Disruptions and outages are handled by the service provider. When new users need to be added, admins can simply add an account and then staff will be able to log on (from any device). In addition, software updates happen automatically, often with no service disruption, so users don’t lose time or unsaved work.

Predictable Costs. Just like leasing a car, you pay a regular monthly fee for SaaS licensing and maintenance. Regular software updates and basic support are generally included at no additional cost. Instead of investing in equipment to support “peak-load capacity” (those infrequent times when you need maximum computing power), you can simply increase your bandwidth temporarily for that period. Need to increase your storage capacity without disrupting staff or moving content? Just add on additional storage capacity. With the cloud, you only pay for what you need.

Data Security and Retention. With cloud services, your data is stored on external servers that are maintained in compliance with the most up-to-date security standards and threat monitoring. Data is generally backed up at multiple data centers to ensure business continuity in case of a disaster. Tools such as single-sign-on (SSO) are a great addition that can reduce the complexity of user and device management while adding additional layers of security, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA). Regardless of what a vendor is promising on the security front, it’s always important to review the security features of any cloud-service provider and seek help from a certified security expert where needed.

Considerations and Drawbacks

Tool Proliferation. The number one drawback of cloud computing for the enterprise is the ease with which any employee can begin using and spreading a new technology throughout the organization. While it’s great that people now have access to state-of-the-art technology to solve any business challenge, it can easily lead to a situation where workplaces are downing in too much of a good thing. If you’re considering launching a digital transformation project in the near future, start with the basics. Make a list of all the SaaS solutions (sanctioned or not) employees are using and focus on reducing duplication and overlap.

Nickel and Diming. While the cost of cloud solutions is generally more predictable, there will always be an element of surprise. Need to up your storage to 1 TB? That’ll cost you. Didn’t realize integrations are not included at your subscription level? Credit card please. For the SaaS customer, there’s an upsell around every corner. When you’re in the sales process, press your sales rep about what foreseeable costs there might be as your needs change or expand and be sure to factor some realistic estimates into your budget.

Too Many Choices. The cloud computing landscape has become extremely crowded. For data hosting and large-scale enterprise solutions the big names (Amazon, Google and Microsoft) reign supreme but the average organization is going to have to wade through a lot of possible solutions.It’s extremely difficult to pit one solution against the other when they look almost identical and oftentimes this means the best salesperson wins. Your best protection against buying the wrong solution is to diligently gather your use cases and requirements BEFORE talking with any salespeople. Then you’ll have a specific checklist to run down with them. And as a last step before you commit, try to take the solution for a thorough test drive. You wouldn’t buy a car without driving it first so don’t put your colleagues at risk of ending up with a lemon.

 


About Ideal State
Ideal State is a digital transformation consulting and advisory firm founded in 2016. We believe that anyone, from any department, and with any level of technology experience can lead a successful digital transformation project. Learn more

 

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