This is the third in a series of posts focused on cloud computing. My goal is to put this topic in some perspective for small to medium size business, organizations and educational institutions that may be considering a “move to the cloud”. The full series is available at: www.vector-associates.com/blog/.

When Do National/Global Provider Solutions Make Sense?

Including products offered by national/global providers as part of your cloud computing solution can make sense for your business or organization if the following criteria are met:

  • The individual products meet your needs
  • The products can be successfully integrated into your overall technology strategy
  • The level of product support, both internal and from third parties, is sufficient for your needs

Solutions from national/global providers fall into three broad categories:

Web-based solutions that replace traditional office PC applications

This category includes office applications such as email, calendar development/management, document development/sharing and team collaboration.  The focus is providing flexible web-based access, ease of use and low initial and ongoing operating costs.  Solutions initially focused on individual users, but have been expanded significantly over time to include small to medium businesses, organizations and large corporations.    Google is probably the most widely known and most aggressive player in this category.  Microsoft is also focusing on this market by extending the on-line capabilities of their traditionally office software applications.  While no one application may be the strongest or offer the widest range of capability, the overall solution set can be very compelling.

“Assemble it yourself” technology building blocks

Solutions in this category focus on providing specific technical capability that can complement or replace the internal technical infrastructure of a company or organization.  Leased services such as online storage, scalable server capacity and email hosting are examples of services in this category.  Amazon’s Web Services, which includes S3 (storage solution) and EC2 (cloud computing), is a good example of a non-traditional IT provider that has entered this market.  What distinguishes products in this category is the need for the user to understand, select, configure and manage the elements of the solution to meet their specific needs.

Standalone through integrated “total business solution” applications

Solutions in this category include products and services that fulfill a broad range of business needs.  They cover the range from individual applications that perform specific functions to comprehensive platform-based solutions intended to meet all the needs of a business or an organization with a single, familiar interface.  Examples of products in this category include customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, and information management solutions.  While they can still be purchased as standalone applications, companies such as SAP, Oracle and Salesforce.com have focused their efforts on evolving these products to operate and share data seamlessly on a common platform as part of a “one stop” total business solution.  Remote, secure, 24/7 web-based access is a commonly available with these solutions.

There are so many options?  How do you decide what makes sense?

Given the range and scale of the national/global provider solutions available, determining if and how these solutions can play a role in your company’s technology solution might appear to be overwhelming.  Let’s begin by setting aside the “gee whiz” factor associated with these solutions.  We can then focus on several fundamental questions that need to be answered as part of evaluating these or any other product solutions:

Do the products meet your needs?

  1. How is work performed today in your business or organization?  What is working?  What isn’t?
  2. What are the operational issues that need to be addressed?  How do the products deal with those issues?
  3. Are there potential conflicts with existing operating procedures or practices and the proposed product solutions?  How will they be addressed?
  4. Do these products have the capabilities that we need today?  Can they be expanded to meet our needs tomorrow?  Will the product sale up (or down) to meet the needs the unique needs of our organization?  Might the product be too complex for our needs?
  5. How do the proposed solutions impact the entire organization, not just the primary users?  How are clients, partners and suppliers impacted?  How will potential issues be addressed?
  6. How will the products be implemented?  How will the users, the overall organization and other stakeholders be trained?
  7. Consistent with the questions posed in the recent post to help evaluate local/regional suppliers, how is your confidential data secured and backed up?  What is retained within your organization and by the product provider?  What is the process to recover from a loss of service?  What, if any data or information will be lost?

Can the proposed products be successfully integrated into your current technology strategy?

  1. What are the technical requirements for the new products? How will the requirements be met?  How will potential conflicts be resolved?
  2. How do they fit with our existing technology strategy?  Are there areas of conflict?  Can the new products be adapted or is there a need to adjust the technology strategy?
  3. What do the new products require from an operational and support perspective?  What is the mix of internal and external capability that will be needed to implement and manage the new products?

Does the level of product support meet your needs?

  1. How much customization, if any, may be required to adapt the product to meet the unique needs of your organization?   Can the product be customized?  Is this available from the provider and/or third parties?
  2. What levels of support are available for pre-sale needs analysis, product configuration, launch, user training and post launch issue resolution?  How are ongoing product upgrades handled?  How is the provider compensated for these services?
  3. What level of internal support will be required to configure, launch and support the product?  Does the organization have this ability or must it be acquired?
  4. How does the provider respond to ongoing operational issues?  How are issues reported, logged and tracked through resolution?  How quickly are issues addressed?  What are associated costs?

In summary

Depending on the needs of your business or organization and the answers to the above questions, a national/global provider may well play a major role in moving your business or organization “to the cloud”.  However, as this series of posts has attempted to convey, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  A mixed solution that includes onsite, local/regional, and national/global providers may be the optimum choice for your business or organization.

Where do we go from here?

Given the range of options that have been discussed including a mix of in-house capability, local/regional suppliers, and national/global providers, how do you assess the options and select the right solution for your business or organization?  Start with the internal resources and key stakeholders within your organization.  Then augment those skills with the expertise of a skilled third-party advisor such as Vector Associates LLC.  By asking the right questions we can help you and your business or organization navigate the challenges of selecting and implementing the right business strategy and enabling technology solutions to meet your needs.

We hope you have found this three part series “Moving to the Cloud” to be informative and helpful.  Please direct any questions or requests for additional information to:

Scott Simpson
Vector Associates, LLC
scott.simpson@vector-associates.com

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