It is the end of the beginning for the cloud. Many analysts are making the assumption that the cloud will very soon become almost a utility as far as business is concerned (hopefully sans all the government regulation!). Essentially it is no longer a matter of if you take your company into the cloud, but when.
Obviously, with all the savings available through utilizing the cloud, you want to get your company on board as soon as possible. Starting a new business in the cloud is, of course, a no brainer. In fact, these days, where else would you start? But moving an active, thriving business into the cloud is another story. How exactly do you move a fully functioning business entity into the cloud?
Choosing a provider
Key to a successful transition is going to be choice of provider. To chose a provider you need to do a full review of the level of data security and availability your company requires and see if a provider can match your requirements. Will staff access the system from home or on their own devices? If they do, will data be as secure as it is using the office's physical system? What guarantees for this can be put in place? What about data backup and recovery? Does a provider use best practices as shown by industry certifications? What industry certifications would reflect this? You need to consider these questions when choosing a provider.
Do some research
Obviously, part of your preparation when choosing a provider will be doing research on websites (link to hostsearch.com) and forums (link to hostsearch.com/forums) to ask members of the cloud and hosting community (who may have actually used a particular vendor's services) the questions you need answering.
Determine what your potential provider is responsible for
When you are in the process of choosing your provider, take a close look at their Standard Service Level Agreements (SLAs). These should indicate exactly what the potential vendor will be responsible for and what your company's responsibilities will be. How much uptime can you expect? Does 99.9% uptime really mean that? What happens if 99.9% uptime is not achieved. Who is responsible for software licenses? Who manages software upgrades, patches, etc.? These questions need answering, and the SLA is where you will find the answers.
Another key to a successful move to the cloud is going to be planning. Work from the worst case scenario up. If you company doesn't have a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) plan, now is the time to establish one. As the name suggests the BCDR plan will consider how to make your transition to the cloud without impacting your business. It will also outline just what will happen if it all goes wrong.
What happens when it all goes wrong?
Ensure that you have systems in place that can guarantee that its business as usual during the transition, and if there are problems, you really need a Plan B, Plan C, right the way down to Plan Z - and that might include returning to "snail mail" if it is absolutely necessary. In addition, establish exactly how long you can function in this fashion, particularly in terms of maintaining customer trust and maintaining your brand image. Based on that, establish what you need to do to protect your brand.
Train your staff
With the systems in place to protect your business from the worst case scenario, you need to get your staff up to speed on what will be required during the transition, and that of course means training. Some staff in their 20s might never have sent a letter in their lives so if things go wrong it could be a first for them. Ensure that everyone has a parallel protocol for when things go "pear shaped". However, there is no point everything going smoothly if nobody can use the new system once it is in place.
Replicate existing systems
Ensure that to the extent possible the new system replicates the previous system - that files are stored in the cloud in folders that replicate what occurs on the office server. To ensure this takes place a solid review of systems and processes/procedures should occur before a vendor is chosen. Of course, if your vendor can help with this, that might be a tipping point for using a particular company's services.
Document your work systems
For ISO 9000 companies documentation for system flow and processes might already exist, but for other companies, you might have to sit down and think of how your business works and present these facts and figures to your vendor so they can use that information to shape the cloud solution you need. Whether the development of a prototype system or "simulator" can be established will of course be dependent on budget. But if possible, it would certainly be useful as far as staff hitting the ground running is concerned once the change has been made.
Don't skimp on your groundwork
With a common sense approach a transition to the cloud should prove hassle free and once you are there, the benefits should be boundless. But if you do not do the groundwork, your experience could be dreadful, and the costs to your company and its reputation enormous.
What is your experience of moving a company to the cloud? Do you agree with the tips above? Anything to add? Let us have your thoughts. Add your comments below.