For over 10 years now, more and more organizations have decided to bring their IT services to the cloud. Specialized IT companies take care of software and platforms, and give access via the internet. What started with small pilots is now mainstream. With increasing quality of internet access, data centers and services, as well as the use of mobile devices, the benefits of cloud computing have become obvious. But recently, some businesses have been reconsidering their choices. Some services turn out to be much more costly than expected. New data protection regulations in the EU and recent incidents in that field raise the question whether data are actually in safe hands with service providers. The right moment to make up our mind again about cloud computing.
There are different service models in cloud computing
There is a lot of confusion about what cloud computing actually is, but most of the time you hear about the following cloud services:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): purchasing an online software application
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Operating system and databases are being hosted by an external, online service provider
- Out-tasking: as specific package of tasks is being executed by a specialized vendor outside.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Infrastructure and network components are being outsourced.
Moving your IT services to the cloud is a valid choice
Interviews with both managers and IT specialists show the following reasons to decide for cloud services:
- It is cheaper. Cost-effectiveness is the number one reason quoted to migrate to cloud services. Usually, cloud services will be charged based on a subscription model. There is no need to invest in costly software (either tailormade or by purchase of a license). A professional IT department to maintain the software is not necessary.
- It is better. Moving some of your processes to the cloud helps you focus on your core business: the capacity building of precious human resources can be dedicated to primary business processes as you hand over supporting processes to cloud specialists. Maintaining a data center, financial accounting, CRM or HRM application may be outsourced for this reason. Less obvious is whether cloud services are also the best option for your primary (and often unique) business processes.
- It is more flexible. Clearly, with a good cloud contract, it is easier to scale up, scale down or change your IT services. New versions of a software application can be installed centrally and all users have immediate access, without the need to migrate local machines. Generally, the introduction of innovations is easier in a cloud environment.
- It is more secure. Specialized datacenters and software providers take care of your systems, cyber security, and backups. Information security used to be a very important reason for organizations to decide not to migrate their systems to the cloud, but in recent years many changed their point of view on this matter. Cyber security issues are a constant, growing and unpredictable threat and a specialized cloud provider may be more capable of mitigating these risks than your own IT department.
- It is faster. The cloud has huge computation power to run large operations fast and easily.
Second thoughts: look at the downsides before you decide!
- Costs may be an unpleasant surprise: Although generally cloud services may be cheaper, this is not always the case. Costs for internet data, the basis for the subscription (number of users, storage space) and the chosen requirements must be transparent. A 99.99 % continuity uptime guarantee can be very costly. It is advisable to produce a business case comparing the “total cost of ownership”, including infrastructure, licenses and service management.
- Security: Trustworthy partners and solid contract conditions are key. Do not take for granted that your data – or worse: your customer’s data – will be secured, but ask your vendor about his business processes and certification in this field. Very sensitive information may still be best stored in your private datacenter, far away from the outside world where hackers find new ways to penetrate systems.
- Business process alignment: workflows in cloud applications are going to dictate or at least affect your business processes, and your internal organization must be capable of changing working practices. After subscribing to a service, do not underestimate the problems you may encounter before your personnel is capable of working in a different way.
- Can your IT-department handle the cloud? A certain maturity of your IT department is needed to manage a third party provider, its contract conditions (service level agreement), service issues and performance monitoring. The cloud is not automatically going to care of those things.
- Data management and sustainability: the quality and protection of your data and the data of your customers always remain your responsibility. Make sure that you have control over your information and that it is always possible either to get a data-dump or to exit the relation with your cloud provider without loss of information.
Clearly, cloud services have become the norm as a flexible and cost-effective way to digitalize work processes. Recent concerns on data protection are not likely to change that reality, but will encourage cloud customers to be more conscious. Costs and risks in business simply can never be outsourced.