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4 Critical Considerations When Selecting a Cloud Platform

Cloud Platform
Cloud Platform
Your forecast is cloudy and bright.

As the trend towards cloud service continues, making certain you pick the right cloud platform(s) is a critical factor to long-term success.  Cloud has become much more than outsourcing IT or software as a service.  Use of the cloud has become an integral part of the way companies transact their business, design their processes and adapt to a changing marketplace.

So how do you select the right cloud platform for your company?  A defined selection process that looks at the outcome from a business perspective using technology and partnerships as key considerations.

1. Define Business Outcomes

The answer always starts with your core business vision, mission and plan.  Start with the Why!  Some common reasons company’s choose cloud include:

  • The burning platform – Many companies are forced to move because their server operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft or their business management system was acquired and is being neglected.
  • Need to improve efficiency – Outdated “legacy” software restrict a business process to work the way the system does.  For example, a distributor using older software is forced to pick pack and ship by the order as opposed to grouping orders by location or better yet routing pickers based upon picking efficiencies.
  • Cut costs – Many companies think moving to the cloud will cut costs.  Cost evaluations are hard unless the direct cost savings are obvious.  In small to mid-sized businesses the cost justification is often the reduction in IT personnel headcount.  The true costs and benefits of the cloud can be  hard to quantify without some pretty sophisticated analysis, but the savings are there to be had.
  • Cyber attack – Unfortunately the cost and risk of cyber attacks and cyber insurance are increasing.  Several surveys estimate that 60% of small businesses are unable to survive six months following a cyber attack.
  • Improve business agility – Agility refers to the ability to adapt to changing economic or environmental circumstances.   The COVID pandemic drove many companies to the cloud to support remote working.  Although that phase of the pandemic is mostly behind us, a cloud platform should provide the flexibility to expand or contract, integrate and connect your business from anywhere to anywhere at any time.

These outcomes should be expanded into SMART goals.  Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound goals specific to your organization.  The objective create the guiding principles for the SMART goals.  The objectives and goals drive the selection process which becomes the How. 

2. Define Cloud Strategy

As described in a LinkedIn Article regarding OnPremise vs. Cloud, we are all in the cloud and on-premise!  Going cloud does not mean flipping a switch and poof our business is now digitally transformed.   At I-BN we have identified three core cloud strategies:

  • Cloud Connected – Critical business systems remain on-premise but are connected to cloud services to optimize their efficiency and effectiveness of your on-premise or hosted technology solutions.
  • Hybrid – Re-platforming your critical business systems onto the best platform for your technology and business strategy. Hybrid cloud offers an incremental approach to digital transformation by incorporating the best of cloud with proven solutions
  • Cloud First – A cloud first strategy puts the cloud at the center of your business. Going cloud first requires selection of the right cloud platform for your business and redesigning your business processes to take advantage of that platform

There is no one size fits all solution to a cloud strategy.  A number of different factors must be considered:

  • How core is technology to your business?  A kitchen cabinet manufacturer may use sophisticated equipment for building their cabinets, however, technology is rarely their core competency.  Alternatively, a high-tech company which develops software for computerized machinery often lives and breathes technology.
  • Is technology already disrupting your industry?  You don’t have to be a taxi company to feel the disruptive impact of an Uber or Lyft.  Many industries are feeling the Amazon or Wayfair effect from large online players eating into margins.  Best Buy is a great example of a company that turned its brick-and-mortar stores into an advantage while embracing digital transformation.
  • How adaptable is your company to change?  Just because you are interested in going cloud, doesn’t mean your company can turn on a dime.  Small and mid-sized businesses are often thought of as nimble and easy to change when compared to huge corporations; however, this is not always the case!

Often companies take an incremental approach to digital transformation, moving from cloud connected to hybrid before embracing a cloud first strategy. 

3. Evaluate Cloud Platforms

There are three general cloud platform types:

  1. Public Clouds are typically very large pools of IT infrastructure, partitioned and redistributed to multiple “tenants.” Most are sold based upon resource consumption with discounts for guaranteed minimums over longer terms. The most well-known public clouds include Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud
  2. Private Clouds are resource pools which are dedicated to a single customer or group. Often managed private clouds are offered by niche service providers specializing in a type or specific of application or by an IT consultancy which builds clouds as a service. These are quite often described as Dedicated Clouds.
  3. Hybrid Clouds blend aspects of public and private clouds. Typically, a hybrid cloud will have some components shared amongst several private clouds. This can include the Windows Active Directory service or backup facilities.

There are no hard and fast rules for what type of cloud platform is best, but rather characteristics that can be described as benefits and constraints

The cloud platform should be selected to maximize the business benefit based upon the cloud strategy. 

  • Cloud Connected – When the core business systems are on-premise cloud connections could be provided by the publisher of those business systems or connected via integration platforms in the cloud or on premise.  Many of the services being connected are served up by public clouds. 
  • Hybrid – When the core business system is in a Software as a Service (SaaS) application is in a proprietary cloud, other systems may be in the cloud or on premise. 
  • Cloud First strategy often results in a multiple-cloud strategy with a central orchestrating cloud. 

4. Cloud Integration Strategy

It is becoming increasingly rare to see all cloud services delivered from a single platform. 

  • Mail is outsourced from a hosted Exchange server to Microsoft 365 or Gmail
  • Tax services are offered by a cloud like Avalara rather than from within the software
  • Payroll services outsourced from within the ERP to a specialized HR or PEO platform
  • E-Commerce sites are hosted at a specialty hosting firm and not a web server managed by internal IT.

How do you maintain a “single version of the truth” when data is outsourced in a multi-cloud world?   Strategies include:

  • Follow the ERP Lead – When a company uses a platform provided by the Software as a Service (Saas) application, like Sage Intacct, NetSuite or Salesforce, that platform typically offers their tools on their on proprietary platforms.  Other core applications like SAP Business One, Acumatica and SageCRM offer a choice of publisher or partner platforms, but also provide “Certified” integration solutions.
  • Integration Platforms – Often called Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) companies like Dell Boomi or BPA Platform are used as a common connector to one or more clouds or cloud services.  These tools have built in connectors to platforms like Shopify, Magento, etc. in a store like fashion Microsoft Azure Logic Apps and SAP Business Transformation Platform (BTP) also provide similar functionality optimized for their cloud platforms.
  • Custom Development – There are a number of tools designed for Extraction Transformation and Loading (ETL) of data.  Using an ETL tool you can connect anything and add logic in the middle to create custom solutions.   An ETL tool can be housed on premise or in the cloud. 

iPaaS platform often can serve as custom ETL tools in the cloud, and typically have more built-in connectors and more limitations.

Conclusion

Every business has unique business processes, management styles, and competitive advantages.  Similarly, each company should design their cloud operations to optimize their processes, compliment their management style and maximize their competitive advantages.  Partnering with I-Business Network, you can leverage our 20+ years of experience turning the internet into a competitive advantage to optimize your cloud experience.  For more information visit our Cloud Optimization webpage or Schedule a Discovery Call with one of our Cloud Experts, or contact me directly at 678-627-0646 x1001 or via e-mail at gfeldman@i-bn.net 

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