The Discriminating Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing

Business leaders need more than technical speak; they need cogent answers to critical business questions.

With global cloud computing revenue topping $250 billion in 2017, it’s abundantly clear cloud solutions are rapidly supplanting the legacy, on-premise IT solutions businesses have leveraged for many years.

What’s also clear is that despite its growth, cloud computing remains shrouded in mystery for too many business leaders. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for these leaders to confidently and effectively evaluate cloud computing, and prevents their organizations from fully leveraging its tremendous business value.

Search the Internet for “what is cloud computing,” and you’ll get results filled with technical jargon like hybrid, elastic, utility, ubiquitous, IaaS, SaaS, PaaS, DBaaS, etc. Those all are very valid ways for technologists to describe cloud computing traits and capabilities, but a bit esoteric for business leaders who just want to know if cloud computing can help their companies operate more efficiently, and serve their customers more effectively.

The good news is that most cloud computing solutions are intentionally designed so business leaders don’t need to understand technical jargon to understand the business value. Instead, it’s recommended that business leaders focus on getting answers to these five questions:

Will the cloud solution give us the features and functionality we need? Businesses build, sell, and support products and services that meet their customers’ needs. IT solutions that enable these tasks have existed for many years, but cloud versions increasingly offer faster implementations, a richer set of capabilities, and more rapid access to innovations. Spend the time needed on this question to have complete confidence in the answer.

Does it make sense for us financially? When looking for new capabilities, Leveraging cloud solutions is somewhat of a no-brainer. When you already have a legacy solution, however, the answer is more complicated, and should take into account existing investments in software (e.g., development and/or licensing), the cost of operating the software (e.g., data centers, hardware, networks, talent), and the value derived from gaining access to new features and functionality. It’s a good bet that the longer the time horizon, the more likely it is that the cloud solution will offer a significantly lower total cost of ownership.

Will the cloud solution be available when we need it? When you’re relying on a cloud computing vendor to operate the software used to run your business and serve your customers, you need assurances that it will always be available. Look for service level agreements that guarantee performance: 99.5% system availability per month is the lowest uptime percentage you should accept. Make sure the financial penalties for under performance are a sufficient incentive for the vendor to deliver.

Will our information be secure? You need to consider security of your company’s information as well as your customers’ information. Security is often the biggest sticking point for many considering a move to the cloud, but cloud providers increasingly have the edge over internal IT teams when it comes to detecting and preventing cyberattacks, especially when compared to SMBs with little or no IT staff. Security certifications commonly are used by cloud providers to advertise their security posture, but this is one area where having an expert to help you dig a little deeper may be worth the investment.

What happens after the sale? Once you’ve settled on a cloud computing solution and signed a contract, there are two key post-sales activities: implementing the solution, and operating the solution. Look for cloud providers with strong professional services teams that understand your business sector and have an established record of highly successful implementations. Look for providers with experienced customer success, and management teams that will help you maximize the value of your investment over the duration of the contract and ensure you’ll happily sign a renewal when the time comes. Any cloud computing provider worth its salt will gladly provide quality references who can speak to their implementation and day-to-day operational experiences, and you shouldn’t sign a contract until you’ve spoken with at least two of them.

How cloud computing vendors answer these questions will tell you a lot about their ability to meet your business needs. They’ve all heard these questions before, and you should expect credible answers delivered in easily understood business terms. And for larger companies that need to dig deeper into the technical details, such as how a vendor’s solution integrates with existing applications, good cloud computing vendors will have technical staff that can answer their questions, too.

The bottom line: the best cloud computing companies deliver more than cloud-based solutions, they deliver the cogent answers that business leaders need to move confidently forward with their cloud strategies.

Rich Murr is a technology executive with over 20 years of leadership and enterprise IT experience, to include application development and operational roles with startups, consulting companies, retailers and technology service providers. In his current role he is the Chief Information Officer at Epicor Software.