The rise of cloud computing has made enterprise-grade software not only available, but also affordable, to businesses of any size. From CRM platforms to website builders, from bookkeeping software to photo editing programs, there has never been another time when so many tools were so readily available. Furthermore, competition between the companies producing these applications means that prices continue to decrease while service and support levels continue to rise. It is now not only possible, but oftentimes practical, to run every aspect of your business from the cloud without a single piece of software actually installed on your workstations or servers.
But the ubiquity of cloud applications and always-available software brings challenges, as well. If you’ve decided to add a SaaS (software as a service) tool or application in to your organization, your work is only just beginning. Here are four things you absolutely must consider and plan for if you intend to get maximum value out of your cloud services and cloud applications.
- Setup – Most cloud service providers try to make using the service as easy as possible in an effort to gain new customers. But as a business, your needs are varied and you may have massive amounts of data that need to be migrated to the service before you start using it. Make sure that before you decide on any service, you have a clear understanding of the onboarding process. Does the service have documentation about starting service or engineers available to help you? Is there an extra cost for premium support or is that already included? Nothing will dampen enthusiasm for a new software package or tool faster than a lengthy and complicated onboarding.
- Training – Just because you’ve chosen a cloud service doesn’t mean that training should be an afterthought. Any new platform, from electronic medical records to eCommerce logistics, means a learning curve for your employees. Even the most technically savvy user can benefit from expert training about a service. Many B2B SaaS providers will offer webcast or on-site training to even the smallest companies. Even if there is an associated cost, make sure that you don’t cut corners on helping your employees get the most out of each tool. The more knowledge they have about the system, the more productive they will be in the long run. It’s worth a few extra dollars today to ensure maximum long-term productivity.
- Administration and support – Once your team is off and running with new cloud software, make sure that a few members of your organization understand how the application works from top to bottom. Having an in-house “expert” will save both time and money in the event that a small issue comes up. For example, do you know how to add or redact a user? How to change the billing method? How to modify templates? Understanding how to use the software solution is not the same as understanding the software solution you have chosen. Knowing the difference and addressing it early by having in-house administrators will help you get the most out of your tools. Furthermore, make sure that the price you pay for cloud services includes support from a real human. Many small software companies try to automate support or push support requests to FAQs and message boards. While these tools have their place, make sure that in a real time of need you are able to contact a living person who can help.
- Flexibility – The rapidly changing nature of modern software development means that new tools are available most every day. If you have a chosen a cloud solution or SaaS product that doesn’t have an API or at least an active developer network, you might want to think again. At a minimum, ask your account manager at the company what the product roadmap looks like for the next 12-36 months. The service you are buying today will change and evolve over time. You would be wise to make sure those future plans and features fit your needs and goals in the future, as well.
- Data and continuity – One of the challenges keeping cloud services from becoming more prevalent in the marketplace is the frequency with which innovative solutions are acquired by large companies and left without support or, even worse, shuttered entirely. While a salesperson will tell you that the service you are considering will be around for the long-haul, make sure that any data you put into a cloud service can be extracted and migrated to a different service quickly and without much cost. Furthermore, spend a few minutes researching the company in an effort to learn if they have been the subject of acquisition discussions. An article or two stating that the service you are considering would fit well with a larger company is not cause for alarm. Half a dozen articles about the ongoing acquisition or merger discussions the company is having is indeed cause for concern.
Software as a Service and hosted applications mean that the need for servers and high-powered workstations may well be a thing of the past for many companies. That said, cloud services aren’t necessarily simpler to use and are often no easier to deploy and support then before. Just because you no longer need server administrators or network engineers doesn’t mean that your need for support and training has disappeared entirely. Furthermore, the solutions you choose today will be a part of your infrastructure in the future, so make sure they scale with not only the needs you anticipate, but the tools you plan to use, as well.
Getting the most out of your cloud services and solutions is really no different then maximizing your efficiency with in-house resources and applications. Following the five tips above should help your organization make a smoother transition to the cloud. Click here to learn more about how Mosaic NetworX can help you plan for the future!